11: How to Get Started and Pitfalls to Avoid

This chapter consists entirely of tips and advice to businesses looking to get started in social media or to improve their existing efforts.

Types of Community Members

He author distinguishes between two types of members in a virtual community. The friend/follower type demonstrates an interest in your organization and are willing to observe and listen, but are not active participants. The fan/fanatic is an active contributor who not only listens, but seeks to contribute to your organization.

Most often, companies measure the count of their follower and are pleased at the growth in the numbers, but are not as pleased (and often seem a bit annoyed) at the presence of fans/fanatics who are seen as interlopers who are interfering with the company's attempt to communicate with the passive audience (and, in effect, they shun and alienate those whose passion for their organization is the greatest).

Instead of being alarmed by fanatics, companies should seek to leverage social networks to focus their efforts to more collaborative ends. While it is easier to deal with those who merely listen and nod, they contribute little value compared to those who will speak up, interact, suggest, and promote.

(EN: From the perspective of customer development, the development of a customer goes from prospect, to one-time buyer, to regular buyer, to advocate - hence developing a passive regular into an active advocate is considered the ultimate success in relationship building. Seek other sources for additional information on this.)

Neither should this be taken to imply that there is no value in passive followers. In many instances, they are still customers, who purchase from your company. Or in other instances, they are merely members of an audience, which add not only to the attractiveness of your community, but who can generate revenue through advertising sales.

Four "Nations"

The author describes his notion of the four "nations" of participants in social media:

(EN: the notion of "nations" is a bit misleading - a person can belong to more than one group, and belonging to one group does not preclude belonging to others, but belonging to one group may require belonging to others. It's a bit of a wreck - but if you consider them as independent functions, with transaction being separate and independent of the other three, and the popular nation being a group defined by what it does not do rather than what it does, then perhaps it makes a bit more sense. But given the convoluted nature of that, my guess is that the schema is probably half-baked.)

It's noted that business strategies are commonly targeted to a specific "nation" - and that traditionally, businesses have been entirely focused on the transaction nation, to whom they seek to sell products, but want no further engagement. However, firms are realizing that there is greater value in preserving a customer over time, and that the customer represents value to the business other than in the instance of a purchase.

The author speaks of the appropriate "balance" between followers and fans - and depending on the community and the business, a different blend may be desired. An informational site, such as an online magazine, may want to have a large popular nation - people who browser articles and constitute an audience for which advertising can be shown - with just enough collaborators to add value to the stock content in the form of comments. An open-source software development project might instead seek to have fans, who contribute their ideas and code to the project, with the followers being those who will actually use the software once it's written.

The ideal blend of followers and fans is considered to be the "social nation equilibrium," and achieving this equilibrium is critical to the success of your community. In some instances, too many lurkers and not enough contributors can be counterproductive to success; in other instances, too much contribution may be overwhelming.

Achieving equilibrium can be difficult, but there are various methods that you can use to attract more members of a given type or discourage the unwanted behavior of other types, albeit at the risk of losing their participation altogether.

(EN: I am having some trouble accepting that "there are methods" that are reliable in shifting the balance without ultimately doing more harm than good to the community The lack of more concrete details leaves me in limbo - it sounds good, but I can't quite accept it.)

Suggestions for Getting Started

The author provides a handful of suggestions for getting started in social media or improving the level of engagement in your existing social nation, though he concedes that not all of these are appropriate to all organizations.

First, seek to deliver customer support via a community approach. Rather than the traditional FAQ approach, in which the company communicates answers downstream, consider more of a discussion-forum approach, in which customers can post issues in a manner that other customers can respond to them. There may be a need for the company to step in with the "right" answer of no-one else provides it, but over time, customers will begin to support and network with one another. You may find that discussion in support forums goes off the topic of support, as customers communicate their desires for additional features or suggest alternate uses for your product. This information is valuable, and should not be discouraged so long as it does not interfere with the support function.

Second, seek the help of friends and followers in developing your brand. Companies traditionally rely on paid advertising and public relations to tell "the public" what to think of them. Empowering your friends and followers to spread the word, by merely providing them with the resources to do so, adds to the reach of your efforts and improves the credibility of your message. Any negative feedback you receive is a clear indication of where the company is not living up to its brand promise, and should either seek to amend its behavior or accept the revision.

Third, use social media as a medium for conducting market research. By simply asking a question, you can gain a great deal of insight; and once you are able to identify individuals who are interested in providing feedback, you can engage them to participate in either events (such as webinars or live discussions) or an ongoing reference group (via a discussion board) to harvest additional information on an ongoing basis.

Fourth, leverage the people within your organization to share information and train one another. In effect, a forum in which employees can ask one another for advice or share their insights creates a widespread mentoring system, and from the conversations among front-line employees, those in support and management roles can become aware of common issues and solutions that can be addressed on the organizational level to solve problems or create efficiencies.

Fifth, use social media to solicit ideas and innovations that might otherwise be constrained by organizational structures. An accountant might have a brilliant marketing idea, or vice versa. And if this is done in an interactive forum, employees can discuss their ideas and inspire one another. Such "innovation centers" are gold mines of new ideas for the companies that operate them.

Social Media Tools To Help Get You Started

(EN: This section describes and defines social media concepts for anyone who's not heard of them: What is a blog? What is a wiki? I'm skipping it.)

Ten Pitfalls

The author lists common mistakes that businesses have made in attempting to build social organizations:

1: Running a social nation like a traditional business. Specifically, treating a "community" as a one-way broadcast medium to pump out promotional messages

2: Under investing. Social media seems like something that can be done on the cheap - and while there are no significant capital expenses involved, an online community needs to be fed and cultivated, which means assigning people to the task.

2.5: Abandonment. The author shuffles this into the previous item, but it really is a separate issue. When companies don't become an overnight success, they are quick to abandon social media.

3: Neglecting Fans. The bulk of effort in social media is placed on getting people to show up, and little thought is put into what to do for them (not "with" them) once they get there. As a result, they feel your community is useless, leave, and discourage others from getting involved.

4: Insufficient Promotion. Many companies count on people to show up just because something is built. Just because there are half a billion Facebook users does not mean they will want to see your profile.

5: Failure to Act. If there is no "official" social community on a topic of interest, people will build one on their own (if they are actually interested in the topic). Or worse, a competitor may provide one. The longer you wait, the more such communities gather momentum, and the harder it will be for you to get them to pay attention when you're finally ready.

6: Failure to Leverage. If you build a social community, but fail to consider your goals in doing so, it will achieve nothing for you, and you will lose organizational support (or it will achieve nothing for the community, and you will lose them).

7: Barriers and Balkanization. Creating a variety of communities for specific audiences may seem like a good idea, but putting up boundaries (e.g., this community is only for customers and employees are not permitted to participate), prevents information from getting to where it is can be beneficial.

8: Sticking to Traditional Development Approaches. Traditionally, product development has been kept in a vault, with no information shared until the product was 100% done and ready for its debut. This approach prevents getting feedback that could improve the product during the development phase (when it can be used) until the product has been released, at which point the company considers it "finished" and is reluctant to make additional changes.

9: Building from Scratch. Rather than having a system designed by insiders, hire a consultant or vendor with social media expertise to develop a solution. (EN: The author works for such a firm, so this advice may stem from ulterior motives - but my sense is it remains true that a company that is dead set on following its own ideas, without any consideration of what's already familiar to the body of user, is going to have difficulty getting people to adopt an unfamiliar solution.)

10: Going it Alone. While you will want to migrate individuals to your own social media "site", you're better off starting with existing networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) where the audience already "lives," and staying there even after users have migrated to your site.