In the social media circles, hot topics travel quickly, as you might expect. We are the fanners of the flame, after all.
Today's hot topic is the 90/9/1 rule. This principle suggests a benchmark for community participation--roughly speaking, an online community can expect to have 1% of its members be active content creators, 9% of the members will edit that content (comment, respond, vote in polls, rate, etc) and 90% are content consumers--they read but don't do anything else.
Martin Reed and Mike Rowland both challenge this principle from the perspective that accepting this principle is to accept less than the full potential of an online community. And of course, there are a whole lot of "amens" coming from both sides of the issue.
This is Sam's perspective of the issue. He doesn't really care. This pic isn't germaine at all. I just promised that my cats would appear in my blog and it's a reminder not to take any of these social media conversations TOO seriously. It's still more art than science.
My perspective on the topic...
90/9/1 is a guideline, not a rule. And a very, very valuable guideline. Many community managers look at online community with a wide-eyed sense of higher purpose and idealism. Online communities are changing the way that corporations interact with their customers, they give power to the people, can lead to dramatic social change, and they connect people around shared passions. There is certainly a strong sense of evangelism shared among community managers everywhere. Our cause is just and holy.
Yes to all of that.
And...online communities/social networks are also a commodity. They are an investment. *Somebody* is paying for the bandwidth, the people, the designers, engineers, moderators, etc. for a reason. There is something they want in exchange. While doing a greater good and shifting a paradigm is fun and part of the objective, let's face it, it's still all about the Benjamins.
As a commodity, social networking/online community is largely funded by marketing departments. At least, that's my experience developing communities for major brands over the past 10 years. Some online communities might come out of customer support budgets, but by and large, I think we're seeing the spread of social networking online as a function of marketing dollars at work.
Marketing people like metrics. It's what they do. They want results for campaigns that are measurable against benchmarks. Doesn't matter if it's a short campaign like a tv ad running for 4 weeks or a long campaign like an online community. They want to hear those 3 beautiful little words that drive relationships all over the world.
Return. On. Investment.
Now, I'm not saying that's the *right* attitude to take. Just pointing out current reality. As an industry, social networks/online communities have a serious dearth of available metrics that make a case for *value* of an online community in a way that marketers like to hear. Yes, I know there are all kinds of metrics out there that can (and are) used to illustrate value. Some of them are voodoo....some are quite useful.
But marketing folks like to know "I spent x dollars on y campaign and that moved sales z % against an expectation of q industry benchmark. Therefore, my campaign was a success (or failure)."
We're getting there, but we don't deliver those types of results in the social media world yet. We're in the process of defining metrics that do show ROI, and we're in the process of redefining what community 'success' means in the marketing world.
But that's a long road to travel and in the meanwhile, the people paying the bills want to know what they are getting for their money.
The 90/9/1 rule is just a benchmark for marketers to understand.
Remember those old TV car commercials where they would spout off gas consumption efficiency, and they always ended with the legal disclaimer "actual mileage may vary"? It's like that.
Marketing people aren't the type of people who are going to hand you a check for $250K to develop an online community and not expect to see some *results* for that investment. And saying "I don't know what type of results to expect" isn't a very satisfying answer.
Neither is "we're going to connect people with your brand in a holistic way so you can be part of a conversation with your customer."
Sure. Sounds good. To what purpose?
Enter 90/9/1. This principle gives marketers a rough idea of what to expect, although actual mileage may vary. There are SO many variables at play--site design, prominence of links into the community, content integration, outside marketing, tone and culture of the community, etc.--but it's better to have *something* resembling a benchmark than not.
Online communities still need to contribute to the bottom line of a company. Having the online community is either adding revenue, saving expenses or improving brand awareness or there is isn't much reason to have it.
And those criteria are measurable in every other aspect of running a business, so why not for online communities, too?
The 90/9/1 rule gives a standard to compare to, but it's like any other rule of thumb. It's a good approximation, not a specific measurement.
Get 20 random people together and I'll bet that their thumbs will show a variance of at least 50% in size. And yet the rule of thumb says that the width of a thumb is roughly 1 inch and that's close enough. The standard lets you know roughly what 'normal' is, even with a variance.
In my experience managing both online and offline communities, the 90/9/1 rule is relatively accurate. Yes, there are exceptions both in terms of far exceeding and underachieving those ratios, but I've found it to be roughly true.
