Friday, 14 November 2008

Social Media part 10

I'm sure those of you who have been following these postings will have noticed the high degree of overlap between the stages of "Listening" and "Talking", and to a lesser extent, the following stage of "Energising". As we move on to "Supporting" you'll see that this trend continues and that just as the first two are a highly related pair, so too are Energising and Supporting.

Moving from Energising to Supporting - why bother?

The idea of supporting implies extra work for us. So if we can energise our customers (citizens, local businesses) why expend extra effort in supporting them? There are three main reasons:
  • Providing support is actually one of the ways to energise - this was touched upon in my posting on 4th November (see Champions and Experts).
  • Supporting demonstrates our commitment to our customers - it's a way of showing that we care enough about them to want to give them the information and support they need. This helps create a virtuous circle because of the previous point.
  • Thirdly, supporting doesn't actually mean we have to do all the support: we can help our customers to support themselves, and this actually removes some of the burden from us and still helps to build and retain a positive image of the services we provide.

Ways of providing support using Social Media

I'll start with a real-life example, this one drawn from a book I've previously mentioned, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. There's a very simple Social Media site called Meetup. What this does is to provide a means of organising meetings with people with shared interests who you might not otherwise get to know. The underlying issue is this: in today's busy world, we tend to live in greater pockets of isolation than in previous eras. This is because we work at a physical remove from where we live, and we also (often) live in communities that are far larger than villages and towns of the past. So it's actually pretty hard to find like-minded people.
Now let's say that you want to find some like-minded people who live near enough to you so that you could actually meet up. How on earth do you discover those people and then arrange the meetings? This is where Meetup comes in: you form a group that defines your target audience and then if and when it attracts members, you sub-divide it geographically so that those members who live close enough to each other can use it to arrange to meet.

Meetup: Stay at Home MomsThe example Shirky uses is "Stay at home moms" (SAHM). This is one of the most popular and enduring groups on Meetup (as of the date of posting there were nearly 95,500 members spread across nearly 1000 cities in 9 countries; they had arranged over 186,000 meetups). It's specific enough to guarantee that people in the group are likely to share common philosophies and interests (in this case, mothers who choose to stay at home in a "traditional" homebuilder/carer role), but also generic enough to guarantee a large number of potential members. A group like "Working women" probably wouldn't work (excuse the pun) because it's too general - do working women share philosophies and interests to the same depth as SAHMs? At the other extreme a group like "Stay at home moms with twins aged under four" would probably be too narrow and the chance that there are enough members who fit this to make it viable is small.

SAHMs is important for another reason - the members of the group are not people who we would normally think of as being attracted to the Internet Social Media universe. As Shirky puts it: "when a group of mothers adopts a piece of technology, it indicates an expression of preference far more serious than ... a thirteen year old boy going wild over an Xbox" (page 202).

SAHMs and Meetup are important because they demonstrate a number of key concepts about what works:
  • Social Media aren't an end in themselves - they have to support objectives that are meaningful and important to the people who use them.
  • Those objectives need not be - and actually often aren't - to do with the "virtual world": people still like to do things together in the real world. Intriguingly one of the most popular online virtual world games, World of Warcraft, also has a popular and successful Meetup community!
  • When you discover tools that help you do what you want to do, you are likely to be positive about adopting them, even if they are from an unfamiliar environment.
  • But (and this is important) it must also be the case that doing what you want is also quite difficult to achieve by any other means. (Meetup wouldn't work as well for arranging a local street party!)
Translating all this into the support scenario, what we're trying to achieve is an environment that fulfils the above points and at the same time provides support for those communities that use the tools in such a way as to relieve us of some of the effort of providing support by other means and/or generating higher levels of positive energy within our target groups.

So that will be the subject of my next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment