Friday, January 28, 2011

Corporate Social Media Policy: Much More Than "Be Authentic"

Now that more companies are getting involved with Social Media, there is a need for Corporate Policies that address the internal and external landscape of Social Media use. It's one thing to represent your business online - it's entirely another when your employees are representing it for you.

Most available guidelines, like this free article from Shift Communications, Corporate Social Media Policy: Top 10 Guidelines, address the main points of using Social Media - be authentic, relevant and real.

But any business that has more than two layers of management is going to have additional needs for a policy on Social Media use. Especially if that company is in an externally regulated field like finance or healthcare.

So, after the Top 10 Guidelines, what does a Corporate Policy have to address?

Internal Vs External Social Media 

Internal social media are blogs, forums, and wikis located on the company intranet or located externally, but restricted to members of the company, like Ning or Yammer groups. External corporate Social Media can be blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or other profiles for corporate communications to the public.

Separate these two concepts and determine who is authorized to use which - and for what purposes. The company intranet blog, discussion group or wiki might be available to anyone, to facilitate sharing of ideas and experiences. Only certain people should have access to externally facing Social Media. These people should receive clear direction on what those media are to be used for, and how they are to be used. For instance, your policy might state plainly deciding that the Corporate Twitter account is not responsible for customer service, but the separately manned Company_Cares Twitter account is.

Employee use of Internal Social Media may be monitored - this also needs to be stated in your policy. And, if that monitoring will go beyond "appropriate use" to "we're including this info at your next performance review," that also needs to be made clear so employees aren't blindsided.

Employee Identification

If your Corporate Policy allows employees to represent your company, the policy should address how employees should identify and when they NEED to identify as an employee during use of Social Media.

For instance, a person responding to a question that is well within their scope might be told to identify with a hashtag for Twitter. A great example of this was  #IworkatNovartis, which was being used by Novartis employees who responded to questions through Social Media.

Even in personal use of Social Media, an employee of your company might need to identify, so that there are no questions of inappropriate information sharing.

External Regulation

In heavily regulated industries, all communications by employees can be considered discoverable. This includes "private" communication, like email. Your corporate policy needs to state what external regulatory bodies might be watching and what employees can and cannot discuss on official and private use of Social Media. This should be in addition to any other specific training your company provides about internal and external communication and document retention.

Lose the "Least You Can Do" Mentality

Corporate Policies need to also go beyond the "least you can do to be safe" mentality and ask employees to consistently present the best, most responsive, most authentic face possible to the public. Covering the company's ass should not be the main focus of Social Media or Social Media policy.

Allowing each employee the freedom to engage in Social Media on behalf of the company and providing clear guidelines to let them know what is an effective and meaningful use of Social Media will give your company many touchpoints to your audience and your market.  With a well-written policy, relevant, authentic and real is well within your scope.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Online Communities 102: Perils and Pitfalls of Community Management

I've recently become involved with Quora, the newest, shiniest professional Q&A community. As with so many things, I seem to get involved *just* before the wave of humanity catches on and the whatever-it-is becomes inundated with new members.

In the case of Quora, the massive amounts of new folks signing up and figuratively walking the halls asking, "What's going on here?" "What is this, anyway?" "What am I missing?"  is forcing Quora to rethink the organized chaos model of community they've been using.

I have been moderating and administrating communities for a pretty long while in Internet time - my first experience was as a moderator of a UseNET group. (If you shuddered, then clearly you too have been around for a long time. ^_^)

There are definitely a few lessons we can learn from the Community Lifecycle. Previously I've discussed how the members' participation shifts over time in Online Communities 101. Today we'll discuss some of the common community management methods - and why they are all always wrong.

Stage 1: Organized Chaos or Hey Kids, let's Build a Group!

The first stage of any online community is an idea. I am interested in a thing and so are you. Let's talk about it over here. You mention how cool that group is to people you like. The group is pretty small, you have some control over who knows about it. The level of signal to nose is high, a few folks - probably the original members - dominate the conversation. In-jokes abound! It's a nice group, everyone has a lot of fun, everyone knows everyone. It's the online version of your local pub.

