How organisations can use Twitter - some ideas

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This week I was asked to talk to the Marketing Directors Network in London about how organisations are using Twitter. We’ve written before about how celebrities are using Twitter and how organisations are using Twitter as an engagement tool. In both cases, perhaps the best advice is just to try using Twitter and to see what happens. As a rapidly growing site, Twitter is changing on a daily basis. New people are joining and using it for new reasons. As such it’s a great environment for brands to experiment and to see what works for them.

And if you are going to experiment, three ways that organisations are using Twitter are as follow.

1. To put a public face on your brand

This is what Ford, Southwest Airlines have done so well. Taking a large brand, that to many has seemed faceless, and putting people centre stage. Using Twitter as a way of putting a face to the brand and providing a route for people to engage. There are many benefits of putting a public face to your brand, overally it provides a personal connection and helps build the emotional relationship with your consumers that can be so useful, especially in the current economic climate.

2. Allowing you to segment and then target different groups

Dell is a great example of how to use social media, and how to experiment with it. It has a large range and variety of Twitter accounts that are used by different people to engage different audiences about different things. Twitter is a great search tool - you can monitor and analyse the different conversations people are having about your brand. Start to understand the segments and the give them different messages using different accounts. The marginal cost of another Twitter account is practically zero and so it’s a great way to engage different people in different ways.

3. Using Twitter as a gateway

The best use of Twitter can be as part of a hub-and-spoke model of social engagement. Use it to engage people in Twitter just as you might engage people in Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other social networks and online communities. Then provide your own site or online community that you can take people to. It is when they are on your own community that you can really work with them, share and discuss ideas with them, get a better understanding of who they are and what they think. And bringing them to your own space makes them feel special. You move from interrupting them where they are doing something else, to providing a direct line to engaging with you.

How organisations can use Twitter - some ideas
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Get involved and make the most of your online community

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Today I was speaking at the MRS Online Methods conference on London - a great day with people sharing ideas on online research and how to engage customers online.

I was speaking specifically about how online research communities are actually just online communities that people use for research but that they should also use for other things (PR, marketing, customer service, innovation…the list goes on). And about how the client can, and indeed should, get involved in the process. It’s when you don’t do this when online communities fail to live up to their promise. We need to think community first and research second, rather than just tagging a forum onto your online survey. That’s when you get the real benefits and when you start having some fun.

The presentation I gave is below. As always these things are better presented but the point should still come through clearly. Thinking just about an online research community misses out on the big opportunity. An online community is a direct line to your customers. Research is a great place to start with this but you need to think bigger.

To make the most of this the client has to get involved:

  1. Add value to the community by being a visible part of it, either to respond to specific points, join discussions naturally or even to take a major role in community management
  2. Incentivise the responses but don’t do this with money. A good community is a vibrant social environment; adding money into this turns things into a market. It changes the dynamic to the detriment of the community itself. Think of what else you can give people. Think about what knowledge and ideas you can trade for their ideas
  3. Make sure you represent the community in the business and that your brand is making full benefit of the powerful resource it now has
Getting the client involved in the online community
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The benefit of meeting your online community offline

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There is often a misconception about online communities - that they are exclusively online. This just isn’t true, and indeed shouldn’t be true. Online communities are, put simply, communities of people who share a common interest, aim, goal or problem. They meet online but this does not need to be at the exclusion of them meeting offline. In fact there are significant benefits to doing so.

I was reminded this today having spent the day meeting and talking to the members of one of our online communities. Talking to them about how they have used the community to date and about the changes we are bringing to it as part of a fairly comprehensive relaunch. This kind of face-to-face feedback is incredibly useful. You can watch how people use the community, what they like and don’t like and prompt them for their thoughts on everything from the look and feel to the navigation and even accessibility issues. Impromptu and direct user testing and feedback at its most useful.

But perhaps even more informative today was to watch the community members talk to each other. Listen to what they discussed and what their common areas of interest and opinion were. This kind of insight is priceless when you are building, growing and managing an online community. The more you can understand about your community members, the better you can make the community for them.

And of course there is a real benefit to members meeting each other. They share a common interest and that’s why they get together online. Providing a way for them to get together offline too just enhances their experience. Which has to be a good thing.

So if you can find a way for your online community to meet offline, and go along to meet them too. You’ll be surprised what you learn and the benefit it brings to everybody.

