Sunday, May 22, 2011

It Takes a Community to Build a Community on Facebook

We have a vision.

Our stores will be full of people, cheerfully exchanging greetings with the salespeople who know them by name.

Our gigs will be full of fans.

Our products will fly off the shelf.

Our events will be full of entertained, educated attendees.

We have a vision of our company, our organization, our band our cause.

The question is - how do we get there? How do we fill our stores, our gigs, our events with people?

One of the most common things you read about Social Media is that it helps build a community. While this can be true, it's not a simple prospect. As many businesses have found, Facebook Pages often lead to - at best - a few "Likes" per post and, often, dead silence even when direct questions are asked.

The truth is - it takes a community to build a community.

Let's take my friend's band as an example. I know, it's a friend, so you're gonna roll your eyes when you read this but - they really are very, very good. Like so many bands, they have a unique sound that appeals to an adult sensibility. If you know anything about music, you know that the sharing of music has made it easier - and harder than ever before - for bands to be heard.

The band has a Facebook Page, but gets almost no response from posts - a clear indication that the band was "liked" by friends and friends of friends, then hidden. Or folks who aren't terribly active on FB are making up a big part of the "Likes." Very typical problems for a small audience on Facebook. With few people paying attention, then only a few people are listening, liking, sharing or commenting.

Before they can build a community around their music - or become part of an existing community for independent musicians - there are some questions they have to be able to answer. All of us have to answer these questions before we can effectively create a community of any kind:

Who are we?

What do we want to say?

Who are we talking to?

and, Who is doing the talking?

Facebook is a terrible place to build an audience or a community. Successful Pages on Facebook are almost always Pages by already-popular brands, companies or people who are using Facebook as another way to touch base with people who already know about - and care about - them.

When we envision our communities on Facebook, we have visions of a busy Wall, full of encouragement and conversation. What many companies often see is a series of announcements, requests for "Likes" and finally, pleas for a response of any kind.

Before you put your eggs in the Facebook basket, build yourself a community elsewhere. Keep it lively, full of conversation and contests, questions and answers. When you've built those conversations up in other places, you can feed those folk who already make up your audience a new way to communicate with you - on Facebook. Instead of using Facebook to build an audience from scratch, you'll want to control the space yourself. Your forums, your mailing list, your website, your terms of engagement. It's much easier to know who you are when you're on home turf. Develop your identity in a space you control - then take it on the road. Building an audience through Facebook is hard, expanding upon an audience already built using Facebook is easy.

The folks who engage with you elsewhere can help you grow your Facebook presence. Then you'll have a community to help you build that Facebook community.


Postscript: My friend's band is Eminence Grey (he's given me permission to mention their name and link to them) and if you do visit their Facebook page, you can listen to their song "Mourning Coffee" on the Facebook music player. It's a pretty terrific track, so I hope you'll drop by for a listen!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When and How Social Media Works

Turns out Social Media Marketing doesn't work, says Fast Company. Is this true? Of course it is. Companies that see Social Media only as an advertising channel or a filter through which to drive business, will inevitably fail.

However, saying that using a platform like Foursquare to drive business doesn't work is not the same thing as saying that Social Media doesn't work. That's like saying that a screwdriver doesn't work for driving in nails. Well, of course it doesn't - that's not what it's meant to do.

Social Media is not a golden ticket to riches. It is not a sure-fire simple way to get your message to more people than ever before. Social Media is not Foursquare, or Facebook or Twitter.

Social Media is a method of communicating with your audience and your market.

Let's look at when, how and why Social Media works.

Social Media works when you have something to say that your audience will want to share with others.

Every day is an exciting day for you. You have a lot going on. Some of that is stuff you really want your customers to know about. It's unrealistic to think that, if you have a special blow-out sale every Tuesday, that every customer will want to share that new every week.

So, what's news that's worth sharing? What is significant news for your business? A new publication by a popular author (if you're a publishing company,) or tips for bicycling locally (if you're a bike shop.) When you have something special to share, and you share the passion you feel about it with your customers - they'll want to share too.

Before you ask your audience to share something, ask yourself: Is this special? Is it exciting? Is this something *I* would want to tell someone about?

