You probably still get requests like that. Either your own company or a client wakes up a little late and realizes that it simply can’t avoid social media any longer. Perhaps it suddenly noticed that its largest competitor has 5000 fans on Facebook and is bragging about it in its annual report. Maybe the urgency was inspired by our challenging economy, giving someone the bright idea that a presence on Facebook or Twitter could save them money on paid media. Either way, the next thing you know, everyone’s scurrying around to get up a fan page.
But here’s a better idea. Take a deep breath, back up, use this new enthusiasm for social media as an opportunity to educate your client or employer. Here are four things we try and get clients to understand about community and conversation before we slap up a Facebook page.
1. It’s not about the platform or the technology; it’s about the relationship you want to create.
So what is that relationship? How do you want it to change over time? Are you gathering a community so you can learn from them and gain a better sense of what they want in your products and services? Do you want a place to connect them with each other so they can share ideas, solutions, tips? Or are you hoping to provide them with the kind of content that will build loyalty and evangelists who’ll spread the word? You should each give something and get something out of it. We have our opinion but it’s good to get a client to think about this, too.
2. How does your community want to engage?
In Groundswell, Charline Li and Josh Bernoff tell us there are five types of social media users: creators, critics, joiners, collectors and spectators. So what are yours? Knowing makes a difference in the content you create and share and the strategy you use for inspiring and activating your community. If they’re creators, you need a way for them to add content and perhaps build their own reputation. If they’re joiners you need to create privileges of membership. And if they’re simply spectators, you better damn well create content worth watching or reading.
3. What kind of conversation, content and utility will you offer to make it worth their while?
We remind companies that social media isn’t simply a free place to broadcast your messages. And it can offer much more than accessibility for, and interaction with, a community. Some of the best brands using SM succeed because of the content and utility they provide. The Wine Library makes knowledge about wine accessible to everyone using video. Ford Motor Company created a living laboratory around its new Fiesta. The New York Times offered a way for readers to connect on their own around shared interests. Starbucks gives customers a say in future products and offers. In this space, you are your content.
4. Let your customers lead you
We all know we’re supposed to listen. But we sometimes forget the best way to listen is to ask questions. You don’t need all the answers. Yes you should have a pretty good idea of what you might bring to the party to kick it off, but chances are you’ll be wrong. Rather than start exclusively with the video, announcements and other sound bites you might want to share, have a list of interesting questions. Then ask them. It’s amazing how customers, fans, even critics will help you figure out how to succeed in the space.
5. Know your objectives and have a definition of success.
Usually the first question asked after we tell someone that, yes, we can get them up on Facebook is, “How many fans can we get and how long will it take?” We suggest a different question. “What kind of value can I get from my community if I listen, engage and inspire?” Ten well-connected fans who become evangelists or ambassadors might be more valuable than 5000 semi-committed ones. Focus instead on what you want to accomplish – awareness, feedback, product trial, loyalty, positive buzz, sales – and concentrate on making that happen. If what you have to offer and share is valuable, guess what? The fans and followers will show up.
“Can you get me a Facebook page?” The question may be pre-mature, but it’s the answer that counts. What do you tell your clients when they ask for a Facebook page?