While on a call with members of The Community Roundtable recently, I spoke about the concept of social media curves, or social media arcs. This is something I encourage my clients to consider as they embark on their first social media forays, or revamp an existing social media presence. It requires a shift in thinking that encourages patience – something in short supply in this always-on world.
What I mean by a social media curve is the time frame from when you first start to create and nurture your social media efforts and when you see your first success. In working with clients in all industries, the time frames I tend to see average out to 3 month and 6 month curves of time. This is strictly “anecdata”, as they say, based on the work I’ve done – I’d love to see the information compiled from others in the industry to see if this curve holds true across the board.
We’ve already covered the need for businesses, filmmakers, musicians, artists, etc. to have purposeful engagement on social media platforms. We’ve covered the need for being human, balancing personal and professional and other basics. So now that you’ve been in the social media trenches for a while and established your basic identity, presence and reason for being there (or re-established, if you are repairing a poorly done campaign or repopulating a social media ghost town), what comes next?
Once you’ve laid a foundation, it’s time to work from goals on the front end and set appropriate expectations on the back end. Map out what you hope to achieve through social media, then break it down into reasonable, bite sized goals. Each of these goals will become part of a social media curve. Prioritize the goals, then associate them with concrete offline benchmarks (after all, the “ROI” of social media is not an arbitrary number of followers or fans, but actual offline results: sales, referrals, leads, foot traffic, event attendance, restaurant bookings, collaborators on projects, better customer service, etc).
What do I mean by appropriate expectations? This is really where the social media curve idea comes in. Depending on the size of your goal, and how long and how well you’ve been maintaining your social identity and engagement, you will see results on a social media curve. A shallow response, followed by an arc of positive results and more attention and engagement from others, tapering off and becoming steady as the weeks go by. This means that for a small goal, you should see measurable and steady results after about 3 months, and for a larger goal, expect 6 months. (And keep in mind that “I want more business” is not a goal, it’s a hope – and hope is not a business model. A goal would be “I want to increase restaurant bookings by x% a week”)
Many are disappointed that the results are not immediate, since the internet seems to move so quickly. If you have built an outstanding (and I do mean outstanding as in extraordinary, fully engaged, interesting, interested, helpful and aware) social presence and have the social leverage that comes from that, you can achieve a slightly faster response, but too many think outstanding presence means numbers on a page. It does not. Take Chris Brogan for example. People do not listen to Chris because he has a gazillion followers, great hair and a huge blog following. People listen to Chris because he listens to them, and has spent years being helpful, aware, interesting, interested, and otherwise fully engaged. In the beginning of his social media curve, he could not have released Trust Agents and gotten it to reach the sales levels it did simply by using his social leverage to let people know he had a book out. At this point in his curve, he can (and did), and he can do it much more quickly than the average person, thanks to years of time and investment in his social media “family”.
For the average person or business online, however – expect 3 – 6 months before you see real results. Take your time and really cultivate your own social media family. Measure your success by how your offline goals are met, not by whether you have as much of a following as someone else. And above all else, slow down and handle your online presence with care.
If you aren’t using a social media guide who recommends that you tap into your existing staff for social media impact, you may be with the wrong guide. One of the first things we do for a new client is evaluate their existing resources. Nine times out of ten, they are overlooking their greatest asset in social media: their staff. This has a long lasting negative effect on their prospects in social media, and it also means they are missing out on a great way to encourage employee loyalty and longevity at the company.
One of the benefits of social media as a medium for business communication and the promotion of artists, musicians and more is how cost effective and far reaching it is. Increasing your social leverage leads to a variety of tangible and intangible benefits for any company. It’s easy to see the external benefits, such as increased customer satisfaction, improved customer service, benefits to how your customers and potential customers perceive you, indirect sales, the ability to drive traffic to your web site or to the web sites of your company’s favorite causes or collaborators, corporate growth potential and so much more. It is harder to see that part of the cost efficiency lies in finding ways to use what and who you already have within the company to the fullest.
If you are a firm with a massive staff load in the tens of thousands, or a legal firm, government body or hospital with special privacy concerns, then yes, you should hire one person to handle your social media campaigns. Those scenarios require more focus than the average company. If you have a company with a few thousand employees, a medium or small company, or are an entrepreneur running a micro business, you should start to look at your entire staff as your marketing and social media department.
It is common business practice to monitor or restrict time spent online, to throw road blocks up against social sites like FaceBook, MySpace and even LinkedIn. My question to every company is why limit your business and your employee growth in that way? Blocking your own success at the firewall is not going to get you anywhere. All employees have down time. Everyone gets a little bored at work sometimes, even the busiest CEO or freelancer. Why not tap that down time and boredom? With the proper training and a few simple guidelines worked out with your employees, your legal or management team and your social media consultant, every moment of boredom could be turned into fun for your employees and indirect inbound marketing for you.
