Yesterday, I mentioned that 'old school' marketing is like an addiction--it's a habit that feels good, produces a familiar feeling, but ultimately is self-destructive and damaging to creating healthy relationships.
Step 1: Acknowledging the Addiction
I suggested a homework assignment to identify specifically what (or who) in your company exemplifies the addictive behavior that is standing in the way of developing a more social brand.
It's important to admit that something is getting in the way. It's not a pleasant task. But like an alcoholic who must first admit that s/he has a drinking problem in order to overcome it, you must identify what must change in your company culture before deciding how to change it.
Here are some common obstacles I've seen. Maybe you recognize one of these?
A legal department that thinks the company will be held liable for anything published on your site, and thus believes they are protecting the company. Typically, every bit of content on the site must be approved by several channels prior to posting, and every innovative idea that arises is often met with the phrase "we have to run that thru legal first."
A general fear of what the customer might say. What if people say bad things about your product on your web site?
Marketing wants to control the brand image and portray the product how they want it perceived.
A person in power/decision maker who just doesn't like or use the internet.
Business objectives that try to dictate or push the customer to desired behavior rather than offering options for the customer to do what THEY want to do.
Most of these obstacles really come down to this: fear of losing control.
Step 2: Believe in a Higher Power
Okay, so now that you've named and identified the addiction. Let's say that your company is addicted to fear. Or addicted to control. (same thing, in my book) If you've got a different addiction, mention that in the comments section below, and we'll work with that instead.
So now we know the addiction. Does acknowledging it make it go away? Is the world suddenly full of fluffy kittens, golden rays of sunshine and your company is magically ready to embrace social media?
Of course not. It's not that easy. But identifying the addiction is a step towards identifying what trumps the addiction.
If we are to overcome fear or a loss of control, we must replace that with a higher power, something that trumps fear in the cosmic game of rock, paper, scissors.
Rock Beats Scissors, Scissors Beats Paper, Paper Beats Rock...What Beats Fear?
So rock beats scissors, paper beats rock and scissors beats paper...fear beats control...but what beats fear?
Now, knowledge alone won't make an addict see the light and proclaim "I'm an addict and must change my ways." I'm about to post some links to some great case studies that show the benefits of social media marketing.
Follow these links and you'll find sterling examples to demonstrate to the fearful that social media marketing DOES work, has profound benefits and that online communities are more powerful than traditional customer channels.
But those case studies won't be enough to actually change the mind of your CEO, legal department or EVP of Marketing to embrace social media.
The knowledge that others have used these tools with success will start to calm some of the fears, but won't be enough to actually change an opinion. I know we'd like to think we are ultimately rational beings, the reality is that emotion (pleasure) trumps knowledge any day of the week.
So remember this: Fear trumps control. Knowledge trumps fear. Emotion (pleasure) trumps knowledge.
If you want to convince an addict to admit their addiction and change their behavior, first appeal to their fears, then their intellect and then the emotion of pleasure. In that order.
Hey, This Higher Power Stuff WORKS.
This is your homework assignment--pick out 3 case studies of the 100's listed here that are applicable to your business sector and objectives. Don't worry if you don't know your exact objectives yet--just pick out 3 case studies that seem to fit.
This compilation of case studies is courtesy of The Interactive Insights Group, and is an exhaustive list of successful social media campaigns and sites across all commercial and non-profit industries.
(Make sure you visit their site and leave a "thanks" for compiling the list. It's a fantastic resource and no easy task to put together. Saying thank you is part of your karma. Make sure you do it.)
Once you've picked out your 3 case studies, you will write a total of 3 paragraphs for each case study:
a paragrah summarizing the objective and result of the campaign
a paragraph describing how this campaign is relevant to your company
a paragraph on what you would hope to acheive by running a similar campaign for your company
These 9 paragraphs will become the basis of your appeal to a higher power--the power of knowledge. We'll be working with this appeal to knowledge for awhile, so spend some time getting these paragraphs right.
