Tag Archives: community

Customers Don’t Want Ads, They Want a Conversation…Just Not the Conversations You Want to Have

April 1, 2013

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Somehow I don’t think these are the conversations consumers are looking for from brands

Fast Company just published another article discussing how customers are no longer satisfied just with good products and services or low prices – they want collaboration and conversation from brands. In another Fast Company article from January, they state that “brands, marketers believe, ought to start acting less like things and more like people, and they should engage traditional humans, their consumers, in dialogue.” IBM’s Global CEO Study found that 88% of CEOs said “getting closer to customers” was the top priority for their business over the next five years. Amazon has 200 books in their “social media for business” category all using the same cliches – have two-way conversations, engage with your customers, be more human, etc.

Finally! Social media is going to change the way business works. Brands will come down from their ivory towers and customers will have actual input into the products and services they purchase. Brands win! Customers win! Social media saves the day! Unfortunately, the “conversations” most brands are trying to have with their customers aren’t exactly the ones so often described in these books, presentations, studies, and blog posts. Rather than co-collaborating on new products, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of current ones, sharing new ideas, and having conversations about corporate issues, brands are asking begging and groveling for likes, shares, and comments. Brands have become that annoying insecure friend who always tries just a little too hard and is constantly looking for affirmation from those around them.

“I texted you 8 times last night but you never texted me back? Are we still friends?

“Pleeeeease come over and hang out tonight…please??”

“I was just calling to see if you got my email asking if you wanted to go out tonight. If you come out, I’ll buy the drinks. You in?”

Ummmm…sure – just don’t forget you offered to buy. Unfortunately, this is the relationship most brands have with their customers in social media – “please please please like me!! If you do, I’ll give you some free stuff.” They beg you to like, comment, and share pictures of cats, ask questions like “what’s your favorite number?” and jump on the bandwagon of whatever trend they can find (side note: the Condescending Corporate Brand Facebook page is one of my new guilty pleasures). Somehow, I don’t think these are the types of conversations that Fact Company, Harvard Business Review, and IBM had in mind. For most customers, liking a brand in social media isn’t about engagement or conversations. It’s about transactions. If you give me something (coupons, discounts), I’ll put up with your annoying habits (spamming my social media feeds). Instead of using social media to rethink the typical business-to-consumer relationship, they’ve just moved their same old business practices and metrics to a new medium. Instead of actually building mutually beneficial relationships with you know, actual people, marketers have reduced social media to a series of algorithms, likes, and clicks. Harvard Business Review conducted a study last year that should be required reading for every brand marketer and social media guru. In it, they debunked three common social media marketing best practices –

  1. Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand (no, they don’t)
  2. Interactions build relationships (not these interactions)
  3. The more interactions, the better (please, make them stop)

You should go read the whole post, but if you don’t, at least heed this piece of advice when managing your brand’s social media efforts –

“Instead of relentlessly demanding more consumer attention, treat the attention you do win as precious. Then ask yourself a simple question of any new marketing efforts: is this campaign/email/microsite/print ad/etc. going to reduce the cognitive overload consumers feel as they shop my category? If the answer is “no” or “not sure,” go back to the drawing board. When it comes to interacting with your customers, more isn’t better.”

What kinds of conversations is your brand having with its customers? Are you bastardizing social media by begging for likes and shares  instead of deriving some value from them? Brands have all these tools at their disposal to tap into the hearts and minds of their most important stakeholders – their customers – and yet most let that power waste away with pictures of cats and Call Me Maybe videos. Be the better brand. Instead of asking for a like, be the brand people actually like.

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Start Your Community With Role Models, Not Influencers

October 24, 2012

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I just finished reading this article in last month's Fast Company where the CEO of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, discusses how Pinterest got started, where it's at today, and what its future may hold. In it, they highlight some of the ways in which Pinterest defied best practices when they first started – they didn't include any leaderboards, they didn't highlight the most popular pinners, they used an infinite scroll layout instead of pushing for more clicks and pageviews, and most interesting to me, their first community members weren't "influencers" with high Klout scores. They were role models who would care for the community as if it were their own.

