The Desert of Community Building

dune du desert du thar india

The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

One of the most crystallizing moments of my online career was when Ike Pigott said social media was an organic process. This analogy struck me as inherently true, in large part because of the significant amount of time and care one has to invest in building an active community. Like a farmer who invests love and labor day after day watching her/his fields slowly yield beautiful fruits and vegetables, community developers must tend to their community and build relationships through thoughtful interactions, valuable content, and empowerment methods.

Most marketers and communicators fail to realize the imperative of engaging the Fifth Estate as a group of people just like them. Instead they analyze their consumers, and how media like Google and Facebook change with widespread adoption.

I have a friend, Meryl Steinberg, who says that when she signed on to Twitter and Facebook she didn’t sign on to be a consumer. Her sentiments mirror many others on social networks who find themselves literally assaulted with marketers’ messages trying to persuade them about the values of their wares or causes.

These communicators analyze the data hoping for the home run. They hope, even expect that when they launch their social media the results will become their own Haiti fundraising phenomena or that they can reproduce the Old Spice viral success. And they might, if they work hard over time (as John mentions in the Old Spice case study), and infuse that special mix of creativity, intentional stakeholder centric approach, and yes, timing.

When the light switch goes on and engagement begins, often the Fifth Estate does not respond. The seeds have only begun to be planted. Relationships don’t crystalize over night. Movements take time. A vast majority of organizations don’t experience overnight successes online.

The road can be long and hard, and at times, a communicator can feel like they are walking through a desert, hoping desperately for an oasis. This is the point that many organizations quit, letting their social effort lie fallow.

It’s important not to deceive one’s self about the significant effort and time one will invest to build a community, and then continue to invest in order to sustain it. The Fifth Estate requires continued interactions. As mentioned in the second chapter, the time and human resource commitments are real and significant. Have the patience to see it through, from start to finish, and the deserts that lie between moments of great interaction. Knowing this from the start helps.

Suffering Through @BP_America’s Facebook Ad Campaign

Facebook Semantic Ad Failure Featuring @bp_america and @johnbell

Much has been made about BP’s questionable advertising campaign, from President Obama’s call out of the $50 million expenditure to ethical questions and search engine placements. Experiencing this inappropriate overspend on Facebook has been quite troublesome.

The above ad was served to me over Memorial Day weekend on Facebook. It clearly demonstrated that while Facebook is using my posts and links as a means to serve me ads, it doesn’t work. The ad features BP, a company I have been blogging negatively about for several weeks, and one of my local friendly competitors John Bell, head of Ogilvy 360 DC. John’s a good guy, but that isn’t going to sway me to support BP. Thus, Facebook privacy violations or not, the ad tech wasn’t smart enough to really work.

PastedGraphic-1.pngMy reaction, I clicked the ad to go away. When prompted for my reasons, I clicked on the offensive choice. Fast forward 10 days and I have been served the BP ad or a variant of it almost a dozen times. No matter how many times I click “offensive” or “misleading” the ad keeps coming back.

Facebook’s continuing disregard for its members is clear. And it makes me feel zero loyalty to the organization. AOL once thought it was undefeatable, but technologies and the Internet change. We know there’s no respect for privacy here, but if Facebook’s ad tech can’t even respect a user’s request, when a better, free solution comes movements will happen.

As to BP: No one believes this company any more. The spin has become too much. From what we were led to believe — the world’s most progressive energy company — to the factual reality, the world’s most irresponsible oil manufacturer; everyone sees a company shooting out hot air.

You can’t buy trust, especially once trust has been violated. The only way out of this for BP, again, is to fix the well, clean up the environment, take care of the damaged Gulf economy, and simply report progress using PR and social media sites. Aggressive claims of being moral and right will fall on deaf ears. Yet another communications gaffe for BP.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.