How am I doing so far? Are you finding this 12 Step Plan useful?
One of the things that's been bugging me about the SXSW Interactive conference was the generalization of advice given in most of the sessions I attended. Actually, that bugs me about MOST conferences I attend.
What Is Moderation? Not Enough Excess?
I think when people pay money for a conference, they attend because they are looking for specific help to a specific problem they face at work. At conferences, however, presenters often give a broad overview that you could get from reading a book, and usually only take 3-4 questions from the audience on specific problems.
I realize that there isn't time to help everyone one-on-one at a conference, but I can read a book and figure stuff out on my own time. I don't need to spend $450 or so to have someone tell me, for example, that a community should be moderated for a more pleasant user experience.
I want to know, what exactly is moderation? What does moderation entail? How many hours per day does it require? What *specific* guidelines should I have in place? What are the pros and cons of having topical moderation? What do I do when a flame war breaks out? Should my CEO be posting on the boards?
Yes, I understand that the answer to each of those questions CAN be "it depends". Which is of no help to the person shelling out scarce dollars to attend a conference. The person presenting is supposed to be a Master Practitioner. At the very least, I would want a very specific list of questions that I need to answer in order to proceed.
The typical response of "your community should be moderated" is just not helpful enough.
12 Steps and Tips You Can Use
Well, I'm going to try and fix that and provide solid, practical and detailed tips on how to use social media to develop online communities using the principles of a 12 Step program. I've been in the business of developing online communities for 10 years, and I have a few experiences that just might be useful for others.
Now, a 12 Step program is typically associated with recovery from addiction and getting on a more productive life path. So in my use of the 12 Steps, I'm going to assume that companies are addicted to 'old school' marketing, production or communication techniques and need to be broken of this addiction.
The principles of a 12 Step Program are founded on:
admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion
recognizing a greater power that can give strength
examining past errors with the help of a sponsor
making amends for these errors
learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions
Can you recognize how these principles might be applicable in your company?
Step One: Admitting Addiction
Does your company have an addiction or a compulsion to a particularly destructive behavior?
Maybe it's that your company is too much under the influence of the legal department and free exchange of information is prohibited for fear of liability. Or completed projects never get an internal review for lessons learned because that's 'not billable time.' Or maybe business objectives overrule design principles, because the business folks want to force the users into a particular experience rather than let the user *choose* their experience. (and thus the business people ensure the failure of their own objectives)
When it comes to using social media or developing strong relationships with their clients, MOST companies have an addiction that prevents them from getting closer to their customers. These might be addictions to personal power, control, fear or an aversion to change, but whatever the addiction, there exists an "us vs. them" mentality.
The company is us. The customers are them. But there is rarely a "we" that embraces the customer as an integral part of the company. (notable exceptions: Nike, Southwest Airlines, Apple)
Your Homework Assignment
1) What is the most significant obstacle in the way of your company using social media?
2) Can you list 1-3 things that your company is addicted to that is preventing your company from establishing real relationships with your customers? Is it a person? A culture? A department?
Identify it. Give it a name. You won't know what to change unless you can name the addictive behavior. Please use the comments section to 'fess up to your addiction, but if your obstacle is a specific person, please use a psuedonym.
Tomorrow: Recognizing A Greater Power That Can Give Strength (or: Case Studies in How The Collective Rules)
Somebody once said something to the effect of "empty what is full, and fill what is empty."
I take that statement to mean, "do the not-so-obvious when everyone is doing the obvious, and do the obvious when everyone is doing something different." In other words, I don't always go with what everyone else is saying or doing.
If you're looking to develop a community around a brand or an idea, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of 'how to' articles on the internet that can give you solid advice on getting started. That's what's full.