Positives: This group grew organically. The folks there understand the unwritten rules and maybe don't see the need for written ones. Everyone is helpful when a new person arrives - after all, that person is a friend of a friend.

Negatives: This is a clique, plain and simple. It's cool when you're invited into the clubhouse, but when you bring your kid brother, maybe it's not so cool for everyone else. Unwritten rules are part of the group mind. When you're not quite on the same wavelength, you will feel uncomfortable, like you're missing something and everyone else will feel uncomfortable trying to explain that this is all there is - it's not that you're missing *anything.*

Common negative reactions at this stage: Complain about clique-yness of original members; Try too hard to fit in; Cloak resentment in anthropological terms; Make yourself a nuisance and call yourself "gadfly."

Stage 2: FAQs 

The community has been around a few "cycles" (online cycles last approximately 3 months, with accompanying membership turnover and shift,) and there's some growing pains. What was a group of a few might now be a few dozen. People are joining who "heard of" the group from a friend of a friend, or saw a mention somewhere online. New people are asking the same questions over and over and over and the original members decide that they don't want to have to keep cutting and pasting the same answers. It's time for an FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Postives: FAQs are a simple way to remind folks that whatever urgent thing they need to know right now, has been asked before. There's a resource, a body of knowledge here. This group isn't fly by night. It gives new members a list of community standards, and a feel for what the kinds of thing the group talks about might be.

Negatives:  FAQs immediately depersonalize the group. No longer does everyone reach out a helping hand to a new person - the group may still welcome new members, but there's a sense that  "Here, RTFM, kthnx" seems to be the new welcome message. The original members are more remote, because they aren't touching base with every new member. Conversations will get more formal, less like a group of friends. Discussions of "process" will arise.

Common negative reactions at this stage:  Member churn can begin to accelerate. Discussions about "process" can become acrimonious, as differing ideas about how a group "should" be are aired. Original members are often squeezed out, as new members demand certain behaviors and the original members feel disgusted that their creation has gotten away from them. Original, now senior, members stop posting as moderation duties start to suck the fun out of the group.

Stage 3: Community Quality Initiatives

At some point, the mass influx of new members because of growing popularity and press coverage means that the signal to noise ratio will shift towards noise. Where once upon a time new people were new to "this community" but not new to communities, now new people are new to the concept of a community online. As a result fewer people read the FAQs or the "How to" tutorials or the community standards. They slam up the most basic questions, not realizing or caring that they have been answered a hundred (million) times already. They mistake user forums for professional support. These people aren't bad - they just don't get community life. They are the loud neighbors of your online apartment, leaving garbage on the curb all week, because they can't be bothered to find out when pickup is.

Senior members (one or two original members might remain, but the rest will be second- or third-wave members promoted to positions of seniority) will suggest that it's time to come up with and enforce a certain level of quality. Nothing major - we just want this to be a nice place for everyone.

Postives: A new reward system will be created. People with experience, smarts, stability and time will be given accolades, their efforts recognized. Community members will be able to see that being a good neighbor means being recognized by the Town Council.

Negatives:  The original members will have moved on, will be focused on the technical aspects of the site, or on the marketing, advertising or sale of the site and will in large part be leaving the day-to-day running of the site to the users. This is about as good an idea as it sounds.

Common negative reactions at this stage:  Shouts of "Elitism!" will ring from the online rafters. Trolls and "gadflys" will gather to poke and prod these new community leaders because it *is* easier to destroy than create - and this is the way they have fun. The loudest of these people will decry even the slightest testy response as an example that that leader is not worthy of the honor.

Special Negative at this Level:  This level is especially prone to a truly deadly complication - mistaking "usage" for "knowledge."

Online communities are built by programmers, developers...technical people. They "get" building forums, groups, features, games, etc. People skills may not be their strongest area. When these people need to spend less time moderating, they are often swayed by usage statistics. Jane  and Joe seem to be on the community a lot...hey, let's ask them to moderate! When bad choices are made (even one bad choice can really destroy a community) for senior members,  the community will suffer. In my experience, this is a killing field for a community. I've seen dozens of communities brought down because the biggest ass gadfly got a job as moderator.