Previous statement disclaimer: I don't quibble over movements of 1-5% in community metrics. I look for larger trends and dramatic impact. For me, 5% is that margin of error or 'your mileage may vary' factor. I just don't consider changes that small to be statistically significant over time. Community behavior is just too volatile to worry about small swings in behavior until they become consistent.
I think the real point in using this principle is that it gives some comfort to people managing communities that you can be successful with as little as 1% of your viewers contributing content. When you consider the emphasis place on BIG numbers by most marketing folks, you can truly see the value of the 90/9/1 rule--it keeps the expectations reasonable while trying to nail down the exact ROI of the site based on *actual* behavior.
Short version of the story--it's a good guideline, but don't freak out if your site doesn't measure up and you still feel like you're getting value out of your community. And if your metrics far surpass this rule and you feel your community is successful, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
If you're not measuring up to the guideline and you don't feel like your community is being successful, then it's time to examine your site strategy and implementation more closely and make adjustments.
The nagging question of 2009 in my line of work is—what’s all this ‘community’ and ‘social networking' stuff worth anyway?
Ask the right question.
I recently had an inquiry from one of our sales folks who asked a seemingly innocent and reasonable question: A prospect was asking “what type of participation can they expect if they added community to their e-commerce site?”
They wanted to know if x number of people visit the ‘main’ site, what y number of people would participate in the community?
I know both the prospect and the sales person were hoping for a neat, succinct answer. Say…10%. It really didn’t matter what the number is, they just wanted a number.
Implied in the question, of course, is the question “what is a community worth?” It’s that ROI issue—if a client invests money in a community site, how will they know if they got an appropriate value in return?
Now, I love our sales folks. They live and breath this stuff too and they have a challenging job. Part of my job is to give them insight/information to help make their job easier.
I hate giving a long answer to a short question, but here is my (edited) email response:
What Does 'Participate' Mean Anyway?
“Not only does community participation vary based on online/offline promotion of the community and how community is integrated on the website, it can also vary by what one calls 'participation'.
Responding to a poll question or clicking to rate something can be totally anonymous and not require any member self-identification with the community. Yet those are acts of participation that provide tremendous value to the community.
Reading a blog entry and gathering information from it is valuable to me, the reader, even if I don’t choose to leave a comment. Did I ‘participate’ in the community by reading the content, or do I only count as participating if I register, login and leave a comment?
Benchmarks, who's got benchmarks?
I know that everyone in the industry wants benchmarks so they can gauge the expected results of their community investment. The problem is that there aren’t any objective criteria to qualify benchmarks, in part because of the number of variables that enter into the equation.
Not only are there varied definitions of what constitutes community participation, but the site implementation and community visibility on the site factors in, as well as any offline promotion given by the client means that any figure we give is truly a wag. Sure, we can say 10-20% of total visitors on some of our sites will click on a ‘community’ link but we (or anyone else, for that matter) don't really have any reliable data to support what type of participation a community can expect.
Thinking in terms of "if we invest x number of dollars, we should get y number of posts, comments, visits, etc," is really the wrong way to think about online community, though. You probably already know that and this might not be what the prospect wants to hear but...
…the value is immeasurable. It has value, or course. We just can’t measure it yet. We need to rephrase the core question.
Value. C'mon, what's it really worth?
Here are a couple of examples of why we need to reshape that customer question/objection of what is essentially "what is the investment worth?"
1. I purchase a lot of stuff off Amazon and I read a lot of ratings and reviews before nearly every purchase. I don't buy things with bad reviews, I do buy things with positive reviews. I personally have never written a review and rarely leave ratings on products I buy on Amazon, yet I am significantly affected by the actions of the community.
There isn't a good way to track the value to me, or from me as a consumer, but I will state categorically that I do not buy ANYTHING without checking out reviews and ratings. I don't actively 'participate' in the community, but without it, I take my purchases elsewhere.
2. Many times on a community site, customers will complain about: --product defects --poor customer service --desired features that are lacking
Even when the forums are NOT specifically customer support boards, what is the value of the ONE post that asks a question/complains about a problem that is resolved by either: a) an official representative of the company or b) a member-generated response?
In either case, you could calculate the saving of a reduction in customer support call, but you don't really know the reach of the one question. The question could be posted once, but read by 100 people and thus saving 100 customer support calls at a cost of z dollars each, or it could have been seen by 1,000 people.
