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April 24, 2015

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Strategy and Planning for Online Community

February 5, 2009

Up to 50% of all online community initiatives fail.  Social media strategy and planning services are the new black for companies with struggling communities.   Organizations just starting to leverage social media want to know how to be successful.  Everybody seems to be asking the question, “How do we increase the likelihood that our social media initiative will succeed.”  

Before examining components of a successful community, let’s take a look at some sure fire ways to increase the chance of FAILURE

  • Use a tools-focused, ”If you build it, they will come“ approach.  Online community is not Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams.

   Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. 

  Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

  • Assume that all you need is a place, and that the users will just show up and supply all the content
  • Have no defined, documented strategy and plan for the initiative
  • having a defined, documented strategy and plan, but limited plan or resources for ongoing execution of said strategy 
  • Failing to nurture the community on an ongoing basis
  • Not listening to your membership
  • Focusing only on quantitative ROI while discounting the customer franchise value and the value of the relationship
  • Pushing product before establishing a trusted relationship (marketing initiatives)

So, what strategy and planning is needed?

Before implementing any online community or social media initiative, I strongly suggest that clients develop a comprehensive social media strategy to assure that their social media initiatives are accurately and realistically aligned with their company strategy and business objectives – basically a blueprint to success utilizing current social media tools with best of breed community practices.

What would a comprehensive social media strategy include? 

Some will say there are five things to define, some will say there are eleven, but the consensus is that regardless of how organized, the appropriate planning highly increases the probabilty of success.  When I was at Mzinga, I coined the term “Seven Components of Successful Community” to define what I believe are the key social media strategy components.  I consider these essential to the successful launch and ongoing management of an online community: 

1. Community Membership Acquisition & Retention Plan

Target membership and desired interaction, acquisition (marketing) and retention, member ROI, and competition (other communities, other calls for target membership attention).

2. Strategy – Business Objectives Definition

The defined vision of the social media initiative and alignment with corporate strategy, business and financial goals (ROI and measures) and objectives of the initiative.  Identification of documentation, decision making, ownership, policies, roles and responsibilities as related to community initiative.

3. Ongoing Community Management Plan

The plan for ongoing day-to-day community health – the “care and feeding” of the community.  Usually supports pro-active community management and growth via community engagement and development, and alignment of the community to meet the community strategy, goals & objectives. 

4. Membership Communication Plan

Defines the methods and modes of communication to the membership for all phases of the community lifecycle.  (May be included as part of the Community Membership Acquisition & Retention Plan, or Ongoing Community Management Plan.)

5. Moderation Plan

Defines level and type of moderation, such as proactive scan or reactive moderation, use of word filtering, acceptable practices, and policies (such as TOS, violation reporting, and use of UGC).

6. Content Plan / Programming Schedule

The plan for sourcing and use of content – new & existing, internal & external, expert & user generated, static & event based.

7. Tools / Rollout Plan

The software and infrastructure enabling the social media initiative, includes rollout (all-inclusive) and future plans.

For each of the components, prescriptive actions should be included as part of the strategy and planning. 

Companies who take the time to create a comprehensive social media strategy covering the Seven Components for Successful Community – whether organized as I’ve defined above or in another manner – will see their probability of success increase dramatically.  If not, they might sadly become candidates for a Community Resuscitation Strategy.

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Social Media Isn’t a Free-for-All

September 26, 2008

Recently, I was speaking with one of our healthcare prospects regarding how to use social media to engage patients, leading to greater familiarity with their services, with the end goal of driving more patients to their participating doctor partners.   During the conversation, it was mentioned that because of HIPPA, liability, and compliance issues, they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to leverage social media because it is a “free-for-all”.
Over the years companies in the more constrained or regulated industries – healthcare, banking, investment, legal, and defense – tend to have a similar mindset.  What I find most interesting is the assumption among those not familiar with social media is that social media = MySpace.  It does not, but it can.  For its purpose, MySpace is what MySpace needs to be: a fairly free-form gathering place, without an abundance controls or moderation.  It is not representative of what one might do, for example, when applying social media for the amplification of investment information content.