 Stage 4: Follow the Money or "Choose Your Own Adventure"

I call this the "Choose Your Own Adventure" stage, because at this stage, the community is at its peak. It can no longer be run on love, it needs to bring in money, for real. Community owners now have to decide what they want to do - go after advertising, IPO, sell the company or...die.

Postives: All that time invested in a hobby - this is your baby, she's all grown up and when you wed her off, you'll get a nice dowry.

Maybe the owners will stick around to continue working on the community, creating new features and new designs. If they do, the community will change, but it will continue on.

Negatives: Or, will you? Will you sell her to a mean old miser who will do unspeakable things to her?

Sure the owners may be around, but their aren't working for themselves anymore - they serve a new master. That new master may have a completely different vision for this community. Ad revenue, membership mining, it could be anything. Or maybe they thought they wanted it...but they don't want to invest in it. By the time they get it, the technology platform may be old, tired, done with. It seemed like a good idea, but...

Common negative reactions at this stage: Sell Out! is the accusation at this stage. Bitching about the owners taking the money and running, leaving members to hang on to the crumbling hulk of what was once a really great community. "I remember when" is heard frequently. Slowly, slowly the rumor starts of this other great community over there....

Stage 5: The Afterlife 

Not every community dies when it dies. Some platforms live on, hosting specialized conversations or niches. LiveJournal is an example I use all the time. It was MySpace before MySpace and by the time MySpace was Facebook, LiveJournal was forgotten. Except for the thousands of people that still use it. Niche communities of many kinds still live and thrive there and while LiveJournal is not on the front page of TechCrunch, it's not dead or even dying. Sometimes the best thing for an online community is for everyone to just leave it alone. ^_^


As you can see, there is no way to "win" at online communities. No matter what choices owners/admins make at any level, someone will be unsatisfied. The trick is for administrators to find the best way to annoy the fewest people.

So, here's the homework - think about the online communities you currently participate in. What Stage are they at? What level of participation are you at in that community? What are your reactions to the changes of stage? And last, but not least - are your actions helping to preserve the community, destroy it or grow it?

Let me know your experiences with online communities in the comments!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Spam is on the Menu

How do you know if your email/social media marketing campaign will end up in people's spam filter or ignore list?

Let's separate the content from the technology. For the purposes of this discussion "gated platform" means any networking platform that requires a separate login, has groups, lists, or other sub-communities. In other words - all the major networking platforms you can think of and a lot of older platforms, such as IRC, Mailing Lists, Discussion Forums and Groups.

Here are three scenarios:

1) You are standing on the street and pass some random guy who turns to you and says - "Hi, how can I help you today?" What reaction are you likely to have?

2) Now, say you go to a friend's party where you know some, but not all, of the people there. Someone comes up and says, "Hi, how can I help you today?"

3) Lastly, you get a phone call from a colleague in the same company who you don't talk to often, and he asks, "Hi, how can I help you today?"

The first is the equivalent of an email, or message on a gated platform, from someone you don't know. This scenario is clearly spam - there is no context and feels kinda weird to the recipient. You don't really know them, their business, their needs - what makes you think you can help them or that they even need help in the first place? There needs to be more than just opportunity for contact - there has to be context for contact. Contact without any context at all is spam.

The second scenario is the equivalent of a Private Message from someone who is in the same group as you on a gated platform. It *might* be weird, if the person doesn't then explain, "I saw you ask if someone could help you with...." That establishes context and relevance, so it is not spam. However - there's still a great way to screw this up! If *you* ask a question and, when a person answers, respond with your elevator speech or email pitch, you have still managed to be a spammer. That person reached out in good faith to assist you. There was never any implicit or explicit request for your help. Be mindful of the atmosphere - not every contact is a sales opportunity. Knowing the direction of the relationship dynamic will be a key point in making your message meaningful.

The third scenario would be the equivalent of a Private Message from a contact/follower/friend on a gated platform. It also *might* be weird, but also might be useful,  presuming there was a conversation going on that the contact is responding to. Probably not spam, unless proven otherwise.

