This is the third instalment on four blogs on developing a social media strategy. In my last blogs I introduced the 5P's of community and the motivated community member. This post explores community participation.
I believe that if participation is conducted effectively you can develop motivated community members and thus a stronger social presence for your brand.
Again, I'd like to reiterate that the number of fan or followers alone do not make a strong community. Yes, it may look promising that you have over 10,000 followers but how engaged are they with you? You are more likely to see a return from the ones who are engaged than the lurkers.
Consumers will friend brands because they want the associated status or style. It does not mean they hold the same cultural values to your brand or they will ever purchase from you. However by understanding the role engagement can play in converting consumers to true brand advocates and you can begin to plan a strategy.
In viewing the relationship between time and communication, Kozinets (1999), demonstrates how engagement can move consumers from lurkers to insiders. And, I would suggest non-consumers [status junkies] to consumers. Kozinets work is based on a virtual community but I think this is still applicable in branded social spaces.
So how do we move from topical information exchange to cultural cohesion and communal relationships? Well, I would suggest that there is another point preceding topical information exchange - the like/follow/new community member - many people will not go beyond this point, they do not reach the topical or identity information exchange.
Have you joined a group on LinkedIn? I've joined a few. Generally when you join you get a notification saying introduce yourself to the community i.e. identity information exchange. When I gain new Twitter followers I always say hi and thanks for following to start building a relationship with them. Many don't reply but from the ones that do I have built up some great friendships and networks I would not have normally had access to. From doing this you build up topical information exchanges.
Through time, communication and experience with the branded social space consumers will build up sets of cultural norms. For instance the difference between a DM in Twitter and PM in Facebook... essentially both the same function but the media use different names.
When cultural norms are accepted and enforced the community members will self-police. This can be very important if you are gaining negative comments - your advocates and strong community members may also reply on your behalf. This does not mean you do nothing though. You still need to be active. Like in service recover, you can turn a failure into a positive experience and gain a loyal customer from doing so!
Experiencing the community, engaging with the brand and having the opportunity to engage with others with the same interests will build the community and develop cultural cohesion. Just as important there will be communal relationships. A branded social space looks good when people are active and involved.
It is also worthwhile to point out that you can build relationships with other supplier and experts within your field. There is more potential for social media than just a vehicle for you to mass your fans in the one place.
So how can you build relationships?
Remember from traditional models of mass media communications, the one-to-many model? From what I have seen brands are using social media this way. They are sending out general posts to everyone. Yes, this may be good for catching attention but if you never nurture the relationships you have earned from this endeavour all you are ever going to get is fleeting responses.
What you need to do is build relationships from the one-to-many approach then on an individual basis from those who have engaged back. Nurture the relationship along. You can still send general posts but what about then building on individual relationships those previous posts have developed for you.
Don't forget about your current engaged fans. Think about how annoyed you get when you get a contract for say, a mobile phone, and when you go to renew your tariff is rubbish but you see great tariffs for new customers.
In the final post of this series, I will discuss and model the three levels of content value, taking community development full circle.