To really understand social media, you must also understand online communities


Audience at a Dan Deacon concert

It is very easy to get excited by social media. By “Likes” and “Follows”. To think about the tools you can use. To worry about creating content. To feel you must rush to be on the latest platform or site. But in all this excitement it can be easy to forget something that is more important than the tools, platforms and sites that you can make use of - the skills and expertise you need to identify, manage and grow a true online community.

When we talk about social media we are really only talking about tools that we can use to help us and the people we engage to achieve a task. To make a success in social media we need to understand online communities. For those of us who have been working in this space for many years this has long been the basis of all our work.

What is an online community?

There is a temptation to assume that all use of social media is the same - that we are ‘doing social media’. But this is just not true. There is a fundamental difference in how people behave when they are primarily in a group of actual friends (such as on Facebook) and how you interact with people not because you know them and are friends with them, but because you share a common interest (such as in a forum for fans of Arsenal football club, a site for mum chatting about nutrition in early years or a group of runners helping each other with training advice and tips as they prepare to run a marathon).

An online community is a group of people who exhibit this second behaviour. They do not necessarily know each other, and may not have any desire to become friends in that broader sense of the word. They do have a common passion, interest, concern or question. And they can find and engage with others online because of this.

Working with online communities

For most organisations looking at social media, it is only by identifying, building and engaging with online communities that they will start to get real benefit. Online communities are truly scalable because they do not rely on becoming ‘friends’ with people but mean that you (the organisation) and the rest of the community engage on topics that you all share in common. This is real engagement in a way that just amassing Likes or Follows is not.

Social media just provides the set of tools you can use to do this. But the real skill is threefold:

  1. Firstly to be able to identify the community you want to engage and understand why they would engage with you. What is the passion, problem, concern, issue or question that you can connect with your community about? And why would they connect with you at all about it?
  2. Then how do you find these people and help them to find you? Likes on Facebook or Followers on Twitter do not necessarily make an online community.
  3. Finally how do you manage them. There is a valuable and often heated debate elsewhere about the differences between a social media manager and a community manager, but any community does need the ‘party host’ role. A community manager who facilitates conversations and activities, helps to moderate the community so that it is a productive and friendly place for all, and who acts as the link between the organisation and the online community.

With all the excitement of social media it often feels like we have forgotten what we have known for many years about online communities and the way they work and interact. For anybody looking at or working in social media a solid grounding in how online communities work and how we should work with them is essential.

7 ways to help safely migrate an online community


Image courtesy of Flickr

With the release of new technologies and applications almost everyday, it’s likely that the demand for migrating online communities to new platforms that feature some of the latest functionality will increase.

The migration of an existing online community is, at best, a tricky process for the community manager to lead. Get it right and the vast majority of your existing community members will stay to enjoy the benefits of their new home. Get it wrong and you’re left with a mere shadow of your former community.

Any good community manager worth their salt will realise that the most important feature of any online community is the community members and the relationships they have with each other. So here are seven factors every community manager should consider in order to successfully migrate a community:

1. Understand how the existing community currently operates

A community has a culture, a shared history of experiences, and a certain way of doing things. Knowing what works and what doesn’t will help you to avoid replicating pitfalls in the new community.

2. Be transparent

The migration date shouldn’t be a surprise to community members. Tell them what is happening well in advance. It doesn’t have to be too granular in detail but community members need to understand why the migration is taking place.

3. Explain the benefits of new community

Community members will always ask “What’s in it for me?”. Ideally, you should highlight the benefits of the existing community, which will be transferred over in addition to the ones associated with the new community.

4. Explain the potential risks

There will be bumps in the road. For example, community members may loose some personal data in the transition. Be clear as to what the risks are and stipulate which measures you have in place to help mitigate those risks.

5. Keep open lines of communication

The community manager needs to be vigilant and proactive when communicating with members. Providing useful and timely answers to their questions will go a long way to getting buy-in from community members who still need to be convinced.

6. Establish a clear timeline for actions

Community members need to be aware of the timeline for the migration process. They will appreciate regular reminders of the deadlines for performing certain actions e.g. “Make sure you’ve made a note of your login details and backed up your pictures by XX date”.

7. Involve your community champions

Your community champions love to be trusted to perform important tasks for the community. For example, it might be to beta test the functionality of the new community or to act as go-betweens for general community members. Getting your community champions on board early on will help the migration process to run much more smoothly.