A random statement with no context provided, will always feel weird. Think about how awkward and annoying it is when you receive an email forward asking you to act on something, with a request to read a long email string between two other people. It takes double the work to figure out what you're being asked to act on and then what you're being asked to do regarding it. The same is true for every and any private communication - when you have the opportunity to contact someone, and context for doing so, you still are responsible for providing the relevance to that person.

Spam is in the intent. If your message feels like, "Hi, I can talk at you because I can," then you are spamming a person. Even if it makes perfect sense to you, it is your responsibility to make it make sense to the recipient.

Provide context, relevance, and awareness of the relationship dynamic between you and the other party, and your communication is much less likely to end up in the spam filter.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How to Beat the Click-and-Ignore of Facebook

For most businesses on Facebook, there is an unnamed, but obvious barrier to true engagement. The ease of Facebook makes it a challenge to actually get past the single click-and-ignore interaction most people have with the pages they "like."

What is "click-and-ignore?"

Click-and-ignore is when a user gives you the absolute least they can do - a single click on a  button - and you give them the absolute least you can do - a coupon or freebie or even just overexcited promotional copy. There's no incentive to do more, as most of the "like"rs have already hidden your feed before you even send the first status update. As Nicholas Carr says in  The Like Bribe, this very simplicity of the action potentially erodes actual likability. Users will "Like" something for reasons other than wanting to keep in touch with a business. Showing support is a common reason I hear for clicking "Like" - a behavior that is almost always paired with immediately hiding that Page's feed. Bribes in the form of freebies and discounts are another.

I've talked about the ease of Facebook and why it discourages actual engagement on the part of user or business. The facade of being popular hides the lack of meaningful interaction.

True stories: A company I do work for from time to time has a Facebook page on which they breathlessly post exciting news! all the time. If you read their feed, they have a gazillion things going on. But when it comes to engaging with the fans of that feed - nothing. Not a single question gets answered. It's a classic case of talking at the fans - not with them.

Another company I follow opened up a Facebook page and started to ask the fans what they wanted to see on the feed. I commented "Responses to us when we respond to you," to which they replied, "Like this?" Not quite satisfied, I posted, "Yes, but with actual content." Overall, they still focus on themselves, but when straightfoward questions are asked, they will answer.

It's not at all complicated to break past the "click-and-ignore" barrier.

1) Forget "likes" altogether. It's a meaningless number that measures just about nothing.

Look at the number of comments, questions and responses you get on a given update, not the "likes." Even things like "great news!" or "alright!" provide you a clearer picture of the people who *want* to engage with you.

2) Respond to the people who respond to you.

When you ask, "so, which one of our products do you like best," some of your fans will reply. If you do not thank them, talk to them about their experience - what is good and bad about that thing - you're being a jerk. Just imagine someone walking up to you, asking you if you think that sweater looks good on them and when you reply, they turn around without a word and walk away from you. What would your reaction be? If you want actual engagement beyond just a "like," you need to reply to those answers given in good faith. Those people responded to you, how hard is it to respond back?

3)  Reach deeper, give more than a bribe

Giving to charity is always a good feeling. But which feels better - mailing off a check, or spending the day actually giving your time and effort to a cause that's important to you?

Sure, it costs you almost nothing to tell folks of the great sale you're having. They know that. It's not like that's actually giving them anything - we all know that sales are to get rid of things you don't want in inventory anyway.

It costs a little more to give up a discount code, but that's all opportunity cost - the more they spend, sure they save more, but they've also spent more - and we all know how that works too.

Special deals for members of this group are a little better - we know that the non-effort of clicking that "Like" button is being equally rewarded with the non-effort of a special discount code.

There's more to a relationship than quid pro quo. Good customers should be rewarded well - your best customers should be rewarded with something that makes them feel truly special. Find the first person to Like you or person who "likes" everything and comments all the time, enters every contest.That person is your advocate. Let them know that you notice their effort. Next time you're going to be near their area, tell them to drop by and just, y'know, treat them nice. That person is part of your team, not for money, but for love. Shower them with love and attention. Go beyond the bribe, and actually be their friend.

