Social networking has always been about people who trust one another coming together for
support, reassurance and insight to provide and defend a common coveted space. Recently, new
tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and local city sites have moved the speed, reach and
enhanced trust of social networking to unparalleled levels.
Social networking sites are emerging as an important online marketing channel. Marketing
spending in the space is quickly growing, and 2007 projections are proving to be conservative.
One in three Internet users say that their purchase
decisions are swayed by sites with social content, according to a January 2007 survey conducted by Jupiter Research.
They, in turn, influence people they know. It’s easy to see the tremendous impact community
sites have on purchase decisions. The same study also shows 49% of Facebook users and 35%
of MySpace users primarily seek networking opportunities. The younger the user, the more likely
they are to visit and interact with a social networking site.
Right now, your best and worst customers and prospects are digitally harnessing every valuable
relationship they have. They are empowered to broadcast their opinion and ask for feedback on
a large scale at a moment’s notice. Their dialog is taken at face value because recipients know
them or of them.
What does this mean for marketers? It means your best and worst customers now have a greater
share of trusted voice than you can amass through conventional media. Your brand is quickly
becoming what they deem it to be: hero, villain or otherwise.
Thinking of e-communities in the most basic form, a digital construct of real-time relationships, past
and present, makes it easy to understand that social networkers are not only linked to those
they trust, but are also only a few connections away from everybody else. Group members
cross over in multiple groups. One group’s opinion influences many other groups.
You’ve decided online communities are an excellent forum to expand your awareness. You’re also
attracted to the tremendous ROIs and concerned about some of the negative things currently be
stated about your product on social sites.
It’s hard to know where to begin. You are dealing with a medium that requires acceptance and
permission. When you communicate, it is important you live up to your promises and meet the
expectations of your audience, for they are the ones who elevate your message to the critical masses.
They also have the ability to contort and edit your message in any way they deem appropriate.
Without a good strategy and go-to-market plan, your efforts can quickly work against you. We
adhere to 10 Truths when addressing online social networks. While not a perfect science, as
social communication is organic and ever changing, these truths are solid guides for a clear and
effective communication strategy. Sticking with the truths will lay the foundation for a successful
social networking strategy.
1) Don’t Ignore Flames
Online opinions range from praise to harsh criticism. We’re often asked about the best way to
address harsh critics in online communities. If individuals or groups are flaming your product
(speaking badly about it) and working to spread a negative message, the best way to minimize
their impact is addressing them directly with the truth.
Why address flames when you most likely won’t change the flamers’ mind?
Think of their influence as a fire you are trying to contain. Many other influencers looking to form
an opinion will encounter their messages. If you don’t provide a balanced response to their flame,
it can be, and often is, accepted as the truth in its entirety.
To balance opinions, you must address their posts, if appropriate, on the same sites they are flaming
you on. Always acknowledge who you are, a representative from your company, and factually explain
why you disagree with the posts. Or if you agree, explain how the issue has been addressed.
Posting flames and your responses on your own forums is also important to
stop the spread of the negative campaign. Being transparent and providing content
that can be forwarded on by influencers to their communities will balance the flamers’ opinions.
2) Establish A Contact Strategy
Your communication must have a contact strategy that advances the dialog up the trust ladder
until permission is provided and sharing of your messages takes place. Without a focused touch
point stream, trust is harder to earn and your message will not reach its potential.
- Attention communication focuses on standing out as a supporter of the community,
making you a potential credible source for the community.
- Interest is a compelling community connection that attracts members to find out more,
usually through a click reaction.
- Engage is the process of making a personal two-way connection that members find
value from participating in.
- Endear occurs when the member finds an affinity toward your product. This occurs
when they have been engaged long enough to need the most detailed information you
have to formalize their opinion or decision.
- Share is the state where the member begins sharing their thoughts about your
product with other people. The communication here enables them to easily propagate
messages on your behalf.
Each stage in the touch point stream coexists and is accessible at the same time. It is designed to
enable the influencers to engage and move through the cycle at their own pace.
3) Be Honest At Every Touch Point
Honestly define what your brand is and isn’t at every point in the customer buy and experience
cycles, and bring that information to life as content that is accessible for social networks to
embrace and repurpose as their own.
Thought leaders in social networks bring information to their groups. Become a credible source
with the thought leaders and your message will get out there.
4) Understand The Belief System
It is easy to offend social networks. Remember the marketing stories about launching a product
in another country, not realizing the product name was offensive? Certain topics, tone and
content often are surprisingly offensive in similar ways for social networks.
Every group has a common purpose and belief system that brought them together. Targeting the
right groups with the right messages that shows you not only took the time to add value to their
discussions and community, but you actually understand the particulars of their belief system is
key to earning their trust.
