Lots of stories are being posted about the downfall of society with social media to blame.
It is not the platform that is to blame but how we have decided to use them. In my article, How Social Media Became its Own Worse Enemy – and How to Improve It, I discuss what we might be doing wrong, what the fallout could look like, and how we can get real again.
Last week I had a great chat with a retail client about what really makes his store special. It is not the incredible designs or the quality fabric. Anyone can buy quality fabric and there are many great designers. What makes his store unique is the passion that he pours into it. The way he gets to know his clients and how those relationships inspire his designs. It reminded me of a post I wrote 10 years ago, The Corner Store in the Global Community. I shared that story again on Linkedin.
Social Media is an ever-changing, overwhelming sea of possibilities. For most people, the biggest challenge is figuring out where to get started with social media.
We all have heard the familiar and sound advice to start by listening. Listen to your customers, listen to the community, listen, listen, listen.
Everyone says to listen! Listen to what?
The reality is that there is so much information or noise being generated every second that you could spend an entire career listening and never do anything else.
The trick is to not just listen, but to participate, as well as be able to adapt the voice of authority.
Think back to being a kid on a playground, or go visit a busy playground and observe for awhile. What you will notice first is that it is a noisy place. There are little girls having secret conversations in one corner, groups of boys raiding each other on the equipment, and a group of boys and girls building castles at yet another section of the playground. Each of them are living in their own world and are tuned into their own activities, but the call of an authoritative voice raises their attention and will cause all activities to change directions.
How does this relate to developing your own social media listening program? The social media world is very similar to a child’s playground (in oh so many ways!)
When a child arrives at the playground they will first glance around to see what is going on and who they know. I relate this to casting a wide net to gather a high-level insight of conversations that are happening related to:
- Your Brand
- Your Competitors
- Your Services
- Problems you Solve
Once we understand the landscape and ecosystem of all the activities going on, we will begin to focus in on what we know best and where we feel most comfortable. On the playground this would be equivalent to saying hi to our friends and checking in on what they are doing. In the social media world it is very much the same thing. We will check in on our customers, prospects, and people who know us that we should get to know.
As we play we begin to learn the rules of the playground. Who is in charge of which activities and which children are committed to those activities as well as which children are just exploring various areas. In social media we call the leaders of certain circles influencers. Social media influencers, like the children leading various playground activities, were never appointed as leaders and they have no real authority, but they have a personality that entices others to follow along. As we play with them we strengthen existing relationship bonds as well as make new friends.
In business, this would be equivalent to understanding the context of each conversation, the sentiment within each community and the connections among different social ties. Look for who is the center of influence within your market.
The child who wants to lead his own little tribe will be successful only if he or she has tapped into areas of play that children are most drawn to and story lines that they want to act out. Similar to the business person who needs to create messages that resonate with their customers needs and desires and to attract an audience who are willing and able to respond to various calls to action.
Once you are not only part of the community, your community also becomes part of the ecosystem and you will be tapped into new opportunities as well as potential threats to your playground enterprise. You will be able to respond to these opportunities and threats to the best of your ability.
However, there is always the inevitable call from the voice of authority that changes the game. On the playground it is the voice of the parent saying it is time for your best friend to leave, thus shaking up the connections within your group. Online it is the voice of a social networking site enticing your community members away from your chosen channels with promise of better tools, friendly user interfaces, or more efficient ways to track the enormous amount of information we are all keeping track of. The child must be prepared to rebuild or move on, as does any business investing in social media.
However, to keep up with it all, you have to continuously be listening.
An online community is powered by social technologies but is composed of passionate people with shared interests. Currently, there are thousands of online community sites competing for attention as well as thousands of tools people can use to express themselves online.
Building an online community around a specific brand or niche topic takes knowledge, time, and dedication.
Step 1: Define why you want to build an online community?
Are you trying to build a place that supports people’s passions while your brand stays top of mind? Do you need a community where your members help each other solve problems? Are you looking for insights and ideas from your customers?
