The Lost Art of Social Media Reciprocation

Originally published at Clayman & Associates, by Marjorie Clayman.

One of the first books I read when I first started tweeting and blogging was Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I had been fairly puzzled about how to approach the online world, especially because I was going to be using social media to try to promote our agency. Trying to raise awareness about a business without seeming sleazy or pushy was something I was not sure how to do. Reading Trust Agents offered me some valuable insight in particular regarding how to start building your community. One of the integral points in Trust Agents is the concept of “Give to get.” In other words, people will be far more inclined to help you out if you help them out. You can’t get the best results if you do things specifically to get the payback because nobody likes that kind of scenario. However, if you go out of your way to promote other people, help them with what they are trying to accomplish, and answer questions as they come up, when you need something you would be likely to get help back from those same people.

Nicola Corboy image via Creative Commons on Flickr

So the reasoning went when I first started.

I have done my best to abide by this rule. If I notice that someone is regularly sharing my blog posts or liking my content on Facebook, I make a concerted effort to go over to their online outposts and see what they are up to. Maybe they have recently written a blog post that I like so I decide to share that. Maybe they just started a new page, so I check that out and promote it to my own community.

It seems that over the last couple of years especially, however, this approach to social media is becoming a rarity. Now the adage seems to be get to get.

The advantages of reciprocation

The notion of reciprocating support online may seem antiquated, but if you need more incentive, consider the fact that social media reciprocation can actually be rewarding for you, not just the person you are promoting. You can find out that someone in your network is doing something truly amazing. I have discovered people in my online community who run amazing nonprofit organizations, for example. I am happy to promote them and what they are doing because I know the benefits will spread to many people beyond our direct interaction.

Even more beneficial is that when you promote someone else or share content from someone else, you look better, ironically enough. It’s easy to share your own thoughts all day. Sharing something someone else has done shows that you are interested in engaging in your community in a positive way. You may just find that in promoting someone else, more people are drawn to you and your community.

This is just common sense

Typing a tweet that says, “You should follow xyz” takes approximately 30 seconds. Reading a blog post and deciding to share it (because of course you read everything before sharing it) may take a little bit longer, but we are still talking just a few minutes. If someone spends a few seconds or a few minutes helping you out, why would you NOT return the favor? The investment of time very quickly is surpassed by the rewards you gain. It is one of the few scenarios in life that is a no lose proposition.

When was the last time you actively paid back support you have received in the online world? If you have to think about it or if it has been quite awhile, you should ponder addressing that. It will help your own online presence grow, and it will make you feel good to boot!

Authors Bio:
Marjorie Clayman is the Director of Marketing, B2B Client Services at Clayman & Associates, LLC. For more marketing tidbits you can read the agency blog at claymanandassociates.com/blog or “Like” them on Facebook at Facebook.com/ClaymanAndAssociates.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/n_corboy/4921290518/ via Creative Commons

Secrets of Great Communities And Community Managers by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

honeypotSecret #1:  Great online communities are strategic.

Superior online communities, those that achieve breakthrough results for their organizations, all share a common trait.  Namely, they are treated as strategic initiatives and not campaigns, marketing programs, or skunk works efforts.  Great communities are holistic, integrated initiatives that support an important business need, accelerate a business process, or make something possible that couldn’t be done without an online collaborative environment.

Great community managers are the orchestrators of the strategies that are fueled by the lines of business. They reach out to business leaders to learn what they need and shape the responses by connecting the dots and maintain the tenor of collaboration.

Secret #2:  Great online communities develop a 90 day plan, every 90 days. 

The real work begins the day you launch the online community, and not the day you select or launch a tool. Too many organizations launch their communities without a 90 day plan which includes member acquisition, beta group participation, ongoing content and conversation programs, member outreach plans.  Great communities have a thoughtful program and revise it every few months to accommodate for the cadence of the community and business needs. As online communities have a doubling factor of 6 months, swift growth and participation is a bell-weather for future success.

Great community managers are great planners, know how to shepherd people to share in the initiatives, and are able to display urgent patience. Urgent patience means having a keen eye on tomorrow while being completely immersed in the needs of the day.

Secret #3People come for content and stay for community.

Creating meaningful content for an online community is a tricky business. Few online communities survive solely on member discussions. However, if online community management shares too much content of marginal value, members can be overwhelmed and distracted. And of course, too little content usually results in an empty community. So great content is the honeypot for great online communities. And not just any content will do!  It need to be largely derivative of the insights shared in the online community – of the members, about the members, but *not* entirely by the members. Highly curated and representative of the community members’ collective experience is the most sought after community content because it is that which cannot be gotten elsewhere.