Facebook for fashion brands - it’s about more than the product


WaveMetrix have published their review of Q4 2010 social media trends and it highlights some interesting moves for fashion brands using social media, especially Facebook.

Burberry and Lacoste joined Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and Gucci with a greater focus on brand-related content, such as music and sport which positively affected engagement, brand sentiment and purchase consideration.

Burberry, by running their Burberry Acoustic music campaign alongside content on the Burberry clothes collections, have succeeded in engaging consumers with the wider culture of the brand and this significantly increased consumer discussion. You can see from the pie chart below which areas the audience were engaged around.

Lacoste use a mix of fashion and non fashion content, such as their ATP Tour sponsorship to engage consumers and positively affect sentiment, as this pie chart shows.

That trend is not universal however. The report also highlighted that for other brands engaging consumers closely on product range can drive purchase consideration, with Xbox and BMW notable winners here.  Zara on the other hand, with its focus on product discussion, failed to drive notable purchase consideration – which shows the importance of the right strategy.

As an aside, a new report I saw recently, which will feature in another post, showed that a high percentage of consumers ‘Like’ competing brands on Facebook showing that on social networks genuine brand loyalty is hard to come by.

The rise and rise of Facebook’s social graph


Frosty Morning Web

Image by foxypar4 via Flickr

There has long been a debate in social media marketing between engaging people where they are at the moment (on Facebook or Twitter for example), and bringing them together to engage on your own site (such as your own forums or online community). This is, to some extent, an unhelpful argument. There has been no clear-cut answer, and the truth is that it all depends what you are using social media for, who your audience is, and how you want to engage them. The best approach has often been to combine both - in a hub-and-spoke model where you engage both in social networks and on your own site.

Through 2011 we expect this issue to become at the same time more complicated and more simple with the continued rise of the social graph.

To date, Facebook’s social graph has been underused by brands. It’s not surprising. The concept is quite complicated, and it also challenges what we think we know about social media marketing. Including the debate about going where people are or bringing them to your site. Social graph lets you do both. At the same time.

The social graph, at its simplest, allows you to use your friends, likes and other interactions in Facebook when you are browsing other sites. To put this in practical terms - on the site, you can use social graph to generate recommendations of things your friends might want you to buy them. It will recommend authors a friend says they like on Facebook, or if they say they like Football it will recommend products that might appeal to them. And what’s more it will recommend things for certain friends around their birthday so you get useful advice on what to buy people when it is relevant for them.Social graph brings insight and social to the shopping experience on - adding value and doing something that just hasn’t been possible before.

Through 2011 we expect to see more experimentation with social graph. More brands using the data and information on Facebook to add value to a consumer’s experience on their own site. This is part of a broader trend towards distributing social across a company’s consumer journey and contact points, and even across their business. But that’s the topic for another post in this informal series on social media in 2011.

This post is part of an informal series: Social Media in 2011.

What we can learn from Vodafone’s #mademesmile Twitter campaign


Vodafone homepage

Vodafone homepage

Vodafone has been running a great campaign in the UK for Christmas called ‘The 12 Days of Smiles’ - 12 days of offers associated with the 12 days of Christmas. Last week (and over this weekend) they launched a social media element to this campaign on Twitter and on their website homepage.

The idea was simple:

  • Tweet something that made you smile today
  • Add the hadhtag #mademesmile
  • All tweets with this hashtag would be streamed live on the Vodafone homepage

The outcome was a homepage over the weekend riddled with thoughts on how much tax Vodafone should be paying, and various other less-than-ideal things. You can see two such tweets in this screengrab from the Vodafone homepage.

That this happened is not a surprise. There are many cases of similar things happening - brand live streams tweets with a certain hashtag to their homepage, and hashtag gets taken over by people wanting to say other things about the brand (Skittles and the Conservative Party in the UK being relevant other examples). It is a surprise that Vodafone opted for this and reminds us all that when we are coming up with social media campaigns, we need to balance the creative idea with the business objectives and the business and brand risks.

Now, I don’t think that this is actually going to do a huge amount of damage to the brand, but it is a shame. A shame that they didn’t think about it thoroughly and use this valuable homepage real-estate in a better way. Also it suggests a lack of a clear strategy and consistently applied strategy of why they are using social media. A clear view of what benefits any campaign of tactic should bring to the brand. Only this helps you to evaluate creative ideas and make sure the things that we are doing make sense and add value to the business.

You can read more about this campaign here:

  • Tax protest turns Vodafone’s smile upside down
  • Vodafone’s hashtag hash