The answer to why you are building a community will define the rest of your actions. If you are trying to build a community for marketing, PR, or advertising reasons, it will probably fail. The best reason for building an online community is to support the passions of the members.
Step 2: Researching existing online conversations
Questions to ask yourself; Are people scattered throughout the web looking for a place to call home? Basically are conversations sprinkled throughout the web?
If the answer is yes, then is there enough passion to create a community around the topic or industry you want to build a community around? If strong communities already exist, how can you join them as a welcomed member?
You also need to define what groups of people will benefit from your community objectives. Are you looking for moms? dads? young professionals? geeks? entrepreneurs? financial wizards? and so on and so on. There are a lot of strange people on the web. When building your community it is in your best interest that you have defined who you are looking for vs opening the door to anyone looking for you.
At this point, decisions need to be made about whether or not to build your own branded community, support the goals of existing communities, or both.
Step 3: See a need, fill a need
(image of Bigweld from Robots)
If you have found a point of passion that has not been served by other online communities then you have found a need that you can fill. However, you must ask yourself why someone else has not filled the need yet. Seriously, social media has been around for several years, what has been the obstacle? I promise you that you will face that obstacle as you go forward to build your community.
It may be that the members you would be serving are not active on social media sites yet, or they see social media as a way to connect with friends and family and not as a way to connect with brands or explore their other interests. It may be that the information they would need to provide to make such a community a success is not something they would be comfortable sharing.
If you have found strong communities already exist you need to find out what you can offer that the community members are not already receiving. It might be that no one has ever organized an offline event for the members to meet face to face.
The thing is you have to find what your members need that also aligns with your initial objectives (don’t get sidetracked as to why you are doing this) and then fill a need.
Step 4: Developing the right tools for the right job
This one seems basic, but it is not at all. The web has changed a lot over the past….few months. Yes, the past few months and it will change again in the next few months. Make sure you are finding tools that will be around and be relevant when you need them as well as tools that are agile enough to adapt to the latest changes on the web. Not to mention tools that will help your community connect, communicate, share, and organize.
Step 5: Designing win-win opportunities for community members
As your community is growing you will get tempted to think it is all about you. It’s not. If you start making it all about you then your community will leave. Every step you take, every decision you make, has to be a win-win. If you ask a question, perform a survey, promote a product – ask yourself what is in it for the community members and make sure you let them know what is in it for them.
Step 6: Creating content that Educates, Entertains, and Inspires
People are on the web for three reasons; to be educated, entertained or inspired. The more you can do of all three the more your community members will return to your site.
It takes a lot of work to build a community, and once it is built it is not self-sustaining. People leave communities that they are invested in all of the time. You must continue to be relevant to your members. You must go through steps 1 through 6 over and over again.
One final note. Having thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook is not a community. Depending on your objectives, you can have more success by having 100 people connecting in a group than you will have with a million followers on Twitter.
Are there any other steps to community building that I missed? What do you think is the most important step?
This past week I had several opportunities to be part of conversations with people who are making great strides in their social media efforts. However, the main focus of their efforts has been to get their message to their audience. They sense there is something missing, benefits or opportunities they are not tapping into and that is why I was brought to the table.
There is a common theme I am hearing more and more which is that social media belongs in the realm of customer service. There are many case studies out there that show the damage a disgruntled customer can do to a brand through social media. More and more brands are monitoring social media sites to put out fires before they spread and a few are pro-actively reaching their customers to say thank you or offer additional information.
So what is missing?
One of the companies I met with this week was struggling with getting their customer service group to participate in social media. The challenge that they face is one that is common across all companies I have met with; the belief the social media belongs in the marketing or communications department. The problem is that social media contains conversations, and those conversations span across all departments from sales leads to customer service opportunities, to consumer generated ideas for new products and services to technical collaboration to influential discussions about financial projections and so on and so on. How can one department filter and appropriately respond to all of these conversations even in a reactionary way, much less work to be part of these conversations in a proactive way?
