The Four Social Strategies Applied to Facebook

The Fifth Estate Applied: Facebook Strategy

There is a running joke about clients demanding a Facebook strategy. But in reality, beyond demanding a strategy for a tool, their requests are not unreasonable. Facebook owns half of U.S. social network traffic, and one half of the U.S. population has an account on the social network. Using this tool within the context of a larger online effort usually makes sense.

Facebook has everything from video and pics to groups and questions. From a marketer’s perspective, perhaps the most attractive features are the robust activity stream and inbound Like functionality. But even if Facebook doesn’t have the function you need, a company or nonprofit can build a custom app for the social network. The only area where Facebook seems limited is mobile. In spite of 1/3 of its traffic coming on the mobile platform, Facebook loses a lot of its functionality on smaller screens and apps due to a text heavy interface.

With Facebook’s robust tool set, applying the four social media strategies outlined in Welcome to the Fifth Estate is relatively straight forward. It’s important to note that any Facebook initiative should fit within a larger holistic online effort and your overall business & communications strategy. Here’s a look at each strategic approach.

Strategy 1: Participation

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Always the bread and butter strategy, participation can keep an online effort alive and growing for months without any other effort at all. From a community management standpoint, participation is simple: Talk with other people on Facebook. This gets back to the timeless social media lesson that posting messages is not relational, and doesn’t help your nonprofit or company succeed. As Mitch Joel says, when organizations do this, they are trying to force an old marketing method into two-way channels.

Participation involves responding to user comments on a Facebook page, going out and talking to fans on their pages, and gasp, yes, participating in larger industry fora, including Groups and answering Questions. It means asking questions rather than posting statements, and genuinely listening. Encourage people to talk about the issues you share in common. When in doubt use the Pareto principle of 80/20, meaning, don’t talk about yourself or your organization 80% of the time.

Two examples of participation are Audi and LIVESTRONG (ugh, Lance). Audi uses its Facebook page on a level far exceeding its auto competition, even answering questions about common issues with its automobiles. LIVESTRONG’s use of Facebook to connect with cancer survivors and patients is astounding. User-generated conversation far outpaces LIVESTRONG discussion. Both pages have more than a million fans, in large part because user conversation is so highly valued.

Make no bones about it, fostering conversation has real marketing value for an organization. Beyond fostering stronger ties with fans, each interaction — either from you or them — is listed in the Facebook stream, and thus acts like a word of mouth referral to each users’ network. It is through such updates that an organization can be introduced to friends of fans, which have a higher likelihood of converting than an ad or another referral source.

Strategy 2: Serve with Content

Pepto bismol pinata smash

Much has been said about content creation. In fact, entire books have been written on the topic (see Beth Kanter’s review of Content Rules). There are so many ways to provide content within a Facebook community, from extremely popular photos (tag away) and videos to notes and applications. It’s almost impossible to exclude any type of content as a possible tactic, even feature rich games or coupons for Places check-ins.

There are a couple of nuances to content provision. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it actually serves stakeholders with either valuable information or entertainment. This means don’t post your press releases, rather post information people will find worthwhile. Listening and participation are precursors to success, generally.

Check out the Pepto Bismal Facebook page, and you will see an amusing series of posts, including content like the embedded Pinata video. These are fun general posts, but you can also get targeted with content and shared links. Recent Facebook changes allow you to target posts towards particular stakeholder groups.

This brings up the second nuance. Facebook automatically licenses your content when you publish it there. Further, when you only publish on Facebook, you are not bringing people back to your site for further engagement. This should lead to an important conclusion: When in doubt publish content off site, and use links, applications or embeds codes in iFrames to share the content. This creates a call to action for further engagement on your site, as well as the ability to develop stronger ties with stakeholders there. It also ensures copyright ownership for your full content.