We really don't know since those metrics won't show up as 'participation'. The value is there, but how do you calculate it?
If Something Good Happens and No One Knows About It, Does It Have a Value?
Likewise, how do you calculate the benefit of the ONE feature suggestion that is really good and makes the product better and makes it sell better? I doubt if anyone can really say “wow, member BraNdLuvveR had a great suggestion and sales increased 17% because of that improvement they suggested.” The value exists in being part of the conversation with your customers on what they would like to see to love your product even more, but how do you quantify it?
Or, what is the value of seeing one customer service issue resolved publicly that not only makes THAT customer happy, but also influences other readers of the forum who think "wow, this company is pretty cool and will resolve any issues I might have with them?"
Personally, I DO make purchasing decisions based on input that I get as to how their follow up customer support is likely to be. I bought Bose headphones for a Xmas present this year instead of comparable Shure headphones because I'd read on discussion boards that while both products fail at about the same rate, Bose will supply new headphones with no questions asked, where Shure's policy on returns involves jumping thru a bunch of hoops.
That was a $300 purchasing decision based on whether I thought I would have a *future* good customer service contact with the brand or not.
But how do you track that value?
What is the right question?
In sum--as a community manager, I would be very leery of giving out metrics and expectations of performance during the sales process. It's more valuable to get the company involved to CLEARLY state their objectives, and then see how we can move towards that goal, rather than tell them what they might expect.
The more pertinent question, imo, isn't what they can expect to happen...but what do they WANT to happen by developing and connecting with their community?
And then ask them how they would measure that.”
Amazingly, after a response like that to a simple question, my sales folks still talk to me and respond to my emails. I love the people I work with--they tolerate my roundabout responses to their direct questions.
And I'm getting double-duty from an email by getting a blog post out of it too, so I'm maximizing MY roi value from the question.
So my question to you, dear readers, is how DO you measure the value of an online community?
The terms 'social networking', 'social media' and 'community' get tossed around a LOT in my biz, as if they were interchangeable words, all meaning the same thing.
It's All About Me. Really.
Social networking is about ME. Whether "me" is literally, me, or whether "me" is a company. Or an idea. I, Mark use social networking to gather or give information, to meet people, to establish a reputation, to share my opinion, to give the wonderful gift of me to as many people as want to share me. (read that last bit with a sense of humor, please).
In a social network, the attention is on ME. Facebook is a great example of a social network. So is LinkedIn. So is Twitter. Sure, I'm connecting to you, but it's really about me.
Ever comment or read comments on a blog? MOST of the time, there is no *real* dialogue going on. The blog author puts out an opinion or observation. (like this one) People comment, giving *their* opinion on the author's opinion. The author then comes back and acknowledges the comments, what a nice point the commenter had, or they disagree, and thus show that the blog author (ie; ME) is a gracious conversationalist.
But *rarely* does a commenter on a blog post comment more than once. Rarely do people acknowledge other comments and lead the conversation into a new direction, as happens in *real* conversations. The blog author is saying this is MY opinion, and the commenters are responding with "this is my opinion about your opinion."
(try this sometime: count how many topics you will cover in a 10 minute conversation with someone in a ftf conversation. start with any topic you like, and I'll bet that inside of 10 minutes, you will have wandered and touched on at least 10 different topics or reference points)
Any way you slice it, the focus is on ME.
Tool? Who Are You Calling a Tool?
Social media...well...that's just another word for "tools". Social media are the tools that one uses to connect either in a social network or a community. It's technology...it's the conduit which leads to connection on either end.
While folks like to focus on the whiz bang, bleeding edge things that can be called "Web 2.0", really, *anything* that connects people with other people is a social media.
A telephone (remember using one of those to actually *talk* with people?) is one of the greatest social media tools ever invented, until telemarketers ruined it.
Television is a great social media tool. Sure, some folks will say "but there is no interaction with TV, how can it be a social media tool?"
Well, if you're a football fan, you certainly DO interact with your TV set when your favorite player drops a touchdown pass. Or when you invite your friends over for the game.
How many people would talk about the latest Seinfeld episode, or American Idol in the office? I can't tell you how many conversations we've had at my work place about Lost, or a sporting event, the presidential debates or The Office. (full disclosure: I once crashed our network by downloading Office episodes to my iPod, and event that STILL gets talked about. Sheesh, you bring the network down once, and for some reason, people never forget that!)