Some established communities are somewhat free-for-all.  But by leveraging the controls inherent in the better social media platforms, companies can have very controlled, tightly managed communities.  Not surprising, most of the latter fall into the “constrained or regulated industries” I mentioned above.  The use of access plans, moderation (both tools and human), community management, policy and Terms of Service definitions, security, roles and other social media platform functionality can provide just the right amount of control.  Our job as social media consultants is to help clients understand exactly what functionality to use and how to use it to successfully meet the business goals and objective without introducing unacceptable levels of exposure or risk.
So, my advice to those who have doubts about deploying social media because it is too uncontrolled: have no doubts.  The deployed community of any social media initiative can be as open or as controlled as it needs to be – just make sure that the right balance is struck.  Whether or not you are in the “constrained or regulated industries”, do not dismiss social media because it is too “free-for-all”.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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“IM NOT GUNA B FRIEND WIT U ON FACEBOOK”

August 25, 2008

“IM NOT GUNNA B FRIEND WIT U ON FACEBOOK!!!!  haha nooo wayyyyyy”

That was the response to the Facebook friend invitation I sent to my soon-to-be 15 year old daughter. 

Shame on me… I failed to ask one of the most important questions when planning to engage someone via social media:  what will your membership get out of this relationship?  The ironic thing is that when I was at Mzinga – at least 3 – 4 times a week – I counsel our prospects and clients to ask just that question!  They usually know what they want their company to get out of a new social media initiative or community, but they do not understand or have not asked what the target membership will gain from participating.   The obvious question of “What are you offering that will attract and engage the members in such a way that they become active members of the community?” is (and in my case, was) simply not asked.

You see, my daughter’s use of Facebook  is strictly as a mechanism to network with her school friends and acquaintances.  The reaction to my invitation was very similar to the reaction I got when my daughter realized that I knew the words to many of the songs she currently had on her iPod – it was totally “uncool” that I knew some of the same songs.  Just as “uncool” would be if she friended me on Facebook .   By not asking the question, I assumed an end result that was not the reality of my target member.

Good thing my daughter and I have many other channels of communication… our relationship will not be damaged by my social media faux pas.  However, if social media is one of the primary means you’re planning to use to engage your customers, employees, or partners (the membership), be sure to ask the question I didn’t.  Otherwise, you may risk damaging your relationship.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (The Six Ps)

August 13, 2008

 

When I was a young lad (longer ago than I’d like to admit) a very nice wise old man once told me what he considered the secret to his success.  Why did I consider him wise?  He was a very successful construction supervisor who was responsible for some of the most beautiful – and now historic – buildings in the West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Florida area. 

 
           Palm Beach Town Hall

OK, you could argue that maybe he wasn’t all that wise, but not that he wasn’t successful.  His secret to success?   “The Six Ps”, something you may have heard of: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. 

Not a new saying, but very applicable to social media?  Everything.  As with many of life’s undertakings, a successful social media initiative requires The Six Ps.  Knowing that social media can help solve your business challenges is a good first step.  Having a social media strategy that meets your business goals and objectives is great.  But defining the plans that will make your social media initiative a success: critical.

So, what plans am I talking about?  The plans that provide a path to social media success with a recommended course of action to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate any risks associated with your social media initiative.  Although there are many pieces to each, I’ve taken the liberty of consolidating them down to six plans – The Six Ps of Social Media Planning, if you will…  

  • Social Media Plan
    Defines your overall social media goals and objectives, including: member constituencies, rollout plan, proposed options for the community direction, internal social media readiness.
  • Community Programming Schedule (also known as a Content Plan)
    High-level schedule of proposed content to attract and engage community members and drive adoption.  Can include new & existing, internal & external, expert & user-generated content.  May leverage blogs, seeded message boards, webinars, chats, polls, contests, etc.
  • Community Management Plan
    Roles, responsibilities and rules of engagement of those involved in the care, feeding, and nurturing of your community.  Can be yours and/or your vendor’s resources.
  • Moderation Plan
    Moderation ensures that members are following the community rules, assists new members, and to fosters lively discussion.  There are many ways to accomplish these moderation goals.  The Moderation Plan provides interaction rules and guidelines and should be adjusted based on the needs of the community.
  • Community Ecosystem Plan
    Provides a map of your potential social media structures, based on an analysis of stakeholders such as existing and potential customers, employees, partners, and competitors.
  • Social Media Matrix & Site Map Plan
    Outlines the company and member content, the social media tools necessary, and a model for member interaction.