Strategy 3: Top-Down Influence

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For many groups, Facebook success is not as easy as launching a post on their 1,000,000 person community page. They really need strong networks of influential people to carry the word for them, especially if they are at the beginning stages or have a weak participatory effort.

It becomes necessary to build relationships with influencers, people that the larger community trusts and responds to, from bloggers to active social network participants. As noted in participation, when they comment and add discussion to their stream about your topic of interest it becomes a powerful peer referral. Many organizations focus on big names, but these aren’t necessarily the most powerful within your stakeholder community. Research and find the magic middle, influencers who are accessible to the community yet are well referenced and hold weight.

Engage influencers on their terms. For example, if you wanted to engage and cultivate relationships with critical voices in the DC 2.0 community you should participate in the DC Tech group. It is worthwhile participating in conversations on critical voices’ Facebook walls. Finally, it may make sense to set up your own group of influential voices to strengthen relationships. Epic Change’s Stacey Monk did this to organize and activate the To Mama With Love effort.

Strategy 4: Empower Your Community

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Empowering people can range from letting folks tell their own stories like American Express did with its Small Business Saturday Facebook application to crowdsourcing charitable contests like Lady Gaga’s recent Robin Hood contest for New York City homeless organizations. These were both high-end examples of empowerment, but it can be done with simple applications like Questions, or asking a question on your Facebook page.

People like contests, especially when they are win-win and don’t have much down side (unlike Pepsi Refresh losers). This is a great way to galvanize a community, too.

But be aware that empowerment and crowdsourcing take significant work. It is a prerequisite that you have a highly engaged community via participation otherwise you will launch an effort to deaf ears. More sophisticated efforts also tend to blend the content and influence strategies.

Further, it takes a lot of management resources to effectively run a crowdsourced effort, much more than you would think, and many of the results are lacking in quality. Do this with open eyes. The scale and results can be magnificent, but so can the pain.

This post and keynote presentation was given today at the PR News Facebook conference in New York City. It has also been added to the Fifth Estate Strategy wiki.

From Branded Content Publishing to Networks (Madonna vs. Lady Gaga)

A written narrative of my #NextLevel Hawaii Keynote…

Issues Day - St. Mary's Hall Empty Theater

There’s nothing worse than performing before an empty venue. Yet isn’t that what most nonprofits and companies do on the social web?

The rush to play with new tools in this scary Brave New World has been the focus. We’ve seen the many, many successes, and yet organizations find they rarely succeed.

Then they blame the media forms. You can hear them now, “FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla, YouTube or blogs [take your pick] don’t work! And don’t even start with the Augmented Reality conversation! This isn’t what was promised in the New York Times. We were told this was where people met!”

World of Coca Cola Party

The truth of the matter is simple: Companies and nonprofits alike are hitting a real wall with social media. They’ve established their beachheads. They’ve built their Facebook and Twitter and X accounts. They might have even gotten a few thousand followers. But the results have been lackluster for most.

These are the things I hear when I talk with the disenchanted, “Click throughs are minimal. There are no tangible leads, donations or sales. No one follows us.”

When I look at their social outposts, the reason why is invariably obvious: Organizations don’t talk with people!!! Instead they play with their social media tools like they were press releases. They content publish like social media was a PR feed, controlling the message and trying to look good. That’s not what social media enables.

Social is about conversations within a larger ecosystem. And big business has come to play, yet when companies and nonprofits have done so they have rebelled. Executives and communicators alike don’t want to invest the time to be successful or allow for uncontrolled conversations.

Organizations insist on publishing hard pitches to deliver ROI. And brand control is of the ultimate essence. While this can happen (ROI and branding, not control) in social media, these objectives are all by-products of building a networked community through long term, sustainable relationships that are nurtured with real conversations! Social media is still organic!

So what’s an organization to do? Stop content publishing, stop pushing your spiel. Start talking, practice the law of natural attraction, bring your network to you by becoming part of the larger ecosystem. It’s what Dell and LiveStrong and so many other successes have done.