Television, at its best, gets people talking. It's a social media tool. Whether it's as effective as other tools is up for debate.
Things like Twitter, AIM, email, FaceBook, MySpace, Bebo, etc...they're all social media tools, used to connect people. They are the pipe thru which connection flows.
Human Beings vs. Human Doings
Building Community is the whole point of social networking and social media. Connecting the ME and turning it into WE.
What *is* a community, you ask?
I'm glad you did. A community is...as a community does.
In order for a group of people to turn into a community, it must have a higher sense of purpose...and it must have *action* as its ultimate objective.
Without action, there is no community.
Wah? You Got Some 'Splainin To Do, Lucy...
Think of anything that you can obviously call a 'community'. A church. Your local PTA. Your climbing, knitting, biking, golfing club. Your homeowners association. A trade association you belong to.
Each of these has *action* as the reason for their existence. We identify with the community based on the action we take.
I'm a golfer, for example, but I'm not in the community of golfers until I join a club. And the club will take actions like hold tournaments, get discounts on lessons and equipments...in order that I can take the action of playing golf.
Fans of a sports team or a rock band or a tv show...are just fans...a collection of people...until they take an action. Wearing a team jersey is the action of evangelizing for your community (team). If I'm sitting at home watching the game, I'm just a fan. When I invite my friends over, then we become a community, with our 'action' being to send our collective energy to will our team to victory.
If you think that's silly, well, in EVERY sport, there is a home field advantage that largely comes from the positive energy that the crowd supplies. If every fan just stayed home as an individual, there would be no advantage.
I might be a fan of Deadwood, but I'm not in a *community* of fans of Deadwood until I take some action protesting it going off the air and trying to get it reinstated.
It's not just common interest that makes a community, it's common purpose.
My friend Dave Land, who is the smartest person you've never heard of, made a comment to me on this subject that I love.
He said (well, tweeted, to be precise) "So a community is what it does, not who it is? Not disagreeing, I'm just sayin', is all… Are we human doings, or human beings?"
We Be as Me, We Do as (collective) YOU.
Which brings me to the final point. Yes, by ourselves, we are human *beings*. When I'm on Facebook, for example, I'm being me. I share pictures with my friends, I catch up on their lives, I am...just existing. (which is a perfectly good thing to do).
When I am on MyBarackObama.com though, I am *doing*. Which ultimately, has more power, people coming together around your product or service and *doing* something with it..and evangelizing to others to join them.
So What You're Really Saying Is...
If you're a marketer or a company considering getting into this 'social' space online, you should ask yourself what it you are really trying to accomplish--
Do you want people to DO something with you, or is it enough for them to just BE with you?
Either choice can be a perfectly valid choice, depending on your business needs, but they are two completely different business objectives.
It's just important to know the distinction.
What are your thoughts? Care to engage me in a conversation on this topic?
Today, of course, was Martin Luther King's birthday, a day we celebrate not just the man, but the ethics and noble ideals that he inspired in so many. We honor this man for his selfless dedication and ability to inspire others to commit to a higher purpose of achieving equality and justice for all.
All across America today, many communities participated in a day of service motivated, in part, by President-elect Obama's call to honor Dr. King's example by working for a common good.
President Kennedy's famous inauguration speech--"ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" has been a guiding principle in my life since childhood. I grew up with the sense of idealism and higher purpose Kennedy speaks of, and thankfully, it has weathered several decades of cynicism.
The Higher Purpose of Community
Today is a good day to remind ourselves that we ALL have a higher purpose, and this concept relates to the practical matter of using social media to develop online communities. Now, I don't want to diminish the magnitude of Dr. King's achievements by linking him with marketing and social media. Rather, I want to show how his inspiration can be applied to some of the common aspects of life too, not just the big things.
I've been musing a lot lately on the definition of 'community.' How do you define it? I'm coming to the belief that every community, in order to be called a community, must possess two core elements: action and higher purpose.
What noble ideal will inspire people to join...and work for this community?
Now, I am a community manager for several well-known brands and many folks might want to know where is the higher purpose in selling something? What's Nike's higher purpose? Exxon's? McDonald's? Can you really build a community around each of these brands? (note: I don't work for any of these companies)
Well, yes, I could. By bringing people together around what these companies either represent or COULD represent as their higher purpose.
