Thursday, 23 October 2008

Social Media part 4

Up until now I've tried to present a case for the need for organisations to seriously think about social media, and hopefully you find this compelling.

If you've read this far, perhaps by now you're starting to think, "That's all very well, but what can we do about it?". Well almost the worst thing to do is to try and use social media under the old paradigm of organisational control. Not only will this not work, but it will work against you because of the adverse comment and reaction it will generate. The next worst thing to do is to ignore it. This phenomenon simply won't go away. The technology may change, but the social networking paradigm - people in control - is here to stay. The number three wrong thing to do is to dive in willy-nilly knowing that you have to engage without knowing quite what you want to get out of it or what you want to do exactly.

So what do you do?
Returning to a book I've previously quoted (Groundswell - in parts 2 and 3 of this series), the authors suggest a four-step process they call POST (people, objectives, strategy, technology - Groundswell, pp. 67-68). Summarising, this is as follows:
  • People: get a profile of the people you want to engage / target, to show how they are likely to engage and what they are ready for.
  • Objectives: define your goals - do we want tap into the community to find out what they're thinking, or do we want to engage with them in some way?
  • Strategy: then decide what you want to do about it - what's going to change, e.g. will the community build more self-help as a result and free the council from some of the provision?
  • Technology: comes last! Only after going through the previous steps do you look at what technology solution(s) you want to use.
The authors of Groundswell also offer some tools and advice about how to do this.
For People, they provide a profiling tool that they call the Social Technographics Profile (Groundswell chapter 3, esp. pp. 41-45). This identifies - for your target group - the extent to which they engage with social media in six different respects - are they content creators, reviewers/critics, collectors (people who collect and disseminate links), joiners (e.g. in forums), spectators or inactives? You measure each of these against a population norm and where your group is above or below the norm, you can start to get an idea of how they like to engage. For example, if your group is mostly collectors and spectators (i.e. people who like to read the material and collect and post links to what they like) then providing them with easy access tools to both find and link to your content will help (e.g. RRS feeds, strategic use of tagging, podcasting), whereas setting up wikis and forums may not. They even provide access to their tool online (albeit at a very high country-level).
Then, for objectives, they define five areas that organisations can pursue (not mutually exclusive - Groundswell chapter 4, esp. pp. 68-69):
  • Listening - to better understand your communities;
  • Talking - to spread messages;
  • Energising - to engage your most enthusiastic people and allow them to spread the message even more;
  • Supporting - providing tools for people to support each other: self-help;
  • Embracing - integrating people into the way you work, e.g. getting them to help design and change your services.
Here's an example from the book, that will hopefully give you an idea of how this works.
Ellen Sonet, the marketing manager at a cancer research organisation in the USA wanted to understand more about what her customers really think and say - for example, how do cancer sufferers choose which organisation to go to for help. The traditional way to do this would be via surveys and focus groups. Surveys are limited tools because they only answer the questions you ask! Focus groups provide more flexibility but are necessarily short exercises that engage a small number of people. What if you could tap into people's conversations about your service? That's what Ellen did. Working with a company that set up a private online community, they engaged 300 cancer sufferers to register with this community. They offered inducements such as Amazon vouchers, but soon found that the community was itself enough of an attraction because it was a place where cancer sufferers could talk to each other. And she got the answers to her questions: sometimes completely different from what she expected. For instance the one posed above about how people chose their medical support - it turned out not to be the most reputable organisation, or the closest, or the cheapest, etc., but the one their own doctor recommended. This was because people who were diagnosed with cancer are so completely stressed-out that they need to talk to someone they know and trust. So from Ellen's point of view this immediately was very powerful for marketing because it told her to engage with local doctors and the like: people who actually they tended not to engage with very much up until then. And when they did this their referrals started to increase.

But that's not the end of story - the community continued to offer insights to Ellen, but also to offer support to others within the community. It became self-sustaining, and therefore something that she could tap into whenever she needed to ask questions and gain new insights.

Now I'm not suggesting we have to do the same things, because it will depend on our objectives. This is just an example of how the social media phenomenon was used in a way that was completely new and different to the organisation concerned, but because they'd done their homework first, they got positive results. (And incidentally, Ellen became quite well known because of her use of social media).

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