Should copyediting be part of your social media strategy?

I’ll admit it: I’m a grammar nazi. When I see a poorly punctuated tweet, I cringe, and when I see a blog post with a comma splice in the title, I want to tear my hair out. I’ve fantasized about a supper club for copy editors — the folks like me and my husband, who begin any restaurant meal by proofreading the menu — a fantasy that turns out to resonate with many fellow nitpickers. I’ve even got admin rights on the blog of a brilliant friend whose blog I refused to read unless I could correct his typos.

So it has long blown my mind that so many professional and corporate websites and social media presences are riddled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and just plain old-fashioned bad writing. Don’t people care about the English language? Don’t they cringe at all the mistakes they’re putting forth as part of their public image? Don’t these companies know what they’re doing?

No, no and yes.

No, most people don’t care about language — not with the obsessiveness that we linguistic nitpickers regard as the minimum standard of acceptable usage. No, most people don’t cringe at their mistakes — because they don’t see them.

And yes, the companies that allow spelling and grammatical mistakes to become part of their online presence absolutely know what they’re doing. In fact, they may be smarter than the companies with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook presences that could get 100% on a high school English test.

Because social media isn’t a high school English test. It’s a conversation: a living, breathing dialogue with an organization, and between an organization and its customers, members or supporters.

And like any conversation worth listening to, it’s spontaneous, authentic and messy. In fact, unless you’re running a social media presence or web community for English teachers, you can only have an authentic presence if you are willing to put up with that messiness.

Any social media pro worth her salt will tell you that the foundational principles of a successful social media presence are authenticity, spontaneity and a willingness to relinquish some degree of control. Disciplined copyediting — the consistent attention to every last comma and vowel that’s necessary to achieve a flawless written record — is just another way of exerting control.

If you’re insistent that your company or organization’s social media presence live up to the highest standards of your high school English program, then you are condemned to a model of control that is the enemy of social media success. The alternative is a policy of trust: trusting your employees and community members to exercise good judgement about what to post, and even how to spell.

Learning to live with erratic spelling, incorrect grammar and even the occasional profanity is an extension of the trust principle you have to adopt in order to generate a lively, engaging and reflective social media presence: one that anyone in your organization feels like they can participate in or contribute to.

That means allowing and celebrating contributions from people who’d end a blog post with a dangling preposition, even if they’re not the kind of people you’d have a copyediting dinner with.

When to Stop and When to Keep Going with Your Social Media Strategy

This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.

Push through the discomfort: It’s tempting to stop (or never start) using social media when you realize that you are opening yourself up to the world in a new way: “you mean people can write whatever they want on our wall?” But, often rewards await those who push through the discomfort of the unknown. You can always change your settings if you encounter a problem, but in the mean time you may be surprised at the trust that is built with your customer base if you are open and willing to talk about the good and bad sides of your businesses. Where else are you able to hear what people are really thinking? Use it to your advantage to build better products and better service.

This gem comes from Mike Knutson in Lessons Learned: Using Social Media to Support Entrepreneurship in Rural Communities on the Canadian Rural Research Network site. And it describes probably the most important success factor in any social media effort.

Mike’s post reminded me of a physical therapy session I was in the other day. I exercising for my shoulders when a muscle in my head started to hurt. “If it’s just uncomfortable, let’s keep going,” the physio said. “But if it’s painful, you should stop.”

A physiotherapist would call what I felt in my head “referred pain” — the parts of your body that hurt are the weak parts that can’t cope