The belief system is what brings people together in a community.
Understanding a community by observing it will help you will understand how to best communicate
to that community. We ask four simple questions to establish parameters for our communication in
Belief System Check List:
- Primary purpose of the community?
- Reason people participate?
- Reason they believe each other and in the community?
- What is unique about the community that has bearing on your product and message?
To illustrate how this check list works, we will apply it to a real-world scenario using a marketing
campaign targeting city online communities.
City online communities are quickly becoming primary influencers to select
goods and services, big and small.
Let’s assume you’re launching a new vehicle for families by targeting 20 urban online communities
based in large “influential” suburbs. To do this effectively, you must spend time in each online
community observing. Completing a belief check list for each social network will assist and develop
the most appropriate communication for each community.
The first community you review is Friscoonline.com. After spending a little time on the site, you
quickly learn Frisco is growing rapidly. There is no commuter rail at this time, but the city is working
on getting two stops. Many streets and freeways are still under construction. New services,
restaurants and retailers are being added, but aren’t keeping up with the growth.
Friscoonline.com Belief Check List:
- Primary purpose of community? Stay in touch with a growing Frisco.
- Reason people participate? Participants want to know how city developments will affect
them. They also struggle with services that aren’t keeping up with the demands of an
- Reason people believe in their online community? The online community provides a
forum to address public issues and seek advice about local services and products.
- What is unique about the community that has bearing on your product and message?
The majority of participants have children at home. They want to know what
developments are taking place in their city. They all are dealing with substantial
The Belief System for Frisco Online – Frisco is Transitional City. It is important to stay connected to
understand how the city is changing and what impact it will have on me.
Based on this quick assessment, you can adjust your communication to fit the tone of the community.
You might even consider publishing planning and zoning alerts prominently on a specific part of the site sponsored by your new SUV to garner attention – the first step in building trust.
You won’t waste members’ time with an irrelevant message that doesn’t fit within the space. When
you look at the other 19 online city communities you are targeting with your vehicle, they will all
have their own belief systems. None of which will be exactly like Frisco. Each network serves as
its own focus group.
5) Make A Network Connection
Invading personal space without a “network connection” will get you ignored and often ostracized by
the group. Approach members not as a marketer, but as a fellow participant on the site.
An example network connection – We’re having discussions with members like yourself who enjoy
gardening. Can we ask you a few questions and share the cumulative answers? Do you want to
compare your answers with friends?
Creating tools that enable comparisons with friends is a good way to add value to the community,
spread your message virally and make you an invited guest.
Or better yet, a viral message forwarded from a friend is the most credible network connection
– John, your friend from work, thought you would find this gardening tip interesting.
6) Tie Banners To Experience
When using banner ads, make sure they add value and leverage the power of the networking experience.
A good direct sales banner:
Save 20% from Dell when you order with two LinkedIn friends.
Click here to find out how.
A good community banner engages the community and propagates the use of the community to
achieve a desired end result. It enables members to feel like they are doing more by activating
A not-so-good direct sales banner:
Save 20% from Dell, exclusively for LinkedIn members!
It’s human nature to find more trust in numbers. Inviting people to come together for a special offer
indicates that it is something extra special for a few who work for it. More importantly, requiring
the message to be forwarded to a friend if done appropriately, assures more people will see it and
7) No Blasting
Don’t blast messages to community members who have not opted in. Instead, offer something
of value to the community to get members to click for more information and provide a chance to
share with a friend, leaving the trusted blasting to them.
Once you’ve made a connection, make sure your ongoing communication doesn’t inundate
members. Your outbound messages should have a logical value-add stream, including intuitive
self-select profiling questions to further advance personalized communication and to forward to
8) Sticky Paybacks
Offer something of value that helps with future needs and keeps them coming back when they
click to visit you.
“Bookmark our comparison engine that will enable you to compare product ratings. Use later
when you’re ready to make a purchase.”
“Opt-in here and we will send you specific alerts for special incentives for Frisco Online members.”
As you begin to track responses and engagement, it is important to adjust and optimize your
messages. Ask for feedback from the community and react to it in your communication.
Search Engine Optimization is also important to direct thought leaders toward appropriate postings
for your product. We use a proprietary tool that helps monitor keyword usage and determine when
and how to retrofit our search strategy.
10) Share Internally
Your people can be your best advocates. Inform and educate them about your online social network
strategy, where you are targeting and how they can appropriately participate in the process.
Solicit internal feedback and assess the impact social media deployment will have internally,
including sales, customer service, IT, product development and finance. It also goes without
saying that executive sponsorship is vital for sustainable social media adoption.
There’s always more
We’re hopeful this paper provides more clarity for you in the online social network space. The
dynamics of each situation warrants a unique approach for each particular situation.