When you let go of the postured brand control methods of mass media communications, and become a contributing part of ecosystems, things start to happen. You see organizations entrenched within larger conversations. People start paying attention, and a community starts to take hold.

Issues Day - Theater

This kind of thinking — that your nonprofit or company is part of something bigger — is a huge breakthrough for most executives and communicators. Manish Mehta, Vice President of Community at Dell, likened it to Nicolas Copernicus’ 16th century breakthrough that displaced the Earth as the Center of the Universe.

When nonprofits and companies get over themselves and all of their contrived communications — like an awkward young adult finding themselves — they are able to focus on the big picture, and participate online in meaningful ways. They can add social to their larger communications mix as a real means to begin conversations with stakeholders. Whether that’s for fundraising/sales, community relations/customer service or volunteers/community loyalty, it really can happen on the social web.

Madonna vs. Lady Gaga

Let’s analyze a couple of stars that all of us can identify with… Madonna and Lady Gaga. The storied brand and the networked phenomena.

Madonna is an unmatched branding genius. She is able to transform and reinvent herself decade after decade and stay relevant. Her 2008 album Hard Candy was a #1 bestseller, the seventh of her 27 year career.

Yet Madonna is not a huge social media success. The branding doesn’t translate. Why? I think you need go no further than her community page, which reads: “Please note that posting Madonna unreleased material (including photos, audio and video) to your profile is not allowed. Doing so could result in the immediate termination of your membership with Icon.”

Madonna is in control, Madonna is messaging at you. And her image is complete, her content quality secure. And no one really wants to talk about her in conversational media forms, and given how she has controlled her community, is it any wonder? Prince has made similar strategic errors on the social web.

The there’s the current phenom, Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga plays the networked game, encouraging her Little Monsters in real dialogue on Twitter and elsewhere. She empowers them too, letting them take her content and repurpose it anyway they want to. Recording at a show? Post it online, no problem ( a la the Grateful Dead’s long-time community embracement). She has done everything in the face of the recording industry’s usual command and control approaches to marketing artists.

As Jackie Huba’s fantastic case study points out, Lady Gaga has built a magnificent global network of Little Monsters. Summarizing Jackie’s post in bullets, Lady Gaga has done that methodically:



    1) She gave her fans a name

    2) Lady Gaga made Little Monsters bigger than her, creating a larger ecosystem

    3) There are shared symnbols, and content, too.

    4) She makes her customers feel like they are rock stars, too (Chris Brogan is also a master at this)

    5) And lastly (note lastly) she has used social media tools to achieve these networked community objectives

Both artists are brilliant writers. They both get the stark, wild sexy imagery that captivates us all. I think it’s fair to say that while Lady Gaga doesn’t have the brand track record of Madonna, she understands branding very well.

Yet only one owns the most viewed YouTube video in history, quickly approaching 200 million views: Lady Gaga. Is it any wonder that her first six singles, good or bad, like them or hate them, have gone straight to #1? Lady Gaga has transcended 20th century marketing to become the ultimate brand of the 21st century.

Issues Day  - St. Mary's Hall Packed House

I think you get the point. Getting a packed room to listen within social channels requires a networked approach, an ecosystem ethos that caters to your community. It’s not just a flash flood either. It takes consistency, a commitment to keep delivering a larger conversational experience over time.

Unlike Madonna or other command and control organizations, it’s about making it easy for people to embrace the brand and run with it. Keep finding ways to enthrall your community, starting with the most important influencers who are the trusted voices in the community all the way down to the lurker who bookmarks content religiously.

We all have to deliver return on investment in some fashion. Measurement remains crucial. But remember, campaigns end while networks live on. When your community doesn’t respond, don’t pound home your sales message. Find out why. Look at your conversation (is it compelling and ecosystem centric?), your calls-to-action, your integration into other marketing channels. Because the problem — and the answer — is not the network, and it’s not the social media tool of choice.