I am starting to witness an interesting trend. The old adage goes that as soon as adults think something is cool, it automatically makes it not cool for the youth. So it sees is starting with social media. This is inevitable and certainly not necessarily a negative trend. As online communities, Twitter, Facebook and the myriad of other social media tools gains prominence, there is a very interesting shift in the use of social media. Since the penetration and effectiveness of social media has become legitimized, Fortune 500 companies and other large firms have jumped into the realm. However, their use of social media has taken on three unique characteristics.
1. Anti-Social Media – It seems that the big company contributors have maintained their "no response" attitude from their daily work lives and applied it to social media. They can not be faulted absolutely as anyone that has worked for a large company knows the impossible amount of communications, time demands and head-spinning number of requests impact on their ability to respond and communicate. However, the trend is real none the less. The entire nature of social media is that it is dynamic, multi-directional communication.
Executives with large companies seem to be using it as just another medium to produce "one-way" messages. There is no real "social" in their use of it. It is as if they are playing in the Twitsphere by getting on the Public Announcement microphone and shouting out their opinions. Social media and online communities for larger organizations are taking on the characteristics of a dynamic communication engine rather than people connecting with other people. We have to take responsibility for this as well, since The Targeted Group is primarily focused on creating these platforms for larger companies and designing those systems to be marketing engines and not necessarily social networks in the pre-2008 version of the word.
2. Public to Private, The Wakeup Call – Six months ago, I saw a mass movement of companies entering the social media world but primarily in a fragmented direction. They typically seemed to elect multiple people or teams of people to contribute content through forums, blogs, and similar technologies. Also, due to the deflated budgets, the trend was for companies to gravitate towards freeware such as Facebook and Twitter. Companies now have realized that they lack the well thought out communication strategy that they typically bought to new initiatives and have re-huddled in order to focus their tactics and methodologies. With this maturing has come the realization that freeware such as Facebook, Ning and Twitter are public environments and they own all of the data! So, the trend has been for companies to use free social media tools to drive traffic and build community on a privately owned platform. All of the positive aspects of social media remain but with much higher success rates regarding compliance, privacy and control.
3. Management and Moderation is Key – The build it and they will come idea has been proven to not work. There are thousands if not millions of competitive virtual communities on the web. Why would anyone care about a large corporation launching another community? We have found that taking the time to answer critical questions first, is one of the best predictors of success. Once the questions such as "why people would engage" and "what will keep them coming back" are answered, the number one predictor of success is the ongoing management and moderation of the community. This is usually thought of last and done in a fairly haphazard way. However, having the right people and the right strategy dramatically affects the amount of user generated content / feedback and keeps the community healthy once the initial launch honeymoon is over.
The Targeted Group has spent the last ten years cracking the code of engagement and it is usually much less obvious than anyone would think. We are all used to thinking about selling in the traditional environment by describing our products and services. This is a brave new world and the skills necessary to leverage it are quite different than even three years ago. The basic strategies remain but how to create tangible benefit and how to measure success is an entirely different animal.