online community engagement

What’s Your Social Object?

Oscar and Dad Playing CatchEvery good marketing campaign needs a social object. In essence it’s the thing that brings people together. It may give people a common purpose or simply give them something to talk about. It encourages and increases sociality. And for a marketing campaign, that’s key, as it gives way to virality and social amplification. (Marketers covet word-of-mouth referrals!) The most obvious non-marketing example of a social object would be a baseball: A boy and his father get some good quality bonding time playing catch in the front yard. The ball becomes the social object that allows them to do this.

In the world of marketing, a great example of a social object would be Kraft’s Oreo Cookie Moments Gallery. The premise is straight forward: To help celebrate its 100th anniversary, Oreo asked it’s fans to share their favorite Oreo photos, videos and stories with them and they would then “share them with the world”. Oreo fans  would upload their own “Oreo Moment” via Facebook or their campaign micro-site. These moments were then displayed on both Facebook and the microsite, and became fully share-able across each fan’s social graph via Facebook. Each Oreo Moment thus became a social object.

Could the Oreo Cookie itself also be a social object? Certainly. Many products themselves are the primary social object for brands. In fact, the guy who advocated the “social object” term says that unless your product is a social object, you might as well not be selling it. Any Apple product (iPhone, iPad, etc.) is a great example of a social object.

On a larger scale, well-functioning social networks must define what their concept of social object is. For example, Flickr uses user-generated photography as the social object. Delicious or Digg use URL’s. Facebook uses images, URL’s, and status updates. But what about LinkedIn? A convincing polemic on why some social networks work and others don’t argues that a successful, sustainable social network must be focused on an “object-centered sociality”.

Something like collaboration itself could be a type of social object. Consider the so-called social business model. In this paradigm, a company, from product, customer service, engineering, marketing and so on, are all interconnected not only with one another, but with their external customers. Michael Brito of Edelman Digital has an informative infographic on what a social business model looks like. Social business managers must discover their social objects if they want to see their customers and employees interact, discuss and evolve their ideas into tangible outcomes. Dell’s IdeaStorm is inspirational in this regard.

As a social media marketer or online community manager, you must frequently uncover your community-wide social objects. How do you do this? There’s no tried and true model here. My advice is to begin by acting as a group facilitator. Listen, listen, listen. Chart out the most commonly discussed topics or products, the sentiment, the problems, the positive feedback, etc. You’ll then have a short list of themes to work with. Get community members involved with not only what the social object is, but what the process and rewards (if any) might be. This can be crucial to engagement.  Remember that ultimately you will not control the object itself. You can, however, facilitate the process and the outcome.

So what’s your community’s social object?


Drumming up Great Content From Your Community

Newspaper standLaunching a collaborative online community: Really Tough. Nearly Impossible. At the very least, ceaselessly challenging. Collaborative communities rely on great content that everyone can discuss and develop. The content represents ideas. These ideas are put forth to the community, and if it’s an active community, an evolution of that idea takes place. It becomes better than it was before. That’s the ideal anyway. Think about this evolution of ideas in terms of a Hegelian Dialectic: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.

But, before you can get there, you’ve got to have some content that provokes thought, compels opinions and spurs dialogue. For most communities that is a tough nut to crack. It gets even more challenging when your community content is 100% user-generated. How do you get your users to furnish amazing content that moves ideas forward and pushes the community closer to its collective vision?

It starts with nurturing your members. Every member needs a certain amount of hand-holding when they first arrive: learning the tools, navigating the site, understanding the guidelines. But the type of nurturing I’m talking about is deeper than that. You’ve got to identify members who have promise as star contributors. Who are the thought-leaders? Who has something worth saying? Who has strong or even divisive opinions? Who has notoriety? Who has something at stake?

Think through these questions as you go through your member rolodex. Once you’ve identified these folks, put them to the task. Ask them to contribute! But frame it in a way that gives them something to win. Gamify your proposition with recognition, visibility, points, rewards, or whatever it takes to motivate them to contribute.

Case in Point: One thing we’ve been experimenting with in our community is a “Blogger” program. With a capital B in fact. This is an official program for our star contributors. They commit to one 500+ word blog post per month. In exchange we feature them on the home page of the community website and in the weekly community newsletters. We also elevate their status in the community by giving them a special badge that displays on their profile page and on any of their official Blogger posts.

The hard part with this is motivating them to generate that first post. To assist with that, we created an editorial calendar that they all have online access to. It details each blogger, their monthly topic and the date that it will be published. This shows them that they’re part of a team. They see the stature of their colleagues as well – everyone here knows that the other is a well-known figure for their company or cause. Giving them a specific date will do wonders for 90% of the bloggers too. Nearly all of us love (hate?) a deadline. Once we’re given one, if the stakes are appropriately set, we’ll stick to it.

The second hardest part is getting them to do it again. To help with this we used the concept of a dashboard. Every couple weeks we email the blogger group and list all the recent posts. We also list out the number of views and the number of comments that post received to-date. This gamification tactic gives them social validation (if they’re numbers are highest) but also gives them motivation to either keep their game up, or to try and beat out the top posters for that period.

Good community managers and social strategists know that content is crucial to a successful community. But when you can’t fully control the content creation, you’ve got to get creative. I believe collaborative communities need a solid blogger program to keep the ideas evolving.

What do you think? Have you had experiences with your own “blogger” program? What other ways are there to facilitate *good* content development?

