There is still a lot of disconnect among businesses and organizations about how to properly use social media platforms to create a community or an audience online. Here are three stubborn myths that refuse to go away as more companies and organizations head to the web.
Myth #1: Community is out there waiting for you
There’s a sense with many companies that if they create a Facebook page, begin using Twitter, or start a Ning community that online audiences will flock to them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many companies jump into social media without a strategy or a well-executed tactical plan and then are dumbfounded when no one joins in. Creating a Facebook page is easy – and can be done in less than 10 minutes. But the question that needs to be answered first is: what are you going to do with it?
If you can’t answer that question – then don’t start using social media platforms or else you’ll risk ending up with companies and organization who have abandoned their blogs and Facebook pages because they failed to cultivate either an audience or a community. The first step before using social media is analyze your customers. Who are they? What do they want from your company? What problems do you solve for them? How do they consume information? Are your customers joiners? Are they participatory? What mediums do they respond to?
Once these questions are answered you can start to explore which social media platforms – blogs, wikis, forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – would be best to use for engagement. And then don’t expect your customers to jump on board immediately. It takes time to cultivate a blog, to build up an audience for a Facebook Page, or to grow a user group around your product.
Myth #2: Your audience is waiting to hear from you
Not necessarily. Remember content is king on the web. To create interesting and compelling content, companies and organizations need a tactical plan to create it. Because if you aren’t providing useful content to your audience then they aren’t going to to participate – or listen to you. Online customers are not interested in reading self-servicing blog posts about your great new software features or watching YouTube videos that are nothing more than low-budget TV ads. If this is your strategy – you will quickly be outed for it.
Your customers want content that helps them navigate the challenges they face every day. They want answers, insight, and innovations. They also want the sense that you are listening to them. If you are simply shouting out into cyberspace then you’ll hear nothing but an echo. The goal of utilizing social media platforms is to engage in a conversation. That means listening, asking questions, responding to criticism, and admitting that you don’t always have the answers.
Myth #3: Build it and they will come
Building a wiki or online forum as an addition to your web site isn’t enough. If you’re looking to create a community (which is very different than audience) – then you need to nurture it beyond simply building a place on the web. The best run communities on the web use systems of rewards and social gain to keep participants coming back. Make 10 posts and you get to customize your avatar, make 10 more posts and you get a customize signature, etc. Find out what motivates your audience. Do they want free samples? Do they respond to rewards?
The idea behind building a community is that your customers can benefit from talking to each other. So its crucial to understand why they care. Your job is to build and facilitate and to monitor the community. Listen to their needs. What is lacking? What can you add to make the community more vibrant? Are you giving your community the right tools? Reward your power users. Listen to them. And let them bitch, if they want. The most important part of creating community is getting your users to trust you.