The Great Social Experiment – Roundtable Question 1: How Much Time Should Be Devoted to the Care and Feeding of a Social Network?

REPOST from original series started on blog.thinkfree.com back in September of 2007

Back in September I began a series on experimenting with social networks to view their effectiveness in helping organizations expand their reach, and be included in conversations about their industry wherever those conversations occur. Now it is time to look at the results. Yesterday I introduced the panel (Aaron Brazell, Chris Brogan, Doug Haslam, Cathryn Hrudicka and Brian Solis) and the questions on the table.

Today we answer the first question (ok set of questions): Did I devote enough time to the exercise? More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities? Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?


Aaron Brazell
Ultimately, this question comes down to what you’re trying to market, who you’re trying to market to, and why you’re trying to market. For instance, generalized marketing can benefit from the Facebook/Twitter approach. Message can be blasted to whomever is listening very quickly and without too much angst with anyone.

However, specific marketing is different. For instance, part of your experiment dealt with a press release and using the social sphere to engage that press release and run with it. If you’re press release pertained to a launch of a new makeup product for women, blasting it across Twitter and LinkedIn will probably do you no good. However, engaging through iVillage may be a better proposition. Looking to hire a product manager? LinkedIn is definitely the tool of choice. Ultimately, the message determines the network you should use.

In regards to time, you can disseminate a message very quickly if you have the “street cred�? to do so. Coming into a social sphere and expecting immediate results probably is short sighted, but a 30 day turnaround is very possible if you’re successfully building those relationships during that time.


Chris Brogan
For MARKETING efforts, social networking should come up front and early, even pre-campaign launch. I believe that word-of-blog and other similar methods of getting the word out greatly improve your ability to move information out to more influencers, versus more people overall. Less mature companies probably need even more lead time, because there’s a trust factor that has to be gained first, as well as an “attention fatigue” factor.


Doug Haslam
It is usually hard to judge how much time is enough time. When it comes to online social networks, I tell colleagues—in fact I just said this the other day—that they should be familiar with them, and ideally established in them, before you need to use them.

There is a ramp-up time for any social network to grow not only in numbers of people, but in the level of trust you engender and value you give. How much time that is, is hard for me to pinpoint except: “You know when it’s working.�?

One thing that stood out in your methodology: your foresight to move messages and contacts across social networking platforms. The community is truly independent of the platform when it works well. Do you notice when you ask a question on Twitter and get an answer on Facebook? Perhaps (I barely notice, but that’s my peculiar problem), but do you care? Here is an example of a seamless cross-media conversation in one of my daily streams: http://gischeleman.com/2007/11/02/cross-media-conversations/.

Where should social networking lie in the marketing mix? Again, it is dependent on the goals of your program. I don’t think a social network should necessarily be born of a project, but can be used as a great aid and expeditor to a project. Again, this speaks of building up your networks well in advance of any specific needs you have for them.

As for company maturity, the only change is in knowing what the initial reactions will be. A monolithic Fortune 500 company needs to make sure they have a personal touch down to show they are interactive and communicating, not just dictating or pushing out “messaging.�? A smaller, newer company needs to show they have the chops; something to offer the network.


Cathryn Hrudicka
I don’t think there is a blanket answer to how much time one should devote to social networking, and with each company or organization, the answer would be different. If your company is a start-up or fairly small, and you do not have a wide network of personal contacts from which you can draw referrals to the best potential clients or business, than I would say to spend more time on social networking. If you are trying to brand your company or a new product or service, social networking is very valuable, if you use these networks strategically and are consistent in your branding messages.

Even a casual post on a social network can be either effective or ineffective as a branding message, so social media staff need to be very careful and thoughtful about what, when and how they post and respond; and they need to remember at all times, that conversation is key. You are not posting on a bulletin board or event calendar; you are posting to initiate or respond to real conversations that will help people understand your brand, products and services, but in a friendly, interesting and less formal way than one would use in other forums. Also key is to listen—don’t do all the talking. Listen and learn from others about how they perceive your company, services, products, and what they need or want. This is valuable information you cannot get as effectively elsewhere.

However, in terms of efficient time usage, I would advise that you or your organization focus on those social networks where your target clients, media contacts or other influencers are likely to actively participate. For instance, if MySpace and Friendster are not where those first-tier contacts hang out, unless you’re doing a major campaign to their demographics, I would not bother with setting up an account on those sites, or if you do, just set up a very basic profile, with a link to your web site and contact information. If your client, media or referral prospects are on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook (for example), then you’ll want to spend more time on those networks.

There is the category of “cultural influencer,�? which means that, while a specific social network may not have many obvious potential clients or major media presences, there may be a significant presence of respected bloggers, podcasters and other thought leaders who are on the cutting edge of cultural trends and innovation. It is worth being noticed by, and having a way to contact, these people, because they will be noticed in turn by more mainstream journalists and eventually, by your potential clients. Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce are examples of this phenomenon, and again, it depends partly on demographics. Jaiku has a larger number of European users, so if you want to reach European markets and media, it would be worth your time to have a Jaiku account as well as Twitter and Pownce. You have to do your best to get demographics from social media sites. They are not all available, or trustworthy, depending on the source.

For larger companies, I would say the same principles apply, but you would need to scale them. You may find that certain product launches, branding or service pushes, for instance, benefit from social media and networking, whereas others don’t. (Please see more in my answer to question #3 that may answer some of this question.)


Brian Solis
Honestly, Jonathan did not invest enough time, effort and sincerity in his quest to cultivate meaningful relationships within each community of not just peers, but also users. His experiment, while ambitious, was spread way too thin, only allowing for a superficial interaction with very little value for him and also the people who participate in the communities in which he wished to reach.

Jonathan has a full plate of marketing activities to run and therefore can’t be everywhere at the same time. This challenge is common throughout marketing departments everywhere. This is why businesses are starting to consider hiring full-time community “managers�? or build community teams to dedicate the required time and resources to cultivate relationships online.

The development of friendships must be based on something meaningful, interaction, basically invested in, before a community can give back. It’s just the nature of things.

What’s the intent? What value do you bring? What’s the goal for participating?

Social Media requires cultivation and a genuine desire to help those around you. It’s more aligned with Customer Service than marketing I would say.

I’ve always believed, among others, that Social Media shares many principles and beliefs with anthropology. Any in-the-field engagement requires a “holistic” view, observation, and complete understanding based on a “four-field” approach, Biological, Socio-cultural, Linguistic, and Archaeology. Of course, not everything applies, but it’s pretty close.

There’s much to learn from approaching Social Media and online communities from this foundation because it forces us to think, learn, and observe before we pretend to be part of any new culture. And the only way to truly “go native�? is to spend time acclimating into the very culture you wish to join.

You have to start as a person and not as a marketer in order to fully appreciate your surroundings. It requires immersion.

In order for businesses to understand Social Media, it requires a strategy, goals, metrics, and a tactical plan. It all starts with answering one simple question, “Why do we want to participate?�?

Is it about trends?

Is your competition devouring customer mindshare?

Is it a new avenue for sales?

Or, is it because you wish to bring value to communities and increase customer service and loyalty?

Should you even be here?

It all starts with why and what you expect to get out of the engagement that helps define how to participate.

The next step is to listen and answer the following questions.

Where are your customers?

Where are your competitors?

Where do key words take you?

Are there conversations taking place about your company, products, and if so, where?

At that point, and only at this point, can you answer the question of where Social Media fits into a company’s marketing hierarchy – regardless of maturity.

But everything comes down to the investment made into each community. You get out of it what you put into it. And, in the era of Social Media, companies will earn the relationships that they deserve.

******
Jonathan
Maybe I bit off more than I bargained for. I would have to say that I did go into this from the perspective of – oh here is this little sideline project that I can devote a maybe an hour a day for a couple of months and see results. As everyone has noted part of it depends on your starting point but it also depends on your goals. More importantly start early and start often.

The conversation tomorrow will turn to judging outcomes.

Social Networking round-table articles:

  1. Did I devote enough time to the exercise? More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities? Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?
  2. How should we be judging the outcomes from social networking activities? Are there tools you recommend?
  3. Is social networking the right tool for the tests I created? Are my expectations of social networking in line with what it can do? What is social networking best geared to address?
  4. How much of getting social networking to work is the contacts you bring with you? How aggressive should one be in reaching out to new contacts? Should I, for instance, try to befriend Chris Anderson even after I have composed a note meant to appeal to what he is interested in?
  5. How can I build better mechanisms into the framework to increase feedback?

Previous blog articles in this series:

Can you digg it? I knew that you could – The Great Social Experiment

The Great Social Experiment – #1 Getting Started

The Great Social Experiment #2 – Will You Be My Friend

The Great Social Experiment – #3 owwww, i’m u’r biggest fan

The Great Social Experiment – How has it gone?

Oh and don’t forget to use the social networking tools below to share and enjoy – part of the experiment right?

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