Make sure you don’t waste your online community

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An online community takes effort and often time to plan, build, seed and grow. You need to work hard to make sure you get the business objectives right, work out who you are going to engage and how to engage them, and then work with them to seed and grow the community with them.

That’s why it’s a shame when this effort goes to waste. When your online community fails to live up to its promise.

So how do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? That you don’t waste your online community?

Here are four ways that we have often seen the opportunities that online communities offer being wasted, and some thoughts on how to avoid suffering the same fate.

1. You just aren’t present in the conversations

An online community is a dialogue, you work with and alongside the other members of the community on a shared interest, issue, topic or problem. It is no good just asking questions and expecting answers. Nor is it any good just sitting and watching what others say. You must be part of the conversations. Talking to people and exchanging ideas with them.

The biggest danger of not doing this is that the community members will become disillusioned. They will start questioning whether you are even listening and the conversations and debates will stop being about the original subjects and start being about you. This makes a very intimidating environment for new community members and so you will find that a small bunch of members take over.

The solution is simple. Talk to your members. Ask them questions, answer theirs and give your own opinion. Enjoy your community and enjoy talking to the other community members. They’ll respond to you taking part and you, they and the community as a whole will benefit.

2. There’s no link back to the organisation

A branded online community, or one that is clearly from a particular organisation must be connected into that same organisation. Community members will quickly lose interest if they think that nobody is listening to and feeding back on what they are saying. They will uncover a community manager who is unable to connect them into the organisation or represent the organisation in the community.

A real connection is needed to make the most of your online community and this can often mean enacting real change in your organisation. If you are using it to its full potential, an online community should be a way of getting the customer voice deep inside your organisation. You should be talking about the online community in meetings right up to, and including, the Board meeting. This is the way your customers are heard in the organisation, and the way your organisation can talk to its customers. Make sure you do.

3. You are not encouraging organic conversations

Too many online communities appear to have a fixed purpose or objective and only encourage people to take part on this. They may be communities based on media share, and not encourage discussions or forusm. They may be online research communities that do not nurture organic discussions on broader topics or between research activities.

Often the most useful benefit that you will gain from your online community will come from the areas and discussions you least expect. The topics you didn’t initially focus on or the debates and discussions that your community members start themselves. Organic conversations are where things get exciting. They are where new ideas can really come from and where the community can truly come to life. Make sure you don’t stifle them.

4. You moderate every contribution before it goes on the site

There is a time and a place for pre-moderation, reviewing and approving every piece of content before it goes on the community. But in most cases this isn’t needed. There is nothing more frustrating for a user than arriving on a community site, finding interesting topics and discussions, registering and then adding their own thoughts only for these not to appear on the site. Many of these users will leave, frustrated, and never return.

Pre-moderation can be deadly. It should be handled with care and used only where other means are not possible or appropriate. Trust your community members to be responsible in their discussions and they will trust you back

My Time is the new Prime Time

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We’re going through quite a momentous period of change in the UK at the moment. Slowly but surely, the analogue TV signal is being turned off. In it’s place we have digital TV. This is a huge change, not just because people need new equipment to receive the new signal, but also because this change lets us consumer television in the way we have always wanted.

No longer do I have to start watching a programme on the hour. No more must I be in on a Wednesday night to catch the latest episode of The Apprentice. No longer is my TV schedule dictated to me by the broadcasters. They may think I want to watch game shows on a Saturday evening, every Saturday evening. But perhaps I don’t. Digital TV gives the possibility for real choice and control over what you watch and when you watch it.

This reflects a change in consumer behaviour we are seeing across media. When users (consumers) are given the chance to personalise and control their own experience, they use this. This is natural - not everybody wants to do the same things in exactly the same way. And so whether it’s allowing you to personalise a site’s homepage (as with the BBC), tag content in a way that makes sense to you, or choose what you want to see when, personalisation is key.

When we are planning and designing online communities with our clients we work hard to understand the target audience, the people we hope will be members of the community and benefit from being a part of it. However, it is important that some degree of control and personalisation is given to the user - be that letting them arrange their own profile page, choosing which view they see when they join the community, or just giving them an easy and simple way to navigate the site according to the content that matters to them most. Finding ways to allow this kind of personalisation (be it simple or complex) will enhance the community member’s experience. And watching and analysing how people personalise their experience helps us to understand them more too.

Users like personalisation. They like to have some control over how they navigate and use the online community. As their other media consumption becomes more tailored and within their control, their expectations here will only increase.