When you can answer "Yes!" to any of those questions - especially the last one - then send that message and ask folks to share the news. Make sure you recognize those folks with thanks, with rewards, with a nod...something, anything, to let them know that you noticed. A little thanks goes a long way to building loyalty.

Social Media Works because you care about your customers

Social Media is not a tool to drive business - it's a tool to communicate how much YOU care about your market.

This is the single most critical fact of Social Media that companies fail to grasp. Social Media is not, has never been, about you. Social Media is about the people who walk into your office, your store, visit your website, purchase your goods or services.

It's time for companies to stop asking customers to care about them. Checking into Foursquare may get them a small discount or a free appetizer, but the ROI of Social Media comes from time. The time you put into taking good care of your customers, and telling them how much they mean to you, listening to them properly, communicating with them openly. This will generate ROI, because you've actually made an worthwhile investment in your audience by giving them something to talk about and letting them know you're actually paying attention to them. When you invest in your customers, they will share your news, because they know that you care about them.

Forget asking your customers to do stuff for you - do something for them. That's good Social Media that works.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Social Media Ranking - Popularity Polls or Tools to Take Control of Your Social Media?

I had an epiphany this week. I was speaking with someone on EmpireAvenue, a new platform that reflects your Social Media Influence as a "stock price." EA tracks your Social Media activities on other platforms, as well as EmpireAvenue itself,  scores you on the individual platforms and assigns you a rising or falling overall "stock price" score.

This is gamification of Social Media in a nutshell, and I was having a hard time really seeing the overall value, even as I was participating (and my "stock" is steadily rising, just so you don't assume that it's sour grapes! ^_^)

Klout is another overall scoring system. It tracks your interactions on certain Social Media platforms, just as EmpireAvenue does, but it presents the data in one overall score, breaking it out by amplification, reach, scope and the like. It does not provide you with separate scores for each of your platforms, just the one overall score.

It's very tempting - and very easy - to use the absolute scores  as measurements of overall value. After all, on Klout I am a "Thought Leader." That should account for something, shouldn't it? But it was the separate scores on Empire Avenue that made me realize I was not really taking a holistic look at my use of Social Media. Sure, I had a Flickr and LinkedIn account, but was I using them to my advantage? Was I focusing my energies more exclusively on Twitter and neglecting my Facebook Fan page? What was the meaning of me being on Quora (which is not tracked)? Was I just scattering my energy, without focus or purpose?

Klout and EmpireAvenue each track different platforms and they weigh each platform differently. A blog post here might mean more to one score than the other. The score is not the point. The meaning behind my actions is the point. The lazy might point to a SM score as a fast way of deciding whether a person is worth their time or money, but for those of us using Social Media on a regular basis, our scores are a great way to see where we need to expand our efforts, tie our communities together and create our whole image out of a series of disparate pieces. It's up to us to understand the meaning behind these apparent popularity rankings and make the changes that will grow our sphere of influence in the healthiest way.

Social Media scores can be more than just a popularity rank - it's up to us to use them as effective measurement tools to understand our impact in our networks.

(Thanks to DDALES for helping me to see the light!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Your Brand and I Are Not Really Friends

Today on Momeo magazine, Carla Young wrote a genius post on how to get people to be incredibly enthusiastic about your brand. Ironically, I had spent last evening and most of the morning wrestling with customer service of a large brand - that I like! - that left me feeling much less than enthusiastic. The worst part of the experience was that I genuinely like the product, and wish I could recommend it to...well, anyone. But I can't. Because the company doesn't understand that it and I aren't friends.

So often in peer groups, there is one person who doesn't *quite* get that you and they are not really friends. You have to work with them, go to school with them, meet them at the club, but you don't really think of them as a "friend." Well, companies of America - you are that person.

Brands want *way* too much of my personal information. I can see giving you my phone number if I wanted to talk with you, but...I really don't. Ideally, if the product you sell works as it is supposed to, I never will. And if I do have to call you..I'll call you. Real friends don't make us register with a ton of irrelevant info, just to ask if we can get together. A real friend doesn't ask me my birthday or "express service code" every single time I call.

