Social Media, Web 2.0, Social Business, Online Communities — all terms that have been included in numerous books, discussed globally at conferences and blogged about daily, but many organizations still struggle to understand exactly what the terms mean and how they fit into an organization’s overall business objectives. Here’s what you as a sIT solution provider should know when developing your own social strategy.
The Social Ecosystem is the universe of all the different social connections that are available to organizations—a network of people who participate in social activity online. We divide the Social Ecosystem into three layers; your organization needs a strategy for each layer.
First Layer: Participating Communities
Participating communities are the communities that individuals are most familiar with — also referred to as consumer-facing social networking tools. These are communities started and managed by individuals or groups of users, typically on consumer-facing social networking sites, but sometimes also with proprietary software. The primary objective in this community is to listen.
Participating communities include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Individuals do not want you to broadcast messages about your business in participating communities – it could hurt your reputation. The best strategy is to listen to what individuals are saying about your company and industry. Consumer-facing communities are typically formed by customers to discuss diverse topics such as snowboarding, parenting or best practices for UX design.
Let’s say one of your hobbies is knitting. If you knitted on a consistent basis, then you would go to the Internet and search for information about knitting, different techniques, etc. As you searched, you would likely land on a Facebook page, relevant blog or forum about knitting that discusses in detail what you are looking for and possibly provide a step-by-step guide on how to improve your knitting skills. Other examples include a fan site for Microsoft’s Xbox or an independent Porsche enthusiast group.
It’s called a participating community is because as a representative of the organization, you have the right to show up, introduce yourself and contribute meaningful discussions in the ongoing conversations. However, you must recognize that you don’t own the community, nor should you heavily market to the community. You need to act as one of the members in the community.
Second Layer: Managed Communities
The next layer is called a managed layer, where you have more of an opportunity to participate. A managed community is where a solution provider business takes some of the consumer-facing social networking tools (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn) and uses those to accomplish a specific business goal or objective. Those are networks started and managed by you, but run on consumer-facing social networking sites.
When it’s a corporate-owned social networking page, it is OK to start communicating your message, building relationships and commenting on topics relevant to your company. You start to build relationships and you have the opportunity to market.
In a managed community, remember to communicate more socially, i.e., share videos rather than simply post press releases. Currently, one of the best examples is Dell. Dell has a number of Twitter accounts it uses to communicate deals or specials available to customers.
Keep in mind that although you are responsible for running and managing the community, you don’t necessarily benefit from the rich data and user profiles created within the community. Typically, the facilitator of the community (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) benefits the most from the underlying data.
Third Layer: Company-Owned Communities
As you start to build those relationships, you want to draw people in a little tighter to your circle –your company-owned communities. These are communities owned and managed by a company, which typically run on open source or enterprise collaboration software. Within this layer, there are three distinct types of company-owned communities.
The first includes your external communities, such as customer-facing support communities. Those are public sites where people have the opportunity to come to you for interaction. In these communities an organization gets to listen, reputation-build and do a little marketing. It is important to remember that these are still social sites, and you can’t treat them like a traditional Web 1.0 site or marketing platform. You are still engaging, talking and communicating, with a balance of marketing.
The second type of community is your closed network. In closed networks, you control the membership, as opposed to external communities where you don’t really control who comes to your site. Examples of closed networks are partner networks or customer-only networks where only “my customers get to come” or, for instance, only people who own a particular product.
Finally, the last type of owned community is your social community for employees, which involves the same types of social aspects as above, but around your employee base instead of customers.
In those types of customer-owned communities, the organization is responsible for running and managing the community and benefits from rich data and user profiles created within that community. One of the key distinctions between company-owned communities and participating and managed communities is that typically company owned communities enable you to own all the data that is created within the community.
A good example of a company-owned communities is Fiskars’, and community of “Fiskateers.” This global manufacturer of the trademarked orange-handled scissors focused their community on a passion of many of their customers: crafting. By enabling crafters to establish relationships in their community and share ideas and tips, Fiskars was able to realize significant business benefits and become the owner of one of the most effective “fan communities” in practice. They reportedly have:
• Significantly reduced Fiskars’ advertising expenses • Increased chatter around their brand by 600 percent • Generated 13 new product ideas per month • Increased sales 300 percent
What you’ll notice about successful s that they integrate all of these layers together. Businesses must understand that their audiences need a social ecosystem that is comprised of both consumer-facing social networks as well as company-owned communities. They must view the company-owned community as the end destination where they want to draw those customers into and also recognize that the participating and managed communities are channels that help them facilitate that.
Take a critical look at your organization: Where is your company positioned in the Social Ecosystem? Do you have a strategy for each layer? How are you leveraging social media in your business? Ideally all three of the layers will become integrated with the end goal of building 1:1 relationships in your owned communities. Something to think about as 2011 draws to a close and you start planning for 2012.
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