October 6, 2008...12:03 am

8 emerging social media best practices

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about social -vs- marketplace motivation based on a presentation from Francois Gossieaux and Lois Kelly from Beeline Labs. At that time I promised to return to their Tribalization of Business study and that’s exactly what I plan to do with this post.

Beeline Labs’ Tribalization of Business study measured the responses of more than 140 organizations – business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and non-profit — which have created and maintain online communities.  The communities ranged from fewer than 100 members to 10,000+ members.

The key findings of the study suggest a set of 8 emerging best practices. I think the work they’re doing at Beeline Labs is important and will help companies looking to establish an online community clearly identify realistic goals and measurement opportunities as well as outline a clear path to successful, ongoing engagement.

Lessons learned, advice for others: eight emerging best practices
When asked what their most important piece of advice is for others creating online
communities, survey participants’ advice focused on eight areas:

  1. Start with the end in mind: “Start with a business strategy, defining carefully what you
    want to accomplish through the community.” “Invest most in the area that services your
    key business objective.” “Be clear about the purpose of the community.”
  2. Focus on the value to the members:  “Make sure you deliver real, special, unique,
    obvious value to the core group you’re hoping to attract.” “Build the community around
    existing passion groups.”  “The core of the community needs to be of high value or
    interest to people, a focus worth contributing to.”  “Get insight into what motivates
    members to join the community; we found a different motivation than we hypothesized.”
  3. Don’t start with the technology: “Too often people get drunk with Web 2.0 tool
    excitement and then try to push their business and customer goals into the wrong tool.”
  4. Keep it simple and intuitive:  “Focus on the least common denominator first. Keep it
    easy to navigate with simple tools to use.” “People are busy; they need information in
    brief, easy-to-scan bits they can quickly choose what is interesting to them and go right to
  5. Keep it fresh and active:  “Keep activity levels up, constantly add new content.” “Think
    of how to create ‘events’ – what can you do to excite people and get them to share in the
    community.” “Update regularly, find topics for discussion.”  “Content is king.”
  6. Have dynamic community leaders: “Make sure you devote enough time to managing
    the community; letting it fester is worse than not having it in the first place.” “Participate
    but do not try to control. The community belongs to the people, not you.”
  7. Think through who to involve – or not. “ Get commitment from top management and
    communicate, communicate, communicate.”  “Get Legal and PR to buy-in and help on
    design, but keep them out of active management.”
  8. Get a passionate core of participants active before launching:  “Make sure you have a
    committed core of passionate users before you launch.” “You must have a critical number
    of high-quality participants to get the momentum going.” “Beta test and seed before

Unfortunately, most people seem to skip the 1st and 2nd principle outlined here and never even consider the 8th. Why do you think this is? Why are we still seeing online strategies that begin and end with the use of a single technology?

Is there anything listed here that deserves more explanation? What would you add to this list? What would you take away?

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  • Great stuff to consider Shannon. I wouldn’t necessarily add to this list other than to note that it’s going to be come more and more important. A saturation point for folks regarding online communities and activities does exist, and some of even the most committed people are starting to see it hit.

  • Jenny McCutcheon

    This is a great post Shannon! With the relative newness of social media, many companies are jumping on the social media bandwagon without much consideration to the purpose or value each social media outlet will add to their organization. It’s important, like you said, to ensure that companies realize the time involved with managing these social media tools.

    It also seems as though many companies are still struggling with how to best measure the results of social media efforts. For example, what is the ROI for participating in these groups?

    Companies would be smart to research the social media tools that best fit their business, and figure out how to provide value to their customers through establishing and participating in one or more online social media communities.

  • it's all about social media

    [...] Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog, Oct 2008 [...]

  • @Ari – I’m not sure what people refer to when they suggest that there is a saturation point for web-based communities. To me that’s like saying there is a saturation point for causes. Maybe each individual has a saturation point, but I don’t believe that an overall saturation point exists. As I’m sure you know, for most people engaged in social networks, online and offline activities begin to blend seamlessly into one another.

    @Jenny Thanks, but really it’s the folks at Beeline Labs who did such a great job with this survey. The information they have been able to put together could provide enough fodder for about 20 blog posts. This was just one of many pieces worth sharing.

  • Great post, Shannon. I agree completely. Our clients biggest hurdle at the start of any project, is that they do not understand the difference between business strategy, mission/vision statements and marketing messages, and why they’re so important.

    Once you are very clear about who you are serving and what specific needs you are addressing, then the rest falls into place. Unfortunately, you can’t deliver a great site to support your organization if you haven’t done your homework!

    Looking forward to reading more…

  • Another great post, Shannon. Thanks. I’d offer these thoughts for the group … I particularly like this line: “Participate
    but do not try to control. The community belongs to the people, not you.”

    It’s related to the concept that communities aren’t created, they form. It’s the creator’s job to provide a forum, feed it regularly and get out of the way, where appropriate. You don’t create the conversation any more than you create the thoughts in the minds of the participants. The value is found in the natural exchange of ideas and concepts – much like we are doing here.

  • Great post!

    Your point 2 (Focus on the value to the members) is in the limelight these days – and for good reason.

  • The beeline labs report is excellent.

    Too often, social media is seen as a tactical method for reducing cost rather than a strategic approach to engaging your customer base/audience. To get the most out of social media, we have to re-think the way that we integrate it with our other marketing efforts.

  • Barb Chamberlain

    This is outstanding and just what I need. I’ve been developing my own involvement in social networks not only for myself, but to learn about what it takes. Now I’m getting closer to launching some initiatives for what Washington State University is doing in the health sciences at my campus, WSU Spokane, and I’m going to share this with my co-workers (along with some of your others, including the “newbie” post).
    We are approaching health care with a team philosophy, not the traditional silos. With the next generation of students in particular, social media will be an unquestioned part of their lives, and we need to be in that space fostering and demonstrating our team approach.
    (For a look at what we mean, see our YouTube video at http://twurl.cc/6fc and follow links in the text description)

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