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.
If strategy can be defined as the terms and conditions of how to engage with the Fifth Estate (or whether to engage at all) then there are many different and unique ways to do just that. Individual voices, teams, mainstream social networks, applications, pages, groups, documents, wikis, your blog, their blogs, the list goes on on ad infinitum.
Choosing the tactics is a fantastic part of the effort, but in reality the tactics are not the strategy. It’s so easy to get caught in shiny object syndrome when you consider this world full of bells and whistles. Yet, it’s important to focus on the actual strategy, the approach towards.
In my experience, the following four categories are the primary types of social media strategy that organizations use online:
1) Participation: This may be an individual (often called a social media or community manager) or in more sophisticated organizations, a team of people that are basically out and about on the interwebs, having conversations with their communities of interest. The primary purpose of their activity is interactions, building trust and developing relationships. Most customer service accounts on Twitter could be classified in this strategy taxonomy.
While a stand-alone strategy, participation is also a precursor for success in the other three primary areas of social media strategy. In many ways it’s a two step, basic, functional and necessary for any kind of dance, and something utilitarian enough that you can get away with it for one night. In addition, participation is a maintenance strategy between large initiatives.
One of the best examples of an organization that fosters participation is the nonprofit Social Media Club. It’s no coincidence that co-founder Chris Heuer is the original proponent of participation is marketing on the social web. Social Media Club began in 2006 when the first chapter began meeting in San Francisco to discuss social media. Now more than 200 chapters exist around the globe to host conversations on and offline that explore key issues facing our society caused by transformative social technologies.
2) Service: Want to make friends with the Fifth Estate? Serve it with great data, content and applications. This seems pretty easy, but there’s a fine line between serving and spamming, which most inexperienced marketers cannot delineate. In fact, many organizations begin their social media experiences by publishing content without any community to listen or consumer their offering (participation). Further, this information is often delivered via a message format rather than in a conversational tone.
If you consider the necessary precursor of listening as a step prior to social media engagement, success becomes much likelier. Add in participation and network building prior to serving the community with content and success ratios increase even further. Said application, wiki, or content will be much more likely to resonate with the community, in part because your organization will be better informed to serve.
A great example of content server is Rubbermaid, and its Adventures in Organization blog. In some examples products are featured, but in all cases the blog talks about how to organize your house, other places or outings. Adventures in Organization offers a great utilitarian approach to content delivery, providing potential stakeholders with real practical information that matters in their day to day life.
3) Top Down: Many organizations assume they will not be able to invest the time in the grassroots effort necessary for full community participation, nor do they want to commit to a long-term content offering. Instead , they opt to build relationships with influencers using a top down approach. With a relevant offering for the influencer, they seek blog coverage or social network profile endorsements. By building relationships with critical influencers, they hope the communities following these leading voices will follow suit.
A great example of an outstanding influencer approach is one my friend Susan Getgood told me about. The Gap engaged in an outreach program prior to the 2010 BlogHer conference, offering 100 influential female bloggers a $400 shopping allowance, and a styling appointment at a local Gap. These women were described as influencers and speakers at a conference where Gap clothes would be seen by hundreds of other women. Many speakers tweeted using a #gapmagic hashtag and blogged about their experience, and most wore their new Gap clothes during the conference. “Smart marketing all around,” said Susan.
4) Empowerment: The hardest of all forms of social media strategy, empowerment assumes that the organization will commit to building a far flung community. In essence, the empowered Fifth Estate members create conversations and ideas that are so extensive they exist well beyond the organization’s reach. Instead, the company or nonprofit becomes much more of a host and facilitator, available when called upon. The organization then creates initiatives and helps to sustain the effort over the long term. Crowdsourcing, large scale events, cause-based initiatives, and loyal customer communities are examples of the empowerment strategy.
Consider 350’s efforts with this type of strategy. The nonprofit organizes an annual global day of environmental action to reduce CO2 omissions. 350 uses social tools to empower local organizers to develop their own events, promote the events, and to keep their stakeholders informed. In 2010, 350 is organizing its 10/10/10 Work Parties, to get people focused on actions. They have already signed up more than 1000 event organizers in 108 countries.
Just about any individual strategy can fall under one of these four classifications or this taxonomy. More than one strategy type can be in play at once, obviously, depending on an organization’s capacity and initiative. What are your thoughts?