I attended the NewComm Forum earlier this year in sunny San Francisco and Joe Jaffe founder of Crayon was one of the session speakers. During his speech he mentioned that companies need to make a wholesale commitment to engaging in social media and that testing the waters was not a good idea (I am paraphrasing big time).
Of course, I had to challenge that idea. The Photo to the right, taken by Steve Lubetkin, captures how doubtful I was about this "all or nothing" approach.
In my work with clients, I have consistently seen that the smaller efforts often yield larger returns over time.
I appreciated Jaffe's point that too many initiatives are undertaken for the wrong reasons (read: quick results) and companies that attempt to do this tend to fail miserably. But I still believe that social media initiatives are best approached in a step-wise manner.
Three Steps to Build Relationships
It starts with small steps, because trust, and the holy grail of brand loyalty, is earned. And trust needs to go both ways. Notice, that like the dancers in the photo, most of the steps occur at the sidelines.
1) Join the community. Take the time necessary to get to know the group you are hoping to influence. Read their blogs, watch their videos, leave sincere and useful comments on their content.
2) Treat the community as a trusted advisor. One of the most interesting byproducts of working with an online community of your customers is that you can learn about their pain points. Assemble an advisor group, have informal chats, attend their events and get to know them
3) Look for ways to contribute. Companies have money and resources, and they have time and interests – how to the two collide? A big event might be fun (especially if I am invited), but what does it accomplish. How can a company, and its products, help the community solve a problem? How can you inspire brand loyalty?
It is like a dance, with both parties learning the steps. And social media marketing and public relations activities might be more this way than traditional channels of communication. Like Jaffe said, there has to be a long term commitment, but notice that by joining the community and seeking its input, you may find that you don't want to go on to step three. Or you might pilot something and let the community decide if it should go forward. In other words, you haven't yet invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that (while nice) has negligible impact.
What do you think? What are some ways that you think a company could build better relationships with online communities?