What Business Are You Really In?
Nike isn't in the business of selling shoes. Their higher purpose is selling Excellence. Their higher purpose has to do with YOUR self-image--your desire and ability to see yourself as high performance, healthy person who values Excellence,Discipline and Hard Work. The shoes are just a means to those aspirations.
Can you create a community of people who are motivated to excel and give them the tools and peer support to do so? You betcha. A Nike community is easy to develop.
If I were developing a community for Exxon, I would suggest that their higher purpose is providing the energy that powers our life. (regardless of the lifestyle we choose). McDonald's higher purpose is feeding people inexpensively.
Image Problem? Look in the Mirror.
Each of the companies I've mentioned has an image problem, and yet, each of these companies sells their products to MILLIONS of people around the world. Obviously, they have some fans. If you buy these products or are employed by these companies, YOU are their image. What kind of story do you tell?
Having ordinary people tell their stories of how these brands have a positive influence in their life would go a long way to altering the common public perception.The fact is that Nike, Exxon and McDonalds DO do some good things--we just hardly ever hear about them.
Now, I'm not defending or promoting any of these companies...I'm just pointing out how appealing to a sense of higher purpose is needed to develop a sense of community. If these companies more clearly define their higher purpose and develop a community based on those ideals, then their community will help them...and help direct them towards right, noble actions.
No one would join a community that supports child labor in Third World countries, encourages the pillage of the environment or promotes obesity in children. Nobody is going to join a community about shoes, gasoline or cheap hamburgers, either.
Appeal to the Best in People, not their Fears or Prejudice.
50 years ago, no one would join a community and face jail, beatings and death to support the right of supposedly inferior humans to vote, sit anywhere on the bus or in a restaurant, or have equal access to schools either. It took the inspiration of a higher purpose--the appeal to more noble and loftier notions of Equality and Justice--to bring about that type of change.
Only communities--people acting together with a higher purpose--can deliver that type of change.
So before you build your community, ask yourself--what is your higher purpose? Make it big. What noble ideals are you promoting?
I've just recently passed the 10 year mark of working for LiveWorld, which I celebrated with a handful of jelly bellies, a diet coke and a passing nod that time really does fly when you're having fun. It's hard to believe that I've spent ten years working in the practice of developing online and offline communities--I still feel like I have start-up passion, conviction and optimism.
I'm not going to wax philosophical on the strange and curious wonders I've seen in this business--suffice it to say that my general observation is that building communities and brand engagement marketing is pretty much like reporting the news--the names and the tools used to do the job change, but the actual events remain pretty much the same.
I would, however, like to share a few lessons that I've learned that might be helpful both on a personal level in the workplace and for brands wanting to engage with their customers.
1. Listen to what is really being said, not just the words actually spoken. The words "I hate you" usually mean "I want to love you but something is in the way." Translation: your most vociferous detractors really want to be your biggest fans. Take action on what people actually say...and what they were really trying to tell you.
2. Everybody wants to help. Feedback, complaints, suggestions, comments--almost everybody wants to help! Regardless of whether you think the input is helpful or not, assume that people's intentions are good and give every suggestion the same consideration as if you had thought of it yourself.
My cat Cleo (pictured above) thinks she's helping me work by sprawling all over my keyboard and demanding attention. There are days when that seems really annoying and I want to push her aside. Those are the days when she is reminding me that taking time to scratch behind her ears will make her purr, and her purring will change my perspective.
Then there are days when I thank her for wanting to help, pick her off my keyboard and place her on the floor and get on with my work. But always acknowledge when someone wants to help and let them, or they will stop offering...and stop purring.
You want to encourage purring.
3. Everyone speaks the truth. Not all truths are the same, of course. One person can tell you that you're great, and another person can say that you suck...and they are both right. So who do you believe? You get to choose which truths you will accept and will act on, but listen to what everyone is telling you and find the truth in it that you can use. There's something useful in what both sides are saying.
4. Speak the truth, be transparent and do the right thing. It's a simple concept--don't lie or exaggerate. Just tell the truth. Admit when you make a mistake and when you are successful, don't take credit that isn't yours. People like the truth and we all know hyperbole when we hear it. "First, best, leader, anything ending in -est" is probably not the truth and will make people not trust you.
A corollary to this--give more credit to people around you than you take for yourself. It makes people feel good, encourages them to help even more and they probably deserve it more than you do anyway. Success is always a team effort.
