What about communities beyond the oft talked about majors – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Delicious, Friendfeed, StumbleUpon, etc.? How does one engage is a very common question, and there are general principles that apply across all social communities major or not. In some ways, Brian Solis and I tried to provide guidance to that effect with Now Is Gone with our Seven Principles of Community Engagement. But there’s more to that (Image: Community Building Competition by absingla).
First, let’s recap the Seven Principles, which are outlined in the closing strategy chapter of Now Is Gone, Think Liquid:
1) Do not try to control the message: Command and control is dead. Though must folks out here get it, organizations are still struggling with relinquishing control. Let’s put it in the context of a relationship — which is the core of traditional PR and again, now with social media marketing.
2) Honesty, ethics and transparencies are musts: This isn’t about baring trade secrets or intellectual property. It’s about basic human relations, and creating a strong foundation for long-term, two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Think about the golden rule here.
3) Participation within the community is marketing (Heuer): Get out there into the stakeholder’s realm. Comment and contribute to larger community groups and social networks. Read customer and related blogs (or vlogs and podcasts), and interact with the writers.
4) Communication to audiences is an out-dated 20th century concept (Rosen): Audiences receive one-way communications — movies, radio broadcasts, speeches, etc. Thanks to social media the audience talks back, forcing organizations to address them in a conversational, two-way manner.
5) Build value for the community: Building value for a community means a core decision to serve them, either with meaningful conversations, links or number 6, content.
6) Inspire your community with real, exciting content, not corporate propaganda: Understand your community has problems, and you have some answers. Creating content for them does not mean give them a press release. It means give them Great Content, fight for their interest, and deliver content on a schedule so readers’ expectations of regular updates are met.
7) Intelligently manage your media forms (RSS, frequency, etc.) to build a stronger, loyal community: When acting in a community, create calls to action, manage your RSS feeds intelligently, make them obvious and accessible.
Well, that was a more than a year and a half ago, and much has changed in social media communities since Now Is Gone (image: MacBraynes Bus by conner395). I think it’s fair to say that there are some basic tactical best practices that have arisen. Some of these are obvious human behaviors that when engaged in a two-way conversation would obviously turn users off. Some are best practices based on mistakes and actions others have taken.
1) Bring People Back to Your Web Site. Be smart, especially if you are building a community within a larger network. If you want to build relationships with people, give them a way to contact you, and perhaps further engage. Provide intelligent calls to action. Post meaningful links and content that your community members may want to see. And then provide calls to action for those who want to develop an even stronger relationship with you.
Many nonprofits do well in branding and awareness on major social networks, but fail to achieve significant relationship development. Getting people to interact with you on your site is the difference maker here. The numbers are less, but the relationships are stronger.
2) Relating versus spamming. It’s not kosher to auto DM or spam people. This is basic human relationships, but if you are using your community, either hosted elsewhere or on your own platform as an auto-response and/or pitch mechanism, you will alienate community members. This should be obvious to people.
I mean who wants to walk into a car deal and snake-oiled? The same thing goes for online communities. Talk with – as opposed to at – people.
3)Play within existing communities: It doesn’t make sense most of the time to create your own community. In fact, most organizationally started communities fail. Usually one already exists on Ning, Squidoo, a community board, or yes, one of the majors. See where open APIs, value added content, and groups will let you play withing the larger community.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this was how HubSpot created Twitter Grader then used the data to produce the State of the Twittersphere report. Oh, by the way they produce inbound marketing software, a natural hit for those who are really into the report data… and how to make a successful app. like Twitter Grader.
4) Don’t dictate to the community. Another somewhat obvious people relations skill, but one that companies like Facebook need to fail before they comprehend that their users are also their partners. On the otherhand, a company like Southwest Airlines has figured out how to use their social community to vet online significant changes.
5) Stay Relevant: Sometimes communities grow stale. Keep updating the technical prowess, features, content and capabilities that are feeding you community. For successes, consider the updates networks like Twitter and Facebook have made over the past year, or lying fallow for too long like Second Life, LinkedIn, Jaiku and MySpace have done over periods of time. Recently, MySpace and LinkedIn made significant progress, but only LinkedIn seems to have benefited from it.
The point is the same though, whether you are on someone else’s platform or your own, the community lives on currentness. Make sure you stay relevant. This in many ways is about the final chapter of Now Is Gone, Think Liquid. Water strategy keeps you moving forward.
Most of these tactical best practices are common sense when you consider them in the context of relationships with other people. You can never go wrong with Golden Rule based actions and principles.
This week’s Georgetown class is being taught by Qui on Now Is Gone. Students will mercifully miss me pontificating on my own book due to a business trip.