 

Although not an all-inclusive list, it suggests the depth of thought and definition you should be prepared undertake as you build a roadmap to success for your social media initiative.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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Ask the Social Media Planning Question: “Why?”

July 29, 2008

Client: “We want to launch 131 seasonal message boards.”  What?  Sure, we’d like to help you launch 131 seasonal message boards with you… let’s talk contract addendum.  Wait – not so fast!

We get asked by Clients to do things they think they have a pretty good understanding of.  They know what they want.  They think they know why they want them.  And, they think they know what it will take to make them successful.  However, often we get involved to guide the Client to back-up and ask, “Why?”  In this case, could the vendor provide what they are asking for from a platform and services perspective?  Absolutely.  For example, social media provider Mzinga (my former employer) has one Client who has over 1,100 message boards running on their platform, so that is not an issue.  Would we as social media strategic consultants like the additional revenue that might come from such a project?  You bet!  But, should we reccomend launching 131 message boards?  No.

One of the strategic consultants objectives is for us is to make sure our Clients are doing the right thing… setting them up for long term success.  In this case, we have to ask the question: “Why?”   “Why do you want (and do you really need) 131 separate message boards?”  And the some of the follow-up questions: “Is this what the membership wants?”, “How does this meet your strategic and business objectives?”, “Why seasonal? – Why not keep the community active year ‘round?”, “Do you understand the ongoing management effort this will take?”, “How many Community Managers do you have?”, “How are you going to keep content fresh on so many boards?”, “What is your moderation strategy”, “Do you really want to make an effort to engage a community just to close the community at the end of the season?”, “How is permissioning going to work?”, “Will you have enough active members on each message board to build a vibrant community?”, and so on.

In this case, via what we called a Strategy Alignment,  we counseled the client to consider narrowing it down to 6 message boards, provided a recommendation on how to grow out a true community by leveraging additional social media tools, and how to keep the communities vibrant and engaging by keep them up year  ‘round and utilizing social media best practices.   What could have been a short-term seasonal effort of message board implementation and management futility is now a roadmap to building six related, ongoing, successful communities.

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Get the Lawyers Involved – Now.

July 14, 2008

Upper management and the legal department can kill your social media initiative.  The new world of transparency and perceived “loss of control” that the use of social media brings can (quite frankly), scare upper management and folks in the legal department.   And many a well thought out social media initiative has come to a screeching halt in the 11th hour due to not having buy-in of these two important constituencies. 

Although one can argue that companies never really had control of their message – only control of how said message was published – many companies don’t understand that the customers have long since taken the published message and added to it, commented on it, and maybe even ridiculed it.  It just didn’t have as big an impact because it wasn’t as immediate or broadly distributed as it now is due to the web.    

Regardless of the many examples where policies of transparency have benefited companies in ways previously unthought-of, when it gets down to being transparent many executives and legal departments still don’t understand, or they understand but are afraid to let go.  “Allow customers or employees in our community to post negative things about our company or product?”  A resounding “YES!”   Guess what…?  They have been, and will be doing it anyway, in places you don’t know about!  And therefore you will have no way of engaging them in conversation, gather very valuable (albeit sometimes uncomfortable) feedback or product suggestions being provided, respond with accurate information, or make use of the product suggestions.  You will have lost a very valuable open communication channel.  Bring open communication into your venue, and benefit from it.

So you, Mr. or Ms. Community Manager or Director or Project Manager completely understand how your company can benefit from a policy of transparency as related to the deployment of social media.  You “get it”.  However, your executives and legal department may not.  You need to get them involved early on in the process.  Educate them.  Help them understand how a policy of transparency can help the company.  Give examples of where transparency has provided great benefits to the companies.  Build your business case.  Help them understand it is not as scary as it may sound.  Help them “get it”.  Don’t go to them late in the process just for approval of your Terms of Service policy.  Get them involved early as you define your overall Social Media Strategy, Business Goals and Objectives, Community Participation Guidelines, Membership Acquisition and Retention Strategy, Programming Schedule, Content Plan, etc. 

This approach may be more work, but the mitigating the risk of the plug being pulled on your social media initiative right before the finish line is well worth the extra effort.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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