And yes...do the right thing. This doesn't need definition--if you have to ask if you're doing the right thing, then you're not. Always go with your gut (and not your head) on that one.
5. Don't be afraid to fail. We learn more from failures than successes so change the word failure to education. You know that campaign you tried that didn't go over so well? We sure learned a lot from that experience, didn't we?
On the other hand, don't make the same mistake twice. The point IS to succeed and learn. Just remember that if nobody is dying for real, it's not really an emergency or a disaster. We'll come back and do better tomorrow.
6. Have Fun and Break a Few Rules Every Now and Then. 100% of the people I know would rather have fun than not have fun. Create an environment and user experience where people can have fun and good results will follow. Joy lightens everything it touches and makes all the hard work worthwhile...and makes people want to come back for more.
As for breaking rules...well... rules are for those who lack creativity and don't trust themselves to do the right thing. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?
Do you have any rules for success that you'd like to share?
In the midst of all the hyper-activity of SXSW, here are a few moments of sheer beauty that I've come across--little snapshots that existed only for a second or two and then vanished.
Tiny stolen moments in the cacophony that surrounds SXSW...little intimacies I wasn't supposed to see.
These are the ones that go in my treasure box.
1) The 30-something woman--a senior manager at a very large corporation, influential in her field and sought-after as an expert and speaker--who had dreams of being a professional dancer as a child. Attending an awards ceremony held in a ballet studio, gazing in the mirror and assuming first position, checking the curvature of her arms and the correct angle of her feet.
She subconsciously slips in a demi-plie; a respectful curtsy to the gods of Dance like she was trained to do many years ago. For the briefest moment, her eyes sparkled, her soul twirling and leaping with her dreams remembered and she became a little girl who loved to dance more than anything else in the world.
Then she laughed, and talked about something else. But she was still dancing on the inside.
2) Riding the bus, catching the eye of a very pretty transsexual heading for home after a night out. She gave me a smile, I smiled back and then she turned her head away and wouldn't look at me for the rest of the ride. Maybe a little fearful that I would uncover her secret under the harsh lights of the bus interior?
During the ride, I thought about her and how much courage she had--I wonder if I would have that much courage to be who I am in public, if 'who I am' is that far outside of the norm? Her hands gave her away--large, weathered hands with a bit of grease still under the cuticles. Man's hands, probably a mechanic.
When I left the bus, she finally looked at me again and gave me a flirtatious smile with a little toss of her hair, and looked away again shyly.
Just like a girl.
3) The middle-aged Latina waitress at the end of her shift in a still-busy Mexican restaurant late Sunday night. Harried, still serving tables and trying to finish her work and close out so she could go home, she would be occasionally be overcome by the music from the live salsa band and break out in fierce moments of dance once she got off the floor and was hidden from view in the waitress station.
Music so powerful, so ingrained in her soul, that even when tired and given the chance to rest, she danced.
4) A random connection that happened because of mistaken identity. Standing in the doorway of a room, waiting to leave for the day, a woman approaches me joyfully, with a smile and a big greeting. Then realizes I'm not who she thought I was. We laugh and chat to get over the awkwardness.
Turns out we have much in common professionally, and the person she was there to meet was someone that I wanted to meet too. In the midst of our 'professional' conversation, I mention that I came to the world of social media via the theater.
"Really?", she asked, eyes sparkling. She leaned in slightly towards me, and lowers her voice just a bit, as if she were to share a secret. "I'm a jazz singer." Her body seemed to relax a bit, lighter, like a heavy cloak had been removed from her shoulders.
We are all so much more than what we appear to be.
5) A recipient of an award recognizing work in the social media field, responds to the audience asking for a speech. Unplanned, unscripted, she fumbles a bit for words--she's not used to public speaking. "I don't want to be a rock star", she says. "We're in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and there are a lot of people out of work."
She pauses a moment, looking for eloquence. Her heart wants to speak, her mind struggles to find the right words to express the depth of her feeling, but she's uncomfortable at a microphone, there are lights shining on her and 75 people are looking at her, waiting for her to say something.
Somewhat awkwardly, she blurts, "We're in trouble, people. Let's help each other out." To rousing applause from the audience.
The words are always perfect when spoken from the heart.
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.
