Connection: the most important C word in social media

There are a lot of C words in social media: content, collaboration, community, conversation, consultant. However, probably the most important C word is connection.

Many organisations are wasting a huge amount of time and effort in social media at the moment. The reason for that is that they haven’t realised that you only create value from social media when you harness its power as a medium of connection, rather than as a medium of distribution.  Social media isn’t really a form of media, it is an infrastructure and infrastructures are all about connection. Connection is what is actually happening inside of Facebook or LinkedIn or even within Twitter. A Twitter tag is essentially the creation of a connection space – a space where people can get together to exchange information about a specific topic.

Connection is intimately linked with another C word, which is community.  Communities tend to be the places within which the process of connection happens. Trip Advisor is a community of connection – it simply connects the people who want information about a place, with the people who have that information. It is probable that within a few years almost all contacts between organisations and their customers or consumers will be filtered through a community of some sort – be these communities that customers or consumers have created for themselves (like Trip Advisor) or those which an organisation has created for them.

How should organisations therefore approach the issue of either creating, or managing their participation, within communities? Basically there are two types of community an organisation needs to focus on.  The first is something that could be called an open customer service community. Research last year by the Incyte Group showed that people didn’t really want to create connections with organisations in open social networking communities such as Facebook or even LinkedIn. These are spaces they want to use for social or professional connection between individuals. When it comes to creating connections with organisations, they would much prefer to do this within communities created by the organisations themselves. These communities should specifically focus on the issues customers want addressed, which are usually about dealing with complaints, making suggestions or getting answers to questions. Trying to deal with these issues within Facebook of Twitter is difficult and inefficient – mostly because you end up repeating yourself and there is a limited ability for others within the community to provide the information. The most relevant answers within Facebook don’t automatically stay visible, they simply end-up buried within the timeline – but this is because Facebook is not designed as a customer service space, it is tool for real-time social connection. Also the answers that you provide will have no visibility within Google – a critical consideration – because the open social networks do their best to build firewalls around their content, specifically to try and keep Google out.

It is highly likely that all organisations will have to create open customer service communities within the next few years, simply because customers will expect this sort of facility to exist and won’t tolerate having to send emails or make phone calls or even Tweet or have to search an organisation out on Facebook. Management of these communities will become a critical front-line relationship process – allowing organisations to better understand what their customers want and also to encourage customers to participate in what it is the brand does.

This leads us to the other area where community will become important: the creation of closed customer or employee communities. An open community is important as a form of shop-window on an organisation, but there will be people with whom you want to have conversations that you don’t necessarily want to make public. Perhaps most important amongst these are with people you might call superfans. All organisations will have people who could be considered superfans – people who have a particular and enduring interest in what it is the organisations does. This will usually be a small group, representing only a fraction of the potential customer or stakeholder base. Growing this group won’t be a feasible proposition and neither will this group necessarily be effective in representing the organisation to the wider target audience. These people are not advocates or influencers but they can none-the-less be very useful. They can provide intelligence about what is happening within a sector and they are often very useful in helping with new product development. They are frequently very motivated to share their knowledge and expertise – thus making them a group you can use within an open customer service community to provide answers to the questions the wider audience has. The computer peripheral’s company, Logitech, has calculated that its number one superfan creates $250,000 worth of value for the organisation every year, largely through savings in call deflection costs.

The beauty and cosmetics sector is packed with people experimenting with products, discussing trends and sharing their thoughts. These are not beauty bloggers, just ordinary people who are following trends – and all are potential superfans. At the moment, very few companies have worked out what to do with this resource. Likewise within the b2b space there is a huge resource of people with technical expertise and knowledge and opinion, yet with very limited spaces (mostly just LinkedIn groups) within which they can share this information. The potential for superfan communities is therefore huge.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that cultivating a superfan community is easy. It can often take a while to identify and recruit the right people and to establish the basic ground rules that strike the right balance between motivating and incentivising the participants, while providing value for the community owner. None-the-less, as with open customer service communities, all organisations that wish to remain successful are likely to find that an increasing amount of that success will rests upon the ability to cultivate relationships with very small groups, of extra-special people.

Richard Stacy of Stacy Consulting is presenting ‘How not to waste time and money on social media’ at in-cosmetics on the Thursday 3rd April 2014 from 12:30 – 13:15 in the Marketing Trends Theatre.

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