Brands make us repeat ourselves. If I had to give you all my info to get to talk to you, then you HAVE my info. Making me give you the same info over and over and over means you obviously have no idea who I am or why you should care. Friends know why they should care.

Brands want access to my Facebook account. You know, I have a lot of real friends on Social Media Profiles and not one of them has ever demanded access to my information. Real friends understand that.

Brands talk at me, but aren't willing to listen to me. If a friend and I sit down to lunch and the next hour I hear all about the person's drama, without getting a word in edgewise, I don't go out to lunch with that person anymore. Your brand sends me emails from DONOTREPLY@. Friends listen.

Brands ask us to buy into their wacky schemes. When someone comes to me with a great idea that's gonna be awesome, friend or no, I'm skeptical. But I have to listen to you go on and on about new colors/flavors/irrelevant features/overcomplicated contests for who knows what...and you never shut up. How nice you have a new whatever. Go tell someone who wants to buy shares in a gold mine.

Brands never friend us back. When I call a company, the fact that I'm a current owner or subscriber never seems to make the damnedest bit of difference. I get stuck on a long phone queue and disconnected "accidentally" multiple times. There's never a call back (although I have repeatedly given you my phone number.) What friend "accidentally" hangs up on someone without an apology? I have to follow/connect/like you to talk to you, but never get anything in return. No friend treats me that shabbily.

Brands lie to us. We want a product for a reasonable price, that works well, and good service. You tell us all the time that you can give it to us, never do.

Companies, it's pretty obvious that to all of us that your brand and I are not really friends. Stop acting like we are.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Online Communities 104 - Adapting to New Spaces

You've been active on your company's Facebook Page for a while, and you are starting to build a nice community there. People are responding to your posts, you're getting good percentages of engagement. Then someone tells you that you "ought to be on Twitter." Or GetGlue or EmpireAvenue. Maybe the number one space for your topic is a well-established forum.

Today we're going to discuss adapting to a new online environment.

Not every online community is the same. Communities where aliases are common, or required, will have a completely different feel than communities where real full names are standard. Communities that are moderated will have a different dynamic than communities that are not.

There are things you need to understand before getting involved in a new online community. The most important of these is:

Don't assume that every online space follows the same rules as another online space.

In the real world, you act differently with your friends, with your spouse, with your boss. Online communities will take on personality based on who is running it, what the purpose is and how it's being run. If you're used to a barely-moderated forum where ad hominem attacks are common and considered a form of bonding, don't be surprised when you are banned from another community that has stricter standards for behavior.

1) When you first approach a new community, read the Rules.

Know what you're getting into. Do you have to moderate your own space or is the system itself moderated by a team? In whose interests is the site moderation acting? What are the appropriate limits of behavior?

2) Learn the purpose of that community.

There is nothing more jarring than joining a community meant for communication and discussion of a particular topic and finding the site spammed with self-promotional material by users who don't understand - or don't care - that it's inappropriate. Worse, is this really how you want to be seen, if you decide that short-term gain is more important?

3) Lurk first.

"Lurking" is the time-honored act of not saying anything at all, while other people talk. Read threads, check other sites, read articles about best practices for that site - know what is being done...and what is not.

4) Know why you are there.

You may be in a community because people tell you you "ought" to be there, but unless you know why being there is good for there really any reason to be there?  Anyone can sign up for the American Thoracic Society Annual Meeting, but unless your field of interest is Immunology or a related discipline, why on earth would you? Just because the sneaker store next door is doing well with Gowalla, doesn't mean that your child care center will. Have a purpose for every interaction. "Sharing information" and "talking with people" are completely legit purposes, but don't confuse them with "getting sales leads."

5) Adapt to the community culture.

This is absolutely critical. You are used to setting the rules for your business. When you create a mailing list or a web page, you set the parameters for interaction. You're not used to playing by other people's rules.

The most important thing you can do for yourself is to adapt to the rules. Adopt them for your own use and master them. Become a trusted expert on that community. Don't spend energy trying to fight the tide of community culture, become a leader of the community by embracing that culture.

There is one rule, however, that applies to every community without exception: the Golden Rule.

Follow that rule on every community, online and offline, and you're sure to adapt and master community life quickly.

Project Wonderful