"In Pinterest’s early days, Silbermann gave out his cell-phone number, attended blogger meet-ups, and personally composed weekly emails that were sent out to Pinterest’s tiny, but growing, community. "It’s like you’ve built this little city with nobody inside of it yet," he says. "And you want to fill it up with the right kinds of people who are going to teach future people what they should be doing when they move in." Most Silicon Valley types look at early users as viral marketers; Silbermann saw them as role models. (Until recently, Pinterest’s welcome email advised users to "pin carefully" because "your pins set the tone for the community." The site bans nudity and discourages users from posting images of too-skinny models, otherwise known as "thinspiration," after the phenomenon became a problem.)"

What if PR and social media community managers stopped worrying about targeting the influencers with the most Klout, the highest PeerIndex score, or the highest Empire Avenue share price, and instead worried about identifying the people who are best equipped to create and maintain a healthy community? What if we looked for qualities like good taste, helpfulness, and compassion instead of followers, pageviews, and likes? What if we focused our efforts on the people who will become the community leaders, rather than simply the people with the loudest mouths?

If what we're doing is truly building online communities, shouldn't we first recruit the people who will actually be you know, building that sense of community and modeling the behaviors you want to see from all members?

One of Pinterest's first and most active members wasn't a social media influencer. She's the founder's mom. Silbermann's tactic of starting his community with role models isn't new. This is a tactic that I've used when building online communities behind corporate firewalls. In those closed communities, the first members weren't the VPs or the corporate comms people – the people with the most influence – they were the people who were most passionate about the community. These individuals felt a deep sense of responsibility for the success of the community. They shared the same goals and philosophies. They were the ones who modeled the behaviors that we wanted the rest of the community to emulate. They were the ones who would tell the boss he was wrong so that it would be ok for others to do the same. They may have only brought in 50 new people, but that wasn't their purpose. They were recruited because they were the ones to create that strong sense of community among the current members so that when new members joined, they joined a community with an established culture and purpose.

Now, if your goal is to simply get a million Facebook likes or sign up two million users to your branded community, then by all means, pay Lil Wayne to Tweet your URL to his 8 million followers and watch the numbers stack up. You can trot out your pageviews and member numbers to your boss all you want. Just don't expect those thousands of people to actually do what you want them to do. On the other hand, if you're looking to build a vibrant community of brand advocates who will buy your products, share your messages with their networks, give you honest, constructive feedback and build other brand advocates, then you should instead look for people who will model those behaviors. These people may not have the biggest names or the most "influence," but they're the ones who will create the foundation for what your community will be.

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What Kind of Online Community Do You Have Behind Your Firewall?

January 23, 2012

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As CIOs and Chief Knowledge Officers bring tools that have been used on the Internet – blogs, wikis, microblogs, profiles – behind the firewall, they tend to expect the same results. "We'll have our own Wikipedia!" Or Facebook…or Twitter – you name it. Unfortunately, as many have already discovered and many more will continue to discover, successful communities are dependent on many variables, from the accessibility, speed, and reliability of the technology to your community managers. Despite the newsletter articles, blog posts, press releases, and conference presentations, many "communities" are nothing more than a new version of the same old Intranet, only with shinier tools.

So, if you're deploying social tools internally, what kind of community is your organization creating?