Invest a little time and emotion and you can push past the "click-and-ignore" barrier to build strong, productive relationships on Facebook.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Secret Formula for Great Guest Posting

You've got a blog and it's going well - but now you want to expand your audience and perhaps even give space to topics you normally wouldn't address. As Mack Collier said on Quora, the best way to drive traffic to a blog is to leave it.

I write two blogs of my own and I have monthly columns on two other blogs. In addition, I'm occasionally asked to contribute a guest post to a colleague's blog. In most cases, I jump at the chance. I have regular guest posters at one of my blogs as often as I can; these guests cover materials I won't discuss myself - and they provide a different voice on things I have discussed already.

By reaching out to your readers and your peers for Guest posters and Guest posting opportunities, you have a chance to expand your reach, your scope and your writing skills. Here are a few things to think about as you decide whether to look for a guest to post on your blog, or whether to seek out a guest posting opportunity:

Have Something Unique to Say - Bringing a fresh perspective to your favorite blogs makes you a valuable resource to your fellow bloggers. When you're looking for a new voice, give someone with an alternate opinion a chance or someone whose voice is unlike yours. This allows your readers, or the readers of the other blog, exposure to a different way of thinking or a different style of writing - something that can really refresh a one-person blog.

Understand their Style - To be a good Guest Poster, it's worth taking a moment and reading the blog you're contributing to - note topics that are typically not addressed, or are regularly addressed. The blog you write may have a specific format that you can share with a guest - but do you also have a certain style that your audience has become accustomed to? Fitting in with the written and unwritten rules a blog has established makes it easier for the audience to get comfortable with the material, the perspective and the writer.

Know Your Community - You have peers; people whose blogs you read regularly, people with whom you converse on a regular basis in your networks. These people are your community. Know them, know their blogs and online magazines. By reaching out to them you'll have both a pool of great bloggers to recruit from and a place to put your off-topic-for-your-blog-but-still relevant-to-the-industry-posts.

Value Add - Guest posting for someone else provides an opportunity to bring some of your readers to the new blog...and having guests in gives you a chance to bring in new readers who are already fans of the other writer. If you can add value on top of that, through extra promotion, excitingly different content or a new venue, you'll gain increased exposure. Value add in your content too - bring additional depth, new resources and more tools to the discussion, so that the audience gets more than just a new voice.

Regardless if you are looking to be a guest poster or to find a guest for your own blog, the Number 1 thing you must do is:

Ask - No one will intuit that you're looking for a new voice on your blog. And no one knows you're looking to write guest posts unless you say it. Ask your peers if they'd like a post by you - ask your readers to send in submissions for guest posts. Reach your own hand out to expand your network and in no time at all, you'll find you are increasingly desirable as a guest poster and/or host.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reading Social Feeds Saves Time, Money and Sanity

You have your network(s). Every day, the people in your network(s) provide you news. News, as in this is your morning newspaper, keeping you on top of things of interest to *you.* Your peers, your vendors, your colleagues and your news sources create a feed of critical headlines every day.

Are you looking at it?

Look at the trending topics on Twitter. Don't read the posts, just watch the parade of hashtags. You can learn a lot from just scanning the "headlines." Deaths, scandals, entertainment news, that's all fine, but there's more to be learned. Companies, people, natural disasters and even other social network news will pop up in those trends. Not sure if Facebook is down or it's just you having trouble? Check trending topics on Twitter for a fast answer.

Having trouble seeing new contacts on LinkedIn? Check your feed, or the Answers front page to see how many people are already asking about that.

You check for traffic and weather updates all the time, by scanning headlines. Getting into the habit of scanning your networks for breaking news and issues of importance will save time, money and when you're having technical troubles, your sanity.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Guest Post at New Media and Marketing Blog

The gap between consumer expectations and company use of Social Media can make for a bad friendship.

Today it is my great pleasure to post as a Guest on Richard Meyer's New Media and Marketing Blog: How Good a "Friend" is Your Business?

Project Wonderful