What is empty...or emptier, I should say, are thoughts on what NOT to do when developing a community. So here are 5 things that I reccomend that you should NOT do when trying to develop or grow either an online or offline community:
1. Talk with your community in marketing-speak.
Sure, you have an ulterior motive for developing a community--but people aren't "customers", "members", "users" or "clients". They're people. Talk with them the way that you'd talk with your friends, family and co-workers. Be a human, not a marketer.
2. Expect people to behave the way you want them to behave.
Yes, you have an objective for gathering people together and trying to form a community, and you have hopes for how they will act. But you can't force people to do anything, and this is REALLY important when developing a website.
MOST sites want people to register with the site--they want data like email addresses, demographic info, purchasing info for follow up marketing. So they force users to register for the site in order to use the features of the site.
Or they offer very limited functionality and try to funnel visitors to either the registration or purchasing tracks.
This is wrong. UI studies indicate that you have approximately 6 seconds to provide some usefulness to a site visitor or s/he is gone. If you're not providing *instant* value, then you're never going to get the visitor to registration.
Provide value to the visitors at first glance, and then *observe* visitor behavior and try to take advantage of what the GUEST wants to do, not what YOU want them to do.
It's a better, more fruitful experience for all and will lead to repeat visits and deeper engagement with the community/website.
Registration information given because the user had to give it (instead of wanting to give it) is useless and counter-productive. The first time you try to connect with that person, they will remove themselves from your emailing list and will form a negative opinion of you because they will remember that you forced them to give something they didn't want to give.
Give people the opportunity to give you information because they want to, and that information becomes MUCH more valuable.
3. Squash disagreements or negative comments about you.
Okay, it's your website or brand--do you REALLY have to listen to people talk trash about you?
Yes. If you want to create an environment where great ideas will grow.
Nobody likes to hear people say bad things about them, but people only say bad things because they WANT to love you/your brand, but something is disappointing them.
YOU want to please your customers and your friends, don't you?
The only way to know if you're doing that is to create an open, warm environment where people are free to speak their mind.
There should be rules of civil discourse, of course and you should definitely set the rules for the tone of the culture on how to disagree and express opinions.
Controversy and freedom of expression helps bring clarity to issues (not necessarily agreement), allows defenders to come forth and leads to new understanding.
Remember--everyone speaks their version of the truth, so there is something good to be found in every opinion. If you are looking to deliver the best possible product or service, those negative views are telling you where you could be doing better.
4. Feel compelled to ACT on every suggestion or comment from the community.
Someone has to set direction and the practical reality is that you will often get conflicting opinions from members of your community on what 'they' want.
THANK everyone in the community for contributing their thoughts and energy, let them know that they were heard and considered, and give them reasons for why you make certain decisions.
But once you decide to turn left, don't waste any more time explaining to people why you didn't turn right. It detracts from the focus of what you are doing.
5. Be afraid to make mistakes.
There are no guarantees of success in any endeavor--you take the best practices, create an environment for success and make the best decisions you can for the right reasons, and maybe success comes your way.
If you're into sporting analogies--there are 32 teams comprised of professional football players in the NFL. They all have amazing players, dedicated, workaholic coaches and organizations whose sole focus is to win games on Sundays and win a championship.
Yet, only ONE of those teams wins the championship every year, and less than half have a winning season. It's unusual when a team wins a championship two years in a row, so success is a very rare commodity.
So if you decide to turn left over opposition from the community, for example, and it turns out you should have turned right, well....
....admit it, and turn right. The community will forgive you (eventually) and your openness will signal to them that you are engaged *with* them and they will appreciate you for the honesty.
We learn more from our mistakes...remember them longer...and grow more attached people we have suffered with than those we have only succeeded with.
Failure makes you human, being human makes you endearing. And even brands can be endearing.
So if you try some initiative with your community and it doesn't work--that's okay. Try something else. Learn what you can from each experience and continue to *listen* to what your community is telling you.
After all, you are ultimately there to serve the needs of the community, not the other way around.
Those are my Top 5 Things NOT To Do when building a community.