The answer is to encourage and guide each department to make involvement in social media part of their daily responsibility. Of course for those who feel they have enough on their plate already that may seem simply overwhelming, not to mention many people still do not see the point.
So how can an organization motivate their teams to join the online conversations? Show them the value.
For a customer service team who goes through the day responding to concerns and issues, answering the same questions over and over again, show them the value of being able to build a community where frequently answer questions are discussed in detail, challenge the community to provide suggestions and ideas that make the conversation multi-directional as opposed to the team always answering customer questions. Finally, invite the customer service team to the executive table to share the insights they have gained from their interaction with the customers.
If active participation in social networks is designed to help your team do a better job and contribute to the overall direction of the company, more people would be willing make it part of their responsibilities and in the end, everyone from the customers to the employees, to the owners of the company, will benefit.
As more and more brands embrace social media as an extension to marketing, advertising, pr or customer service efforts, the line between social media marketing and the essence of online communities continues to blur. However, it is important that these efforts not get mixed up otherwise the purpose and benefits of each effort will get diluted and the tactics and measures of success will become a confusing mess.
Social Media Marketing can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach of the conversation, as well as the number of transactions. Social Media Marketing can have very specific and measurable goals such as increase share of voice, improve brand reputation and/or awareness, or direct sales.
Online communities are much more nebulous. Communities, in general, are a very ancient creation. Communities of people gathered together for interdependent reasons. Therefore, a community is about the experience of belonging.
There are many benefits for a brand to develop a community, including the ability to scale. If you bring together people with passion and expertise then every person in the community gains tremendously for the small efforts of many. Think of Wikipedia.
Oftentimes efforts to building online communities involve bringing together more people with questions than answers. This makes sense when you are trying to find people with a need that you can fill. That is called selling. People do not become part of a community as a means to be sold to.
If we think of communities like we think of our neighborhoods, then what we are seeking are people with common interests, people we like to invite to our house, people with expertise such as…I don’t know…plumbing. Most importantly we are looking for people we trust.
So how do we build online communities? We set out to bring together people with a passion and expertise to share, we give them tools that help them get to know each other and we highlight ideas and insights of the members.
Building an online community takes a lot of work. Hospitality must be top of mind. Think of hospitality as the welcoming of strangers and offering “gifts” with no expectation in return thus creating an environment of trust and safety.
As your community grows it is tempting to think it centers around you or your brand. It doesn’t. It is important that community members always know that they are appreciated and are often reminded why they are there – what is the benefit to them.
So, should your social media efforts focus on marketing, advertising, pr, customer service or community building? That depends on your goals and resources, however, do not confuse community building with marketing or you may find that you create a road map that does not lead you to your goals.
I have noticed the word community is being tossed around inappropriately lately. It seems many people are trying to make online community analogous to social media. Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to explain the difference.
You know how you walk down the street in your neighborhood? Hopefully, you live in a neighborhood where you see your neighbors on the front porch or in the front yard. If not, think of a show, like Sesame Street, where people run into their neighbors every time they walk out of their door. That may feel like a community, but it’s not. It is a group of people in similar proximity who have the ability to socialize. That is social media in the real world.
Social media is a set of technical tools that enable people to express themselves, “house” their personalities, and socialize with each other.
Now, raise your hand if you were invited to a holiday party, game night, or to help a friend move over the weekend. If you raised your hand then you were invited to be part of a community; People who get together to enjoy each other’s company, share ideas and help each other out. Online this is most similar to communities that have existed for years, inhabited by the members who share information, ideas, and solutions to problems.
Today there are many other wonderful online communities of people who share information about their hobbies, interests, and struggles. Within these communities, each person knows and supports each other and more often than not there is no real defined leader or sponsor within the group.