Great community managers are great researchers.  They are able to create high quality content from the unstructured and structured data shared in the online community but bring an overlay of sense-making to the ideas so that the output is useful, useable and engaging for all.

Secret #4: When online communities become great, the members take control. 

The greatest fear many organizations have is that people will say bad things online about your company. While online communities (and any online activity) can certainly expose problems with products and services, social responsibility and customer care weaknesses, there are plenty of channels where customers can disparage your company. If you have failed them, it is most likely that customers are already “out there” spreading their message. And if they are delighted (as in most cases for solid organizations) you want to help them share their experiences. Great communities invite in the supporters and detractors and offer them a proverbial cup of tea. By engaging around hot topics, the company has a chance to learn more about key issues and resolve problems before they boil over.  In many cases, the most vocal outlier can become your strongest champion when treated with respect, and the brand supporters appreciate a vetted platform.

Great online community managers know how to share the reins of control, empower others, develop volunteer cadres, and support member-member interactions without losing control. They know how to lead and create balance in human power relationship.

Secret #5: Great online communities demonstrate tangible value over time. 

Great communities adhere to clear metrics and measures that align with the business (see Secret #1). Their value is firmly rooted in a business case that goes well beyond cost-reduction.  The metrics are focused on measuring the right things and not just that which is countable, regardless of whether the metric matters to anyone.

Great online community managers collaborate with business leaders (i.e. PSO, marketing, R&D, customer support) to develop meaningful business measures,  report outcomes (both leading and lagging indicators) on a regular basis, showcase progress against standard practice and serve the executive in communicating online community value in terms that matter to the business.

[This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]

What Does Online Community Mean To Your Company?

Contributor: Vanessa DiMauro (Leader Networks)

big-vs-smallLet’s start with this: “online community” doesn’t have a clear definition.  Even before hashtags and pinterest and facebook pages, online users and cognoscenti alike have rarely agreed on what an online community really is.  Never mind the debate over “what is the difference between a social network and an online community?”, although there are distinct differences. For example, an argument can be made that LinkedIN is a social network – it’s far too large to be considered an online community. At the same time, some of the higher-functioning sub-groups within LinkedIN could fall into the online-community-lite category.

While online communities proliferate among many progressive customer- or partner-focused organizations, just what constitutes an online community is still confusing. So when an organization’s spokesperson says: “Wow, we just launched an online community for our customers. It is a big deal!”, in one case they could be talking about a 6 – 12 month strategic project that included a business case, ROI metrics, a business requirements document, software selection and deployment and beta member planning effort complete with an executive sponsor, and in another, they just spent three days creating a product page on facebook.  The same words are used, but there’s a very sizable difference between the two. Keep those differences in mind when you set out to pitch an online community to your company, seek an executive sponsor, become an executive sponsor or secure the budget for an online community. These are fundamental issues which need to be understood before diving into the project.

What are some of the key questions to ask about an online initiative to understand if it can function as an online community for business?

– Can you set the participant permissions and control all the content?
– Do you have access to all the data gathered from participant interactions?
– Does it need to be “owned” by the company? For example, can the company control the platform? Can an outside entity close the   site or make changes without your organization’s permission? Does another organization also have access to participant interaction data?
– Does it have a member directory and “real” information about the participants?
– If you invited the participants to an event, would you want them to co-mingle with your best customers?
– Is the main purpose to market and broadcast information or provide lead generation?
– Will members be connected and involved with each other over time? In other words, do the participants belong to a shared “something” or are they anonymous, largely passive spectators?
– Is there a shared purpose for convening online?  For example, are there topics or issues which are explored on an ongoing basis.
– Is there a balance between content and conversation? Can a site that is primarily about content sharing be considered a community?
– Will this online initiative be extremely large (e.g. 1 million members) or extremely small (under 100)?
– How much effort is dedicated to it? Is it a side hobby or treated as a proper project?
– Is the anticipated ROI  commensurate with the scope of the  project (planning, budget, business case, executive sponsor)?

So here’s the Leader Networks definition of an online community for business: the purpose of the online interactions and relationships is the core determinant of what makes social exchanges online into an online community. Serving the needs of the individuals who participate, who convene online, is crucial. Those needs can be to facilitate learning about a topic, product, subject, trend or to enable peer-peer dialogue.

In addition, an online community means a dedicated web-based area that utilizes a purpose-built platform which enables the exchange of ideas and content via a suite of interactive features such as discussion forums, polls, content libraries, member directories and the like. When we talk about building online communities for business, we are referring to the full-featured kind and not the “I made a facebook page – whoohooo – we have an online community” kind.  On even the most basic level, your business returns are most likely going to be directly connected with the level of effort you put it – as will all things community related – you get what you give!

How does your company describe what is considered an online community? And, how do you differentiate social media marketing from online community?

[This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]