A few weeks ago I wrote about an interesting phenomenon I have encountered in Twitter where people willingly pass on information but where few actually take any action on that information exchange, I called it Why Twitter is Making Us Lazy.
I would be willing to bet that this is the same in other low involvement exchanges on platforms like Digg or Facebook.
Of course, people ARE talking about brands and organizations online, and while they like to share the good things, they also tend to discuss the bad news more often than the good and with a higher frequency. You can check out this interesting research by Forrester Analyst Bruce Tempkin in his report How Customer Experience Drives Word Of Mouth.
The reason for this is the high involvement of these individuals is most likely found in the bad experience that they had. But how do you get people to talk about the good stuff, and act on things when they do – both online and off?
My theory is in something that I call Relationship Chaining. I have used some of these techniques in the real world, so it is a bit more than just a theory, but it isn’t backed by solid research.
Relationship chaining, as you can see in the figure above, relies on at least three levels to work, and as your involvement in the community becomes more complex it can grow even beyond these. But for the sake of this post I chose the three I think are most salient, especially as they relate to the online space.
- At the base level there is the COMMUNITY in which you want to affect a change or an action. This community can be physical, digital, issues oriented or a combination of all of these. It is critical that you identify where this “community” is spending its time, both online and off.
- Above that layer are the self-identified “FRIENDS” of an organization. Online these might be the people who are following your organization on Twitter or Facebook, or those who have subscribed to your blog – they know who you are and for some reason have made an effort to vote for your content. Inside of these “friends” there are a number of interests, from the mildly interested, to the radically fanatical to the determined detractor.
- The top layer is what I call the AMBASSADOR, and this is where I suggest you invest most of your time. As you build the number of these ambassadors it will have a trickle down effect, growing the number of “friends” and potentially even the definition of the community. These ambassadors become influencers for your and your organization to the community, and when you need to drive action, or if you need protection from your detractors these ambassadors will stand in the gap for you to get it done because you have already fostered a relationship of mutuality.
Notice I didn’t call these ambassadors influencers. A lot of times organizations look to find the top bloggers or influencers in a niche. That is all fine and good, but the real action is in what David Sifry, former CEO of Technorati, called the Magic Middle. At the time he described it as blogs with 20-100 incoming links, but you could probably expand that to say Twitters with 1,000 to 6,000 followers, etc. At the time, this idea was a real Eureka moment for many of us. In fact, by giving these influencers access you can often strengthen their ascent to influencer status.
We can take a page from community organizing to understand this idea more fully, and also there are a number of measurement vehicles in public relations to gauge the health of the relationships with the communities and “publics” that matter most to an organization.
Getting people to act on behalf of an organization without explicit pay requires some finesse at best and is not as simple as delivering messages or taking the attitude of “build it and they will come.” You need real people to ask their network to act on their behalf.
What have you done to drive action through word-of-mouth? I would love to hear your stories.