Many companies now have developed a number of social media properties. Even the skeptical seem to have at least a blogspot blog, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel (if they have anything even remotely visual) and of course the requisite Twitter account – though some are just reserved with no profile picture to ensure no one hijacks the name.
With the "land rush" last week for unique URLS on on Facebook, most of the pages have 1,001 fans, just enough to qualify them to get their name before someone squats on the best names.
If they are really cool cats they might even have a Flickr photosharing account and a FriendFeed. Perhaps they even have a Ning community with a handful of passionate people leading the way.
In other words, most are "dipping their toe" in social media but very few have figured out how to best manage these tools to encourage buzz and build community around a brand,
Swarming as a Strategy
I am not criticizing these companies, but am trying to help a number of them make sense of all of the opportunities.
One way to look at social media is as a beehive. The analogy has many hooks that work when you are looking at it from a communication perspective. European honeybees swarm when they are building a new nest or hive. In the same way, companies will need to learn how to swarm to build their social media presence. It has some components that I have fit into the mnemonic of B.E.E.S.
BUILD. This is the step most companies have taken, they have built a number of social media properties, but they aren't working together very well. Someone might broadcast their blog content through their Facebook or Twitter account but they aren't building in hooks that go beyond broadcasting. In a beehive nothing is wasted. Everyone has a role and lives that out. In the wild world of social media, you can't control what others do, but you can build out content that is interesting to others. This is the important building of a "hive" or a distributed place that your brand calls home across social media tools.
EAVESDROP. This goes far beyond merely listening, or monitoring, though these are a part of this step. This is listening with a purpose to determine what kinds of content are most resonant in each social media community. This is like the communication that bees instinctively use to build a functioning hive or nest and which can be brought to bear in social situations. Each community has a distinct culture, to be effective, one has to learn this culture and speak in its own language.
ECHO. Once you know what is resonating to the community then companies should provide content that fits, or echos, what the community finds interesting. This is often been pejoratively called the "echo chamber" by some, but this echoing (ie., Retweeting on Twitter, linkining on blogs, tagging or sharing in Facebook) is how things are virally shared in social networks. Also, echoing is important on all of your social networks. Companies should make sure all of their social properties echo each other. I don't mean that the same content should be on all of the pages, but instead that people can easily get from one property to another and that they support each other.
SOCIALIZE. Finally, the content must be socialized and not simply broadcast. Of all of the blogs and profiles I have looked at, my biggest concern is that there is a lack of great interaction. This is a difficult issues because true interaction takes time and energy. Things like auto Direct Messaging and automatically following on Twitter make it easy to pretend as if you are engaging, but it doesn't fool anyone. Additionally, services like Ping.fm can be abused. Companies that have made an investment and have hired or appointed someone to handle their social media outreach have done much better than those who are trying to wing it.
Together, these approaches allow the conditions or environment that can precipitate a swarm. or a buzz, around a brand or organization.
These are just my first thoughts pulled together in a useful mnemonic but I am very interested in hearing your thoughts. Everyone is figuring out this new shifting landscape, but it is clear to me that it's no longer enough just to get an account in one of the popular social media networks and "participate."
What do you think?