Every person has a network. Whether they are talking to their network about plans for the weekend or about you, your company name and link shows up in the work section of every social profile they have. This means that every interaction could be drawing eyeballs to your business. With a little training on how to effectively add in references to your company, to offer assistance appropriate to their position in your company, and other options, you could have your company’s online presence amplified to reach the networks of every employee (and their networks’ networks) in a very short period of time.
With that kind of social leverage at your fingertips, why aren’t you using it?
One of my favorite people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with is Jim Keenan from Cre8Buzz. Jim, his wife, and their business partners had the dream of creating a social network that was driven by user generated content. In a way, they succeeded. Over time time their labor resulted in the birth of Cre8Buzz, now sporting a community of over 4000 enthusiastic, generous and supportive members.
Jim and his Cre8Buzz family started Cre8Buzz on a shoestring two years ago, as so many social networks are born these days. They ran into behind the scenes problems, and started looking to their members for help. The BuzzBoard was born a few months ago, and I ‘met’ Jim and the crew for the first time after being a user since the early days of the Buzz.
I watched them struggle through each growing pain, knowing that part of their problem was not having the cash flow you need to ramp up development quickly in this rapid paced social networking climate. I started to help them learn to use media like Seesmic and Twitter to get the word out about Cre8Buzz and get people excited about it in its second year of existence.
Interest is growing, and the user base continues to use the site as a great resource for user generated content, but Jim and the Cre8Buzz family no longer have the resources to continue trying to get their baby past this hump and into the next level of existence. What to do?
They have agonized over solutions to the problem, not wanting to just walk away from something they worked so hard on and that was continuing to grow in spite of its rocky start. The people who made Cre8Buzz just don’t want to abandon it like some unwanted child, and they don’t really want to sell it to someone who doesn’t understand what they have built. Then they hit upon an innovative idea.
Why not use Cre8Buzz and it’s user base as a head start to help a young coder?
I fell in love with Jim’s idea instantly, and offered to help him get the word out. Here is what is on the table:
One two year old network built on Rails. A healthy user base of 4000+ members who are very enthusiastic about the site and who have high hope for its future. A site framework that is about 90% complete as is, or that can be tweaked by the right developer. A healthy number of topic-based channels (Moms, Seniors, Dads, Television buffs, Writers, Sports, Music, etc) under the umbrella of which users put up original content. All of the tools used by the users: blogs, forums, profiles, photos, videos, music, podcasts, and more.
What Cre8Buzz wants in return for giving you this site: a percentage of the profit if you make it work. Nothing if you don’t.
This is an unprecedented chance at a working social network. If you know a Rails developer who would like the chance to make it their own and make it grow, please contact Cre8Buzz CEO Jim Keenan via Twitter, or contact me here in the comments and I’ll make sure he gets the message. Please feel free to forward this to developers you may know.
FaceBook recently made news by starting to delete the user accounts of people who had joined solely for the purpose of playing a game called PackRat. Many are giving FaceBook kudos for deleting the accounts because of the spammy nature of the game, while others are condemning FaceBook for trying to dictate not only how people use its service (as evidenced by the recent forced ‘upgrade’ to the new design) but why they join in the first place.
Since FaceBook has given us a way to ignore all requests from any given application and a way to block applications, the first part of the equation doesn’t interest me at all. FaceBook users who think an application is spammy need only click “Ignore” to never see that application again, from anyone (trust me, after getting eleventybajillion Little Green Tree and Werewolf requests, I wanted to kiss FaceBook’s feet when that button came about).
What really grabs me is the second part of the equation. How much a site can and should dictate how new users find it, how they use it, and why they join in the first place has my undivided attention. Do I think PackRat is a spamaliscious application? Absolutely. Do I think there are more spammy application and (shudder) app-vertisements in our future? You know it. Do I think sites like FaceBook should ban people who join to play one of the games like this that could be considered spam by someone who isn’t into it? No, absolutely not.
I know that it isn’t the popular stance to take, but even on sites like Twitter I think that it isn’t why someone signs up that should be penalized. I think in the end the better thing to monitor is contribution. If the person signed on to play a game, and they “friend” other people who like to play the same game – that’s fine. That’s their community. Social media is about building your own community, after all.
Now, if they were trying to friend a ton of people and send them advertisements or other spam, I could see taking action. Twitter has a bit of an issue with spammers who have out of whack follower to following ratios and leave trojan-riddled links and such on their Twitter pages. I don’t want Twitter to block people for me, but when they see these spammers who are so obvious about abusing the system it is nice when they remove them. FaceBook should have similar criteria.
What do you think? Should the users of social network like FaceBook be able to dictate the kind of community they build, or should FaceBook?