  • What group/community receives the most visits and/or posts on a particular day?
    1. The Intranet development team
    2. The Social Media/Web 2.0/New Media Community of Practice
    3. The Android/iPhone User Group
    4. An group focused on the core mission/operations
  • On any given day, what % of your organization participates (reading or contributing) in your community?
    • Less than 10%
    • 10% to 49%
    • 50%-74%
    • More than 75%
  • Senior leadership participation can best be classified as:
    1. Shhh! Don't tell them or they'll shut this site down!
    2. Big Brother-ish
    3. Lurking, but not active
    4. Active and insightful
  • If someone posts, "I can't get my email to work on my phone – help!" What kind of response will they get?
    1. Total Silence
    2. "Call the help desk at 1-800-555-5555"
    3. "What problem are you having – maybe I can help?"
    4. "Many people have had issues with this so we created a wiki page to walk you through how to set it up the right way"
  • Your CEO announces large-scale layoffs. You visit your online community later that day – what do you find?
    1. "I'm not going near that one!"
    2. Complaints and criticism
    3. Praise for leadership and the difficult job they have to do
    4. Balanced, professional discussion containing constructive criticism, ideas, and empathy
  • Most of your employee profile pictures look like:
  • Someone publishes a blog post highly critical of a senior leadership decision – what's the reaction?
    1. Trick question – all posts have to be approved by management and that never would have made it through
    2. The administrators delete the post and send a note to the employee's manager
    3. Other employees leave comments recommending that the post may be unprofessional and warrant some editing
    4. The senior leader in question posts a comment himself thanking the employee for his feedback and explaining the rationale behind the decision
  • You create a wiki page for your team containing the text of a report you're working on. What kind of edits can they expect to receive?
    1. Yours and yours alone, since no one else your team understands how to make the edits themselves
    2. Your project team's edits because no one else can access the page
    3. No edits, but you do receive several comments and questions on the page
    4. A wide variety of edits ranging from minor to major and coming from your team as well as from people you don't know
  • Your boss asks to review the latest version of a document you've been working on. You sent her the link to the wiki page where it's stored. What's her response?

    1. Can you attach the file and send it to me?
    2. I couldn't figure out how to make any changes so I've just included them in the attached MS Word file
    3. She makes her edits as comments to the page
    4. She edits the page directly
  • The conversations that occur within your community most resemble:
    1. An empty room
    2. A board meeting
    3. Happy hour
    4. The hallways at the office
  • It's Friday night and you just discovered that you have a TPS report due first thing Monday morning. To do it, you need some examples of similar reports that have been produced by other teams. Where do you head first?

    1. You email your immediate team
    2. You send a blast email out to multiple distro lists asking for help. After all, at least one or two people have to respond, right?
    3. You search your Intranet with every keyword you can imagine
    4. You search the TPS forum and post your request there

Do you have a better idea of what kind of community you're building? Healthy communities aren't just about collecting users – they're about interactivity, a positive atmosphere, usefulness and more. Why do you log into Facebook every day? Not to play with all of the cool features, but to interact with your friends and family. Internal communities should have some of these same qualities – they need to have a purpose and be based around human interactions, not the latest technology.

If your score was 16 or less, you don't have a community, you've got the man cave of a new dad. The place is filled with the latest technical toys but no one is around to use them. From the Xbox to the pool table to the fully-stocked bar, you had envisioned many nights partying with the boys watching football, but now that you have a new baby, the only thing all those toys are doing is collecting dust…just like your blogs, wiki pages, and profiles.

 

If your score was between 17 – 24, your community most resembles China. You've got a lot of users (primarily because people are forced to create profiles), but very little sense of community. People talk with one another because they have to, and only when they need something. Conversations are guarded and transactional, and information is protected even more closely as trust between individuals is lacking. Non-work conversations are prohibited – none of that "social networking" stuff here!

 

If your score was between 25 – 33, your community is most like a high school full of people still trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, and how to communicate with each other. The adults are confused by the kids, the kids are kind of wary of the adults, but they all co-exist fairly peacefully. Diverse cliques form early and often – iPhone enthusiasts, social media geeks, developers – all with different goals and reasons for being. A few individuals stand out and connect these cliques across the entire school. Social conversation occurs, but is often forced, as people are trying to fit in and test the boundaries of what is allowed and what isn't.

 

If your score was between 34 – 44, congratulations! You've got the makings of honest-to-goodness social business community. People willingly share information freely across geographic, administrative and cultural lines not because they have to, but because they realize that by pitching in and helping, everyone benefits. Conversations run the gamut – some days, they're about LOLCats, but on other days, they're focused on how to best create a culture of innovation. They are overwhelmingly professional in nature, but the content is also overwhelmingly informal. People are only vaguely aware of the number of abbreviations following someone's name and the titles that precede it, but hold the value an individual brings to the rest of the community in high regard. Employees willingly (and often) spend their own time and money to improve the community, whether via handing out awards or creating new features. And most importantly, this sense of community exists both online and off. From the conference room in the morning to my couch late at night, I know I'm not just an employee number, I'm a valued member of a community that depends on me.

