Social media professionals are starting to connect like the last Cheerios floating in the milk pond of a cereal bowl, and are coalescing into three defined segments:
1) Nurturing conversation as spoken from the brand. This is more of a "feel good" voice that speaks on behalf of educating consumers and nurturing what potentially could be a group of loyalists.
2) Customer service. It’s increasingly clear that businesses can't rely on a single channel to speak on behalf of their products and services, and also resolve customer service comments, questions and complaints. Therefore it makes sense to create a silo where the conversation can happen “off the grid.” Here you can take the time to understand client needs and put a human face on this service, thereby increasing the level of perceived value.
3) Community service management. This brave individual works to maintain ongoing retention, interest and recruitment outside of the standard first group, which is simply the face of the brand.
In previous discussions about community management, I talked about basic rules to keep conversation moving in a way that encourages your loyalists to come back and participate further. Right now this is done in two ways.
One way is to consistently bombard the users day in and day out with photos, blurbs, inspirational quotes and conversational evaluations that render no real defined metrics.
The other way is to actively participate inside of your community as a “den mother.” You have to be careful with this role because it is a double-edged sword that allows you to be either part of the conversation or the one who guides the conversation. Always be a participant. Everyone hates an authority figure. That being said, communities often reach a point where participation bottoms out if the conversation isn't engaging – and it needs a boost.
Release the Kraken!
Now many social community managers will tell you I'm insane when I say that from time to time a little civil unrest is a good thing. Let's take for instance some recent topics that elicited a barrage of information in our social media channels. The current gun-control debate is one great example. Another one is the fake girlfriend of Manti Te'o. Your friends, family members and followers each have an opinion ranging from moral outrage to complete disinterest. Lance Armstrong ... OK, I'm done.
Of course in the case of my blog, I’m expected to express my opinion. Which is why I have a singular thought when it comes to anything involving Notre Dame football:
Here's the key: Community managers must be an overly inquisitive Switzerland.
And what does that mean? It means you need to keep applying topics, threads and topical subject matter that will maintain the interest of your community. Not to say that sewing circles have highly debated topics, but I bet if you dug hard enough you would find some things they could get fired up about.
Externally, it’s easy to apply a bit of risky uneasiness in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business worlds with a periodic question to entice communal debate. Mention on the competition – DONE! What happens next is nothing short of miraculous; passionate loyalists find their opinion and debate begins to grow. The next rule of thumb is easy, you need to drop your den mother card and grab your whistle, because you are now the communal referee.
But what you're saying, Justice, is that I should establish chaos with in my group?
I'm going to let you determine the amount of spice you add to your soup. You're going to do it right and you will also do it wrong. From time to time you may have fallout, and in addition you might find some growth dependent upon the nature of the conversation. Remember, no one ever said tapping into an individual's passion is going to come without risk. Look at all the marketing you find funny, authentic, compassionate or interesting, and note that you will find it also comes with an amount of risk.
Side note: In a previous article where I spoke about 'buying social media followers' it was met with some harsh criticism and debate. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN! Ergo, the reason I wrote it. I wasn't advocating the practice, but to pretend it doesn't exist is equally as foolish.
So do yourself a favor in the next week and toss out three of four questions within your community or group. Say something you might have held back in the past due to possible backlash of passionate debate. Additionally, remember you are there as a participant – not to protect, project or guide the nature of the thread. You'll find that at the end of the week (given that no one has used the word “murder”) your group will have matured and will await further conversations.
Remember to be truthful, and authentic in your opinion and be humble enough to fail.
Last side note: this is also an awesome opportunity for you to find community members worthy of taking on administrative duties if and when your group, community or forum requires additional support. Seek educated conversationalists who will not simply benefit the group as a whole, but can also ride the wild pony.