As Andy Sernovitz is keen on putting it, setting up a blog for oneself is easy, social media implementation for a business is a different kettle of fish. Once upon a time, I was contacted by a marketing representative of a large European company who was showing interest in some of my early blogging and web work at visionarymarketing.com.
His focus was on how one could use social media in the field and I then wrote a piece for him describing my vision for social media (or Web 2.0 as it was named back then) within businesses.
My top 10 tips for social media implementation within businesses
His project was cancelled, but I was lucky enough to be able to apply my own recommendations for myself unless it had nothing to do with luck, which is very likely.
Now that the social media boom is looming, I have decided to revise and update my recommendations. Social media is not a matter of tools but of adhering to the philosophy and ethics of neo marketing on the Web (see Tara Hunt interview for details). Here are therefore my 10 tips for succeeding in web collaboration on the Internet.
Here’s a summary of my top 10 tips for the implementation of social media within businesses:
- Communities are important, but not every brand has one
- Do not mistake comments for collaboration
- Avoid social media proliferation and do away with renegade initiatives
- Facilitate, facilitate, facilitate
- Respecting one’s community (no hard-selling)
- Great causes can work wonders
- Be an altruist, think user-benefit vs. company-benefit
- Openness, transparency and disclosure
- Quantity and flow of information
- The rubber must meet the road
- Extra tip. Understand the WHY of your social media initiative
Note: this is the unabridged version of a piece I wrote for CBS News and can still be found online
1. Communities are important, but not every brand has one
Enabling comments on a website and letting users enter comments, adding a bit of technicality here and there is not enough to transform a static website into an interactive and collaborative platform. Avoid creating empty shells in which collaboration will not actually happen (I have examples but I won’t link to them out of courtesy). Besides, not everyone has a community, however fashionable that word may be.
Communities are built with passion, common interest and the need for people to help each other. Just because some people are merely buying products doesn’t mean that they are part of a community. Let alone your community. Companies need to foster community feelings and serve their ecosystems’ interests (i.e. work on their whuffie) before thinking of orchestrating a community.
Last but not least, communities aren’t managed; at best, they can be encouraged and facilitated (I am therefore not really crazy about the new community management fad). For detailed tips on how to foster communities refer to Hagel and Armstrong’s 1997 Net Gain and then you will realise that communities aren’t new on the Web.
2. Do not mistake comments for collaboration
Comments mean reaction, not action nor pro-action. On the contrary, collaboration is about working together (cum-laborare in Latin). And it is about working from the bottom up (Howard Rheingold talked about the guy in the basement). This includes encouraging people from the shopfloor to come forward and also letting clients talk to one another. Not all companies are prepared for this, and it may take a while before they are. Besides, if this is incompatible with your core strategy, check the following rule.
3. Avoid social media proliferation and do away with renegade initiatives
As Social Media is becoming more popular, it seems that everyone else wishes to create one’s twitter account.
But how many twitter account does a company need? More than once, I have seen such efforts fail anyway because communities aren’t created without effort and one has – as Tara Hunt would put it – to work on one’s whuffy first.
Those who forget about these fundamentals are bound to fail anyway. They will also cause aggravation and havoc amongst social media enthusiasts and there will be a price for this.
4. Facilitate, facilitate, facilitate
In order to create a new effective collaborative website, facilitation has to happen at all times, and especially at the beginning of the initiative. Collaborative websites do require that a large volume of information be created upfront in order to attract new visitors before generating collaboration (caution! This content has to be real and not just formal).
You will then have to respond to suggestions or comments as soon as they have been added. The Web is about real-time. If the user-producer feels that his suggestions have not been taken seriously, or too late, then he or she will be discouraged and will never come back, or might be tempted to badmouth you on social media platforms.
Spontaneity equates to social media politeness because it shows the interest that your organisation is bestowing upon the user-producer.
5. Respecting one’s community (no hard-selling)
Social media users come to your websites to gather information, to exchange, share and receive too, but they will not go there to look at your product descriptions unless they are particularly interesting or new or you want to get their feedback on them.
For products and sales, users will just go to your static website instead. Don’t try and sell your wares on social media or try and do this by using the strictest adherence to the rules of permission marketing and disclosure.
If you have something you’d wish to sell there, it’s got to be a limited offer or something which is made available to that community only. Besides, what you offer has to be relevant to that community.
6. Great causes can work wonders
Great passion emerges often (always?) from great causes, not from small products. Think about user benefits: don’t forget to serve users and to analyse why they will be attracted to your content and why they will come back to the website.
If all you can do is think about yourselves, and your company, you will be the only ones to go and visit this website. And being alone on a collaborative website is not a decent objective.
A great example is Kaiser Permanente’s story on its fight in favour of healthier eating habits.
7. Be an altruist, think user-benefit vs. company-benefit
If you want to try social media, you had better start thinking differently. It means putting others first and your business interests and objectives second. Start thinking YOU YOU YOU rather than WE WE WE. Anyway, this is not just for the Web, but all your Marketing approach should be like that. If it’s not, chances are you could improve your sales quite significantly by using a little empathy. Your tone of voice has to be very straightforward and very honest and you have to avoid patronizing your visitors. The social media spirit implies that the user-producer be respected and showed confidence and appreciation.
8. Openness, transparency and disclosure
The collaborative web does not agree with closed circles. Collaboration implies transparency. Corporate speak is not allowed and online advertising is not of the essence of social media either. If you forget about this basic rule, at best visitors will be indifferent, and at worse, they will be very critical. You have to avoid creating fake blogs (aka flogs) at all cost. Fake posts and reviews also have to be avoided and all other attempts at cheating with your users and visitors. There are many chances that you will be uncovered rapidly and that retaliations will be extreme (see the example of the website for the Sony PSP Playstation at Christmas 2006). Since October 2009, the FTC has made this practice illegal. In certain European countries, it has always been illegal. In other words “infiltrating” social media is purely and simply out of the question. Check the SMBC disclosure page for details.
9. Quantity and flow of information
The collaborative web revolves around content. If you launch a collaborative website which generates only one or two posts and comments you are therefore exposing your company and your brand. Content has to be up to date and plentiful.
10. when the rubber meets the road
Last but not least, even if you have respected the first 9 rules, all still remains to be done. As always when it comes to implementing information systems, execution is everything. In other words, it’s not just a matter of content, it’s mostly a matter of implementation and field practice. Let’s repeat once more that social media is not just about following the rules of the game, it’s a way of life and requires strong company involvement.
Extra tip. Understand the WHY of your social media initiative
For a large corporation wanting to embrace a social media initiative, the question is not to know whether or not to jump on the bandwagon, but to understand whether any benefits can be withdrawn from such an initiative, and to define which benefits can be shared with its users. Quid pro quo is indeed the real essence of a collaborative experience, be it online or offline. This has everything to do with marketing strategy and not much, if anything, about technicality.