8: Involve Your Fans

The author begins with another example, Ducati motorcycles, which for many years were highly regarded (by virtue of their performance in racing events) but were not very successful, due to their high cost - they were popular among a small group of racers and collectors, but not the general public.

In 2003, Ducati switched its strategy, and completely abandoned traditional advertising in favor of a social strategy. In effect, they sought to create a social network, reaching out through dealerships to enthusiasts to form "clubs" of owners which held regular activities that made the Ducati more than a possession, but a membership card.

Rather than marketing its product, Ducati relied on current owners to market membership in their clubs. The organization supported this in the usual ways: provided a wide range of logo merchandise, facilitated communication between the local clubs, and provided support to help clubs organize their various events.

The company engaged with its customers to get their feedback, not merely by taking anonymous suggestions, but by giving local clubs direct access to key individuals, including company executives, at their events.

The net result was a fiercely loyal customer base whose promotional activities led to a 60% increase in unit sales in the North American market.

(EN: This is a good story, but not unique: they are copying Harley-Davidson's strategy, which revived that company two decades prior. I expect the difference is that Ducati builds on the sense of elitism, and can borrow upon the practice because they appeal to a different market segment of higher-income riders who are more status-conscious: the Ducati owner is more sophisticated than the blue-collar "hog")

(EN: As a second note, I strongly suspect that this approach is appropriate to certain products, in which have very particular characteristics. Similar efforts have been attempted, and failed miserably, in other industries - for example, "frequent flyers" of an airline have not formed an active social network, in spite of the common characteristics of frequent travelers. The notion of being a "member" rather than a "customer" also went through a phase of over-use, when every retail store wanted to issue a card that made the shopper a member of a "club" - though in those cases, "membership" did not involve any social networking, just provided a discount in exchange for enabling the merchant to track purchasing behavior.)

Ideas For Deriving Value From Your Fans

Based on the Ducati example, the author presents a number of ideas that can be used to derive value from social networks:

Primarily, you must approach social media with specific goals in mind. Many companies seek merely to connect for the sake of connecting, being a part of the social "scene." As a result, they accomplish nothing (having had no specific goal in the first place). The more specific your goals are, the more clear your path to achieve them.

In addition to considering your own goals, consider the goals of the prospective members of your social nation. If they derive no benefit from interacting with you, they will disengage - especially if they see that you are seeking to gain a benefit while giving them nothing in return. On the other hand, it makes no sense for a business to establish and feed a social network if it gains no benefit in return. Success is not merely attracting a large audience: there must be mutual benefit in any relationship.

Also, you will need to make the first move - specifically, to grant a benefit to someone before they will grant one in return. The reluctance to take a risk, that there is no guarantee that your action will result in immediate reciprocation, is what keeps many businesses from investing in social media. There is no ROI in doing something nice for someone else - but over the long run, there is significant ROI in developing a network of individuals who are favorably disposed toward your company.

Third, seek to build on what already exists. Chances are, the audience you wish to reach is already communicating online (the fact that people are already interacting is a good sign that they're interested in interaction). Rather than making an immediate attempt to supplant an existing community, leverage it and build upon it, and seek opportunity to transition later.

Likewise, use the tools that already exist. Companies that build their own "platform" for social networking are in many cases reinventing the wheel and expecting those who wish to network with it to create a separate account on a separate site that they must then remember to use. If you create a profile on Facebook, establish a blog on Blogger, and use existing tools, then you are connecting with people in places they already visit, using technologies with which they are already familiar.

Also, recall that "content is king" on the Internet. The information you have published is already a reference work for the online community, though chances are it could stand some improvement by considering the kinds of resources the community lacks, or could reasonably use, and providing them.

It bears repeating that your role in the social network is to facilitate communication, not to control it. The task of a facilitator is to encourage participation, keep conversations on topic, address disinformation, and bounce the rowdies (whose "crime" is damaging the social interaction, not merely disagreeing with the company line).

Authenticity is also critical - you must be personable to be accepted in social networks. Companies that limit their "participation" to sending marketing pitches through social media fail: the messages are ignored, and the company is shunned. Those who represent your firm in social networks must do so as "real" people, not as still and impersonal corporate mouthpieces, and connect with people informally.