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The Community Approach to Conversation
Cows browse. People communicate.
Posted Jun 9, 2010
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Developing an online strategy was much easier just a few years ago. If you were in business you knew you needed to have a Web presence in order to be taken seriously. But at some point, things changed. People changed. The audience became bored with a didactic Web experience — passively browsing content with no opportunity to interact with the information or to add commentary.

Web visitors didn't want to browse anymore. They wanted to communicate. They wanted to engage in a dialogue, not read a monologue. The new audience no longer saw the Web as a group of static "pages," but rather as a band of real-time communities allowing people to learn, communicate and share information — be it the latest news from family or about the hottest new technology.

If you're an enterprise, you should be thinking about this latest twist on communicating with your audience. The first step is to build upon your existing audience. If you've had a Web site for any length of time, you already have an established audience, one already aware of your brand and your messages. The chances are good they're your customers, your champions and probably your critics, too. They're the people who can help you spread your message, both through such social sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, and inside your own social community.

The Community Approach — Filling a Need

For example, a major financial site recognized that social media offered a tremendous opportunity to build a community from their existing audience. Rather than simply being a resource for stock quotes, the site expanded into a community that allows members to share common interests, ideas and experiences.

Among other tools, this community approach gives members the power to:

  • Rate stocks and connect with other community members
  • Receive insights from top industry experts
  • Find the latest news and community events
  • Follow favorite blogs and authors
  • Ask other community members financial questions

In essence, the site recognized its audience's primary need — to become better-informed investors — and answered that need through their community site. When you're thinking about social media, think about meeting your audience's need, because if you don't... your audience will go elsewhere.

Even with your existing audience there to help you build a larger community, you'll need to reach out and make your company part of the conversation.

Social media is a tool to facilitate discussion among individuals, not corporations. The old adage that "employees are our most valuable resource" has never been more important than in the era of social media. Your community will want to have conversations with people in your company who are experts in their area, who are passionate about their work and who are empowered to act on the feedback they receive.

Being the Conversation

The natural step after becoming part of the conversation is to make your site the destination for the conversation. By introducing social networking to your Web site you can create a community where your audience can connect with you and with others who share the same interests. Adding social media to your site allows customers to connect directly with your employees and for your support people to accelerate problem-solving and issue resolution. A social network on your site can become the perfect catalyst for customer testimonials and success stories, a place to enhance communications with your existing customers and the means to help attract new customers.

  • Forums provide a place where internal experts and visitors can exchange ideas, discuss news, share experiences, tips and information and ask questions.
  • Blogs allow your company to tap into the passion that already exists among your customers and gives them a place to express that passion.
  • Wikis encourage your customers to document their experiences, make suggestions and even let you know about new ways they have found to use your product.

Keeping Pace with Change

As the generation that grew up with the Web enters adulthood, social media is going to become critical to business, as important as establishing a Web site was a decade ago. According to Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, social media will be one of the most disruptive movements to ever impact business as people use technology to connect directly with each other, bypassing traditional institutions such as corporations.

Passive Web sites are no longer enough. The "Social Web" is busy being born, and business needs to pay attention. 

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About the Author

Mike Pascucci (Mike.Pascucci@ektron.com) began his online community experience in 1998, implementing and managing various community platforms for Fogdog Sports and eBay. As director of moderation services for Mzinga, he was responsible for creating strategies around user-generated content for brands such as ABC News, ESPN, and Liberty Mutual. Having recently joined Ektron as the company’s social media strategist, Pascucci writes a social strategy blog (www.ektron.com/mikepascucciblog/) and can be contacted on Twitter as @mikepascucci.

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Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the June 2010 issue of CRM magazine — our second annual Social Media Issue, this year focused on communities — please click here.

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