Most of the time online communities such as these are spontaneous, people who are searching for connections find each other, but it is possible for a brand to “orchestrate” such a place. To do so a brand might want to think of themselves as an HOA where they meet and listen to the community members, set the rules for the community, and find ways to connect and support each member within the community. This definitely takes time and commitment, beyond just creating content that is generated and pushed through social tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
To reiterate, social media is for people you say hi to as you pass them by, a community is for staying connected to and supporting the people you care about. So the next time someone refers to their online community ask them questions about what they know about the people they supposedly care about.
I am currently working on a project scope for a large, widespread organization that is seeking to create an online community. The focus of this project is the 3 C’s that are the foundation of an online community.
- Connected Channels
- Consistent Message
- Core Values
Connected Channels in its basic form is the hub and spoke model.
Consistent Message is the second C that is the foundation of an online community.
Your content should also be developed with your core values in mind.
Online you get to have short bursts of attention from a divided audience to let them know what you stand for. Therefore what you stand for should be the core of every message and every level of engagement of your organization.
Do you agree or disagree that these are the foundations of a great online community? What organizations have you seen embracing the three C’s of an online community?
This question comes up in almost half the presentations I give. It is a great question and one that I would like to explore a bit.
People are so busy.
Between work and life and all the demands to be in so many different places both on and offline that it is a struggle to capture a person’s attention enough to show them the benefits of paying attention or socializing with you and your organization. There is a perception that it is noisier online, and that the social web is not as personal, therefore, more difficult to build quality relationships.
I have found that the opposite is true. The demands of our offline world limit us to the people that are in our geographic proximity (work, school, spiritual centers, and so forth). We can not seek out a person who has similar taste as us in music, or a closet writer, or game enthusiast by typing in search terms at a local event. We spend our time bouncing from person to person making small talk about work, the weather, sports, and what our kids are up to.
People are spending more and more time socializing online because there you can pause, read a journal someone has chosen to share, explore and learn from each other, discover other people within the group, all before introducing yourself.
How does this affect our personal interactions with each other? Well just look at a blogger’s enthusiastic expression when they tell you they got to meet their friend that they have known online for some time, notice the trend of all the conferences popping up just so these new found friends can meet each other in person. They already know each other and they already know that the time and money invested in attending an offline event will be well worth it.
Sensei Project worked with the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau organizing an event (SITSum) for social media influencers who write about travel, food, family, and entertainment. The event was organized to empower peer-to-peer learning. The event was a success in a variety of ways, but what made it special is people who knew each other online met in person and the people who traveled from various parts of the world to meet new friends get to stay in touch long after the event was over.
My take is that online communities are helping us to slow down a bit to get to know each other again. It is not a substitute for personal contact, it is enhancing the need and desire for such contact.
Want to learn more about the Social Influencer Travel Summit? Download the report.
I am now part of the 1%. Not in the financial world, but in the world of Linkedin.
That is what the email I received from Linkedin announced. I was actually quite surprised. Linkedin is one of my least used networks. But receiving this “honor” only proves what I try to tell my clients often. Something I am sure Linkedin would not like to hear me say, which is “do not pay for Linkedin until you are maxing out what you can do with the network for free.”
I have met a number of people who have the premium membership and they barely get any use out of it. It is a bit like paying for a gym membership, not actually hitting the treadmill and expecting to get in shape because you are paying that monthly membership. It takes more than handing over your credit card number. You actually have to do the work.
I currently use Linkedin to stay
connected in touch with my connections. It is not about being connected, it is about staying in touch; reaching out to people when they make a change in their career; reaching out to people you have not talked to in awhile; reaching out to people who you have not met yet when they ask to connect with you. It is about building relationships.
That takes time. Just like getting on the treadmill takes time. But just like the treadmill, doing the hard work does eventually pay off.
One of my 2013 goals has been to improve my use of Linkedin. I have been reaching out to my network, finding new groups to participate in and removing myself from groups that have not provided any value yet. I actually anticipate I will be ready to take my membership to the next level this year. But not until I have maxed out what I can get with the free version.
Thank you, Linkedin.