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 a while. 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 is 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 into 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 storylines that they want to act out. Similar to the business person who needs to create messages that resonate with their customer’s 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 the 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.
Online communities are powered by social technologies such as private labels like Mighty Network and groups within Linkedin and Facebook. Technology makes them possible but passionate people with shared interests make them successful.
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
Here are 4 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?
- 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? Need help getting started?
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 increased 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.
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.
originally posted in Concept Hub
It has been 10 years since I took an advertising class at Florida State University through my marketing program. It was one of my favorite classes for two reasons.
First, it was 1998 and it was the beginning of exploring advertising opportunities on the web. We built our own banner ads. I recall my team created one for Motown Records. I became an avid reader of Wired Magazine and immediately recognized how Amazon.com and Priceline.com were changing the game. I knew my future was definitely going to be digital.
Second, was the promise of integrated marketing communications. I read in my textbook that integrated marketing communications was:
a concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines – for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations – and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact.
The Internet looked like it could be a channel that would enable such integration. Through campaigns with an immediate call to actions, the ability to widely distribute information, and the analytics to track behavior as well as the ability to have a 2-way conversation, it seemed that PR, Sales, Marketing, and Advertising teams would be able to work together to achieve their goals.
What we saw were websites, banner ads, pop up ads, and lots of emails. The web became a landfill of information. Many of the sites were even polluted with viruses.
Google Changes the Game
As many people know, Google came in with a system to organize the information landscape as well as to make the web a safer place by having sites with high authority rankings rising to the top. In a way, Google was the first Digg. It ranked sites based on how many other sites were linking to it. The thought process behind Google was that the community knows best.
As a revenue model, Google chose to change the game of annoying banner ads and instead perfected the system of behavior-based ads. Ad Buyers not only knew that their ad would get lots of views, but they also knew that the views would be by a relevant audience at a very relevant time.
Imagine you are typing an email about planning your vacation to NYC and to the right pops up several ads about NYC. You probably do not need to try so hard to imagine, it happens to each of us every day.
Word of Mouth Marketing
What Google AdWords did was basically digitize word of mouth marketing. Whatever your online behavior reveals about you will result in a relevant ad will refer you to a site. The only thing that was missing was the relationship. Typically word of mouth referrals come from friends and family. You are telling your mom that you want to go to NYC and she tells you about a site her friend at work used. You trust your mom and therefore extend that trust to her friend at work and decide to check out the site. Google ads or any of the behavior-based ads does not provide that same comfort of trust. That level of trust can only come from real people within our networks of influence.
Online Forums have been around since the Internet. People have been using email to spread their opinions to their friends from the moment they signed up for their first account. So why are we only recently paying attention to online networks and the impact of relationship marketing?
Trust. Initially, we did not trust the information that was posted on forums by strangers. We each have been hoaxed by online urban legends and well we only trusted sanctioned broadcast messages online. As technology changed and evolved, more and more of our friends and family started posting information online. Not just about brands, but about life in general. The web became a conversation amongst our networks and our extended networks. Now when I am looking for information about NYC, I can bypass my mom and go directly to her friend from work to find out about the website she used to book her trip.
Integrated Marketing Communications
Ten years ago I learned about integrated marketing communications. An idea that all the departments involved in communications would work together to create a strategic and comprehensive communications strategy. In the 10 years since then, I have yet to see that idea realized, until now.
Whether or not organizations realize it, what happens in customer service is now being broadcasted online throughout various peer to peer networks. Public Relations is now in the hands of each employee that is representing an organization online and marketing is in the hands of the communities.
As this landscape continues to evolve we see traditional advertising dollars and methods becoming less and less stable. People want value from their advertising messages whether it is education or entertainment or participation. People want trust from brands, the kind of trust that only comes with building a relationship and providing a service. Organizations need to work harder and be more diligent to keep their customers satisfied and to maintain their attention. In order to achieve such a challenge, internal departments need to work together to develop a unified approach and consistent message and mission. Advertising has evolved to the point that integrated marketing communications is not just a nice idea, it is an urgent necessity.