An organization can identify social networks that it could participate in with pools of community members, like Twitter, Pownce, Facebook or MySpace. Social networks allow an organization to aggregate contacts in groups of self-identified and voluntarily interested parties. In essence, the community members opt in to the organization’s network as a friend or follower (or whatever the network’s preferred nomenclature is).
Opt-ins don’t give a company a license to engage in shameless promotions. It’s important to note that they expect an organization to behave according to the principles of social media conversation (openness, transparency, etc.)… As a contributing member of the community.
Within these networks, Internet “friends” are interested in content and developments generated by members within their network. This is true and even expected of companies and entrepreneurs. Friends may be interested in a book, a blog or an application you are developing. But whatever the initiative may be, organizations should strategically try to share efforts that contribute to the community in some way.
En masse, that means a company or organization can update large subgroups of people about initiatives. For example on Twitter, the Live Earth initiative used its microblog updates to keep almost 2,000 bloggers apprised of the July 7, 2007 concerts. Here are some sample “Tweets:”
“Switching between the live earth stages at liveearth.msn.com. alicia keys dueting with keith urban. beastie boys rockin’ london. 12:40 PM July 07, 2007.”
“Rallying up a road crew. Carpool to relieve congestion on your daily ride to work. Americans waste 2.3 billions of gas a year in traffic 02:27 PM July 06, 2007”
Inside the Social Network
Intelligent companies use periodic calls to action within their dialogue. For example, many corporate social network members reference a blog post, list a wiki on their identity profile, or collaborate with the community on a social media initiative. By bringing community members closer to the organization’s primary social media initiative larger constituencies are built.
Other networks, such as the very popular Facebook, allow organizations to build private groups for contacts to discuss issues in. Facebook has designed an open application programming interface so that companies can create applications and introduce them into the social network.
If successful in creating value for community members, these applications can create a tremendous groundswell of interest in an organization. At the same time, some applications fail because they don’t offer value to the community.
“It’s not just about the ability to connect with people,” said Brian Solis on a post relating to Facebook. “It’s about creating, cultivating, and promoting a strategic online presence and personal brand. Remember, participation is marketing.”
Companies and organizations should look at social networks as a way to engage potential community members outside of the confines of a corporate URL. By participating intelligently and building value, a company can create a great conversation with its constituents as well as future customers. Further, they can encourage them to take actions and engage them within the confines of the company’s own social media initiative.
As Kami Huyse says, it’s important to define performance measurements. That’s not how many friends or followers, but what kind of perception does an organization have, and was it changed. Has this increased the amount of leads received on a website, or more sign-ups for corporate email initiatives? Define performance goals before engaging in a social network initiative.