I took this test for my own company's social Intranet tools, and I discovered that we're most like a high school. We still only have a fraction of the firm using the tools on a regular basis and the relationships between staff, management, and senior leadership are in that awkward stage where we're all still trying to figure out how to talk with one another.

(note: this isn't meant to be used as some formal "diagnostic" or "roadmap" or anything of the like so please take it for what it is – a fun way to gauge how well your community is actually acting like, you know, a community)

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If You Want a Culture of Collaboration, You Need to Accept the LOLCats Too

January 5, 2012

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"Even with the sacred printing press, we got erotic novels 150 years before we got scientific journals."

- Clay Shirky at TED Cannes in June 2010

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people in the business, Clay Shirky. I particularly like it because it illustrates the period many organizations find themselves in when trying to integrate social media internally.  Before wikis were used by the Intelligence Community to develop reports on IEDs, people were creating user badges to show off their favorite NFL teams. Before my own company's Intranet won any awards, we had people talking about how they enjoy skinny dipping on their profile. Before our VPs starting using Yammer to communicate with the workforce, we had groups of Android geeks and fitness gurus.I'm telling you this because if you're implementing any type of social media behind your organizational firewall, you should prepare yourself, your colleagues, your bosses, your senior leadership for this one inexorable truth.

If you will freak out when you see this on your Intranet, you're probably not ready for a social intranetIf you want to create a vibrant culture of collaboration, you need to be OK with pictures of LOLCats, posts about the NFL playoffs, arguments about Apple and Android, and criticism of company policies.

Accept and embrace this fact now and your communities have a much better chance at succeeding. Or, continue thinking that things like this are a waste of a time and are unprofessional, and get ready to pay a lot of money for a system that ultimately no one uses unless they absolutely have to.

Unfortunately, "social" seems to have become almost a dirty word in the workplace, conjuring up images of employees whittling away their time on Facebook, talking to their boyfriend on the phone, or taking a three hour lunch break.  Let's all agree now to stop trying to take the social out of social media. "Social" interactions not only needs to be OK, they need to be encouraged and rewarded. Shirky explains why at the 5:33 mark of the below TED video:


Shirky says:

The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing. And someone who makes a LOLcat has already crossed over that gap. Now it’s tempting to want to get the Ushahidis without the LOLcats, right, to get the serious stuff without the throwaway stuff. But media abundance never works that way. Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.

The same principle holds true when talking about social media and the business world. There's this tendency on the part of senior leadership to want to skip the blogs about company policy workarounds and the wiki pages detailing where to get the best burritos near the office and move right to co-creating methodologies with cross-functional teams and crowdsourcing initiatives that save millions of dollars. It doesn't work like that. Collaborative communities don't just start innovating because you build a website and send a memo. Just like we had to experience erotic novels before scientific journals and LOLCats before sites like Ushahidi, we will also have to accept the fact that your employees will be talking about fantasy football and what they're doing over the holidays before they're going to be ready to use those tools to conduct "real" work. 

This makes intuitive sense though, doesn't it? Isn't posting about fantasy football or your favorite lunch spot a lot easier (and less frightening) than uploading that report you've been working on for three weeks? If someone doesn't like your favorite restaurant, who cares? If, however, someone criticizes the report you've spent weeks writing, that's a little more intimidating.  Once you've taken that step – that step from doing nothing to doing something - it's a lot easier to take the next step and the step after that. After engaging in that conversation about your favorite burrito, it's suddenly easier to join the conversation about the new IT policy. Then, maybe you upload a portion of the report you're struggling with to see if anyone can help. Viewed from this perspective, even the stupidest posts and most worthless conversations have value, because they provide a safe, low risk means for people to dip their toe in the water and take that first step. It takes time for employees to feel comfortable using these social tools at work. If you give them the ability to grow and learn together at their own pace, your community will become much more scalable and sustainable.

So embrace the LOLCats, the fantasy football threads, the lunch discussions, and the custom avatars – at least your employees will be creating and sharing something with someone else. Because what will follow is that these stupid, silly, foolish discussions will lead to relationships, questions, answers, and finally, very cool innovations, products, and solutions that will save you money, win you awards, and really and truly create a social business.

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