Social media is a good tool for reaching defined audiences. One of the most important things to recognise is that it’s granular, there are different types of social media that do different things and that together they create an EXPECTATION of EXCHANGE
We can explore social media through three phases: engagement; participation and co-creation.
When you’re trying to reach out to defined audiences, not necessarily asking audiences to participate in the creation of new knowledge, what you’re really doing is publishing. You’re pushing stuff out, and so something like Twitter works really well because you can advertise what’s happening; your events; your services and products. You can link to other sites; you can re-tweet other people’s information. You’re not really asking a lot of people at this level. Each of these activities demonstrates the value that you bring and that you are worth engaging with.
When you actually want to SHARE knowledge between lots of people, you’re looking for an EXCHANGE. That exchange could be an exchange of knowledge, but it could be an exchange of services. Here, you’re asking people to be more connected to what you’re doing and therefore it establishes an expectation that you will also contribute something to them. You’re asking people to INVEST in what you are saying, offering and doing.
Participation requires a bit more of a commitment than engagement and because of this you need different platforms. For instance Flickr is a good community for photography and YouTube for video-makers. Facebook is more of a network than a community and you can link to others in the network to promote both your services and theirs. LinkedIn is great because you’re able to provide in-depth knowledge and set up questions, asking people to participate in seeking answers.
Co-creation is the most difficult, the riskiest, most costly social media and requires most commitment from everyone involved. For instance: if you’re an organisation trying to createa new organisational structure, you need people not just to engage in the structure or to participate in discussions, but you’re asking them to co-create a new structure. That means that you need to have that real commitment across the organisation. This type of intensive commitment tends to happen less on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or blogs and often requires more bespoke systems.
So you want to use social media to develop your client base?
When you’re considering social media as a mechanism for developing your audience, you need to be clear about what you actually want to do with them. Do you want them to know about what’s happening? What events are coming up? Do you actually want them to share their experiences in a much more of an exchange? Do you want to be seen as a “go-to” individual or organisation where others can get relevant information? Do you want to create something quite new, in which case you’re looking at more of bespoke systems because off-the-shelf products are not always best for co-creation.
For instance, making a video together online is quite difficult. There are some systems that allow you to do it but t it’s lot more difficult and relies on everyone having the skills to participate. If you create your own video and put it up on online, you can share it, promote it and your networks can also promote it. This is not co-creation but rather a way of working with your network to promote your video. Unless you have the resources to co-create, it's better to consider how to encourage your network to participate in your initiatives.
So you want to use social media to create awareness and build opportunities but don’t know how to justify it?
In this case you’re probably looking to move beyond your existing audiences or clients and to bring in new clients. One of the simplest ways of doing that is to create a Twitter account, not necessarily to push out your information but to use it as a search engine. This is one of the things that Twitter does well; you’re able search what’s out there and then put together a group of people or organisations that you want to target.
Many organisations exist on Twitter you can find them, collate them, and you’ve got then a range of organisations or individuals that are related to your products and services that you can then distribute or you can market to. There are a couple of things that you can do.
1. Start building a relationship with them; that means it’s a two-way thing. Starting sharing knowledge and exchanging information to show them that you understand what they do; you recognise the value it brings and you wish to contribute to that knowledge in some way. This type of participation starts to build loyalty. It also positions you as an individual or company that doesn't just sell products and services but actually contributes to the sector more broadly.
2. Post about other people's products or services. Here you’re demonstrating that you’re not just there to make money. In the end everyone knows that when you are using social networking for business purposes you’re there to make money, but by posting about others' products, you're promoting knowledge within your sector. This type of commitment to your sector may not return money to your organisation directly but offers you an opportunity to be seen as a leader in a broader network.
Let’s take an example that everyone is familiar with: the banks
Banks are about looking after our money (hopefully) and lending us money when we need it. We can mostly agree that this is the core business of the customer-side of a high street bank.
One of the really big things that banks do is community development. Many banks have funding put aside to contribute to community in some way. So whenever you see the football or the tennis there’s often a bank sponsoring these activities. For instance National Australia Bank, sponsors both football in schools and the arts. They may well do it to create new clients but they don’t go out touting their wares, they demonstrate their commitment to the community – put their money and resources where their mouth is – and in doing so, extend their brand to build community loyalty.
Social media exchange is much like the bank. When we use social media, we don’t just want to be seen as selling products, we want to be acknowledged for contributing something greater than that; for being a leader in our area of specialisation, not just a provider of services. If that was all we wanted, we wouldn’t use social media!
In the next posting I’ll explore this framework in more depth and offer some practical guidance for how to think about engagement, participation and co-creation.