When I was a little kid, my family was kind of poor, and I learned at an early age not to ask for things. The answer always seemed to be a big, fat NO.
When my birthday or Christmas would roll around every year, I wouldn't even bother asking for the latest cool toy or new bicycle or any of those neat things that my friends always seemed to get. I’d take whatever came wrapped up in colorful paper and be thankful for it, rather than wishing for something really special. I wanted Rock'em Sock'em Robots but acted happy when I'd get a Slinky instead.
When I confided to my mom many years later that I felt a little cheated for not having some of the cool toys my friends had, she thought for a moment and said in a surprised voice "you never asked for any of those things, so I didn't think you wanted them."
I laughed and replied that I didn't think we could afford them and without blinking an eye, she shrugged her shoulders dismissively and said, "maybe not, but if you don't ask, you don't get."
This little life lesson has an amazing power that many brands engaging in social media never utilize.
If You Build It, They Will Come...and Create.
The promise of WOM marketing is pretty simple--give your customers a venue and some tools, and they will create all kinds of content, interact with others and become ambassadors extolling your brand's virtues.
But what do you do when that doesn't happen? What do you do when you've spent time and money to put a shiny new "Community" link on your site with a few social media tools, and slapped up a Facebook fan page or group, but nobody does anything? There are no comments, no blogs, no videos, no content.
You've provided tools and you've driven traffic, but nothing is happening. It's a ghost town. You wanted the Rock'em Sock'em Robots of a website, and wound up with a Slinky.
Why aren't the visitors doing what they're supposed to do?
Ask...and You Might Receive
The answer might be staring you right in the face: did you remember to ask people to participate?
Now, I'm not talking about the couple lines of text on a web page that go something like "this is your community and we hope you'll join the conversation!"
That's the lazy way of engaging your visitors and not likely to yield results. It's a waste of space on the page that could be used for a more useful link, in my opinion.
The thing is, most people on the internet are busy. They come to a website FIRST for information, not to make new friends. They expect to find content on your website—they’re there to consume your content, not help create it.
So how do you get visitors to go from consumers to creators? Well, it’s pretty simple.
You ask for help.
Ask your site visitors for their help...and their opinions. Those are two things that almost everyone loves to give.
Got A Fence You Need Painted?
I was reminded of this the other day by Bryan Person, our LiveWorld Community Evangelist, who sent me an email asking me if I had any good ideas for a blog topic.
Bryan phrased his question quite innocently, and made it sound like I could really help him out if I could come up with a good blog topic and write about it. He immediately got me thinking and this entry is the result of him asking.
Now, I’m in the social media business and in fact, it’s my job to regularly come up with new blog topics. But Bryan didn’t motivate like that…he didn’t demand that I create content, he asked.
He made it sound like I could do a good thing for other people if I could write something and what could have felt like a task, suddenly felt like a noble gesture.
It helps that Bryan has a Tom Sawyer kind of charm to him, and I’m sure if he asked me to paint his fence, I’d think I was getting the better end of the deal, and that’s really the point.
It’s not what you ask people to do—it’s how you ask that gets results. Ask in such a way that people want to give.
Oh Brother, Can You Spare a Comment?
If you’re finding that you’re not generating content on your social website, you might start with that simple premise. ASK people to contribute. As a website publisher, you have powerful data at your fingertips that gives you insight into your site visitors. Rather than wait for the visitors to engage with each other, you might consider engaging with them first.
Look thru your database and see which 25 people have visited the site most frequently. Or get the list of your 50 most active posters—these are folks who have already expressed some sense of attraction and participation with your site.
Ask them directly via emails, surveys or polls on the site,what they are thinking. What they like or don’t like about your site or your products.
Ask if you can interview them and feature them on the site. Ask them their opinions on a few topics and if you have an interesting email exchange with a member, ask them if they would post that thought on your discussion boards, or if they would write a blog article.
Ask them if they would invite their friends to the site, or what would make the site more invite-worthy. Ask them to do something specific for you.
The act of asking shows people that YOU are engaged and want to be more engaged. It sends the signal that “I want to listen to you.” Asking for something specific lets the person being asked know how much effort is required from them and makes it easy for the answer to be yes.
Most people like to help out, even if we’re incredibly busy. We feel good about doing something helpful for someone else, as long as we can see the benefit to helping. So give your site visitors that opportunity to feel good—connect with them and ask them to help out in a small way.
My Momma Always Said...
Remember, just because you ask doesn’t mean that the answer will be yes. But as my mom would say, if you DON’T ask, you won’t get.
What about you? Can you share an example of where you did something a little extra that you wouldn’t normally do—until someone asked you for your help?
LiveWorld is hosting a webinar on Nov. 10th with noted social media analyst Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group and Jennifer Gordon, director of global advertising for Campbell's Soup, who will be discussing strategies and best practices in the new "social everywhere" marketing landscape.
Since webinars are growing in popularity and many folks might be considering hosting one of these too, I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with LiveWorld's Social Media Evangelist Bryan Person, about the process of organizing a webinar.
Mark: Why did you decide to do a webinar, and what do you hope to gain from it?
Bryan: Webinars are something we've been talking about internally for a while. Here's why we're starting them now:
The "Social Everywhere" concept--where every web page is becoming social--is really gaining steam, and we think it's something that businesses and brands simply can't ignore. By having a webinar this month, we're hoping to alert marketers to an important new trend, and hopefully in time for them to make some changes (if they need to) to their 2010 plans and budgets.
From a selfish point of view, of course, we're hoping the webinar will generate both actual business leads and increased awareness of what LiveWorld offers in the area of social strategy. That doesn't mean we're going to hammer attendees with a running commercial of our products and services; rather, we're hoping that a high-quality webinar program will reflect well on us.
And just from a professional-development and process angle, learning how to actually put on a webinar is a good new skill to add to our marketing arsenal.
Mark: How did you go about selecting the webinar platform? Are there different vendors? What sold you on the one you chose?
I largely have to defer to Jenna Woodul, chief community officer at LiveWorld, on this one, since she did the comparative research. But what we do like about GoToWebinar--the platform we ultimately chose--is that we can host up to 1,000 attendees for the same price. We won't get that many folks this time, but it's certainly something to aim for!
Mark: You decided to bring in guests for this webinar rather than have your own company experts talk on the topic. Isn't the point of a webinar to showcase how much you know about a topic?
My friend Mitch Joel likes to say that being a "champion for your industry" is one of the best forms of marketing, and that's what we're trying to do here. Holding a webinar that's only and all about LiveWorld wouldn't be nearly as interesting as providing a platform/forum for experts from outside to come in and share what they're seeing and experiencing in social media/brand marketing.
Now, to be fair, we are including Peter Friedman, CEO & chairman of LiveWorld, on the panel, but he'll "have the mic" for less time than our two primary panelists: the Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang and Campbell Soup Company's Jennifer Gordon. Jeremiah and Jennifer are both in the trenches of "Social Everywhere" on a day-to-day basis with their clients and customers, so we know they'll offer good insights and analyses. (disclosure: Campbells is a LiveWorld client)
Mark: How long did it take you to set up this webinar? Can you give an estimate of how many hours it takes to put one of these together?
Hmm ... wishing I'd been tallying up the time that we've all put into this over the last month or so. But if I had to guess, I'd say at least 40 hours. And that's not including any of the follow-up work! I expect that we'll become more efficient with our time for future webinars, since we'll more or less know the ropes.
Mark: What didn't you know about hosting a webinar that you wished you did when you started to put this together?
What I'm learning is--or perhaps had intuitively known all along but had to have the lesson drilled home along the way--is what you do after the webinar is just as important--if not more so--than what you leading up to webinar and during the recording itself.
That means, we have to make sure we're diligent about following up with everyone who's registered for the webinar--both those who attended and those who couldn't make it. We'll also have to post a replay of the webinar in a timely fashion on our website, so that it's discoverable through search and by new visitors to LiveWorld.com.
If the webinar is good--and we sure hope it will be!--we want to make it drop-dead easy for more people to find out about it later, and also to share it with others.
Mark: Would you recommend other businesses hosting their own webinars? Why should a brand do one of these?
I would normally start off with an "it depends" answer here, but I know you're not always so fond of such wishywashiness, Mark. So, let me say this: webinars are a great tool for brands and agencies to demonstrate their handle on the important discussions of their industry. And they also offer the promise of lead generation and increased awareness.
But as I've noted above, there's a lot of planning, research, and follow-up that needs to happen to ultimately make the webinars worth a company's time and money.
So there you have it--the inside skinny on setting up webinars. Do you have any questions about organizing webinars? Or maybe some tips to share for others?