Rethink The Way You Engage Top Social Influencers

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Social influence may very well be the current zeitgeist of digital marketing. With the blossoming of services like Klout and PeerIndex that help brands find and meet social influencers, any marketer may come to believe they need to use such services to discover new influencers and automate relationship building.

But a recent post from the Business2Community blog claims that the era of the social influencer is dead. Rather, “long live the instigators”. Instigators, as the author posits, are the true influencers:

Instigators are the drivers of actions and conversations, and it’s down to one simple fact – they have the innate ability to create conversations and actions based on those conversations, as opposed to being a shill for a brand.

What he’s getting at is that as a brand, you should shy away from services such as Klout, and focus on building real relationships with real people who have real influence. What’s not explicated is that he’s basically talking about bloggers: People who have a following not on Twitter or Facebook, but on their own blog.

Is this sort of call meaningful? Are there brand or marketing managers out there who are only focusing on services such as Klout to spell out their influencer graph? I doubt it. I think all you marketing gurus know that when it comes to building out your network of influencers, you have a well-rounded reach. Pull out your Rolodex of influencers and you likely have a healthy mix of media journalists, niche bloggers, celebrities, and the like. As of 2012, you may have added a few influencers that Klout sent your way. But you treat each of these differently. And most of your attention is aimed at where you will get the most visibility for your brand: established influencers with a large following.

Good, so don’t use Klout, right? Not quite. Typically an influential blogger also has a Facebook or twitter profile. And that profile will usually have lots of followers. Most smart bloggers do this. When it comes to staying abreast of your favorite blogger, many if not most of you will use Facebook or Twitter to do so. And this is where the beauty of a tool such as Klout comes to play. Since Klout relies heavily on Facebook and Twitter to determine influencer score, it can help you identify and target bloggers you may not currently have in your Rolodex.

But use such tools with a bit of caution. Definitely don’t put too much stock in the scores – they’re automated via a black-box algorithm and aren’t always going to be spot on. But they can give you clues as to where your strongest potential influencers are.

So who are your top social influencers? Klout may indeed help identify current trends with your influencers, but only to the extent it searches for influencer data (primarily Facebook and Twitter), and only through the lens of it’s mysterious algorithm.

Ultimately, your true top social influencers should be determined by more than just an automated-and-algorithmic tool. My suggestion is to continue building real relationships the old-fashioned way. But be vigilant with tools like Klout to maintain broader awareness of the influencers within your niche.

How do you connect with top social influencers?

6 Ways To Get More Comments

Speech BubblesOne of the highest priorities of a community manager is driving conversation. In an online community, that manifests in the form of comments. The Utopian online community has lots of users engaged in lots of conversations; comments are sparkling and spraying about in all sorts of directions, while of course staying on-topic to the original theme of each discussion. I’ve been doing some experimentation and research, trying to answer the question, “how can one push the needle on comment creation”? Let me outline 6 things that have worked for me and many others.

1. Create a comment contest. Follow in the footsteps of blog wonderling Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. He clearly has a large and dedicated following built into The Atlantic Monthly brand, but what he does with his audience is enlightening. Check out his comment contests. His premise is simple: “I ask a question and you answer it as if I’m stupid. I’ll pick the best response and feature it in a follow-up post.” Here are a couple examples: London Riots and Race, Rebooting DC Comics. The bonus with this type of contest is it’s FREE. Of course, you can also try giveaways, ala “post a comment and enter to win an iPad”.

2. Pick a controversial topic. Pick a topic that you know will fire up your community. It doesn’t have to be politics. It could be around what your audience thinks is the best digital camera manufacturer, or why compact fluorescent bulbs are good or bad.

3. Pick an easy topic. Find a topic that everyone knows about, but that, unlike #2 above, is easy and non-confrontational to answer. For example, try an “introduce yourself” discussion. Here’s a great “Introduce Yourself” example from Govloop. Or ask commenters for pictures of what they did over the weekend. These are not super engaging discussions, but, particularly for new users who are not quite ready to bare all just yet, they can be a gateway to richer discussions later.

4. Ask a clear and compelling question. Put a good question in the title of your blog post, and follow it up with the question re-iterated at the end of your post. Ask simple Yes or No questions, or ask questions about a photo.  Here are more tips on how to ask compelling, comment-getting questions.

5. Ensure commentors are able to easily follow your post. Make sure they can receive notifications (via email, RSS, or within-platform) whenever a new comment is posted to the discussion. This builds a micro-community around the discussion and promotes continued discussion from your previous commenters. Check out Facebook’s functionality as a great example of within-platform notifications.

6. Create great content in the first place. This one should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Write well and check your grammar. Include pictures. Be meaty (500 – 800 words) and thorough with your topic. Consider making your blog post a how-to list like “7 sure fire ways to increase your Klout score“. And definitely give your post a succinct and keyword-rich title. 60 – 70 characters is nice and succinct and will ensure that your full title displays in organic search listings.

Do you have other tips and recommendations on getting more comments? Please share in the comments. 🙂

Are Using Contests To Build Community A Bad Idea?

83/365 So many board games.I read a recent post by Patrick O’Keefe, a very well-respected community manager and blogger, about the place contests and giveaways have in building community. Rather than a community-building tool, he says that “contests and giveaways are marketing for your community”.  While its true that the oeuvre of traditional marketing knowledge indicates that the most common usage of contests and games is to recruit new members, there is a lot of good research to back up the notion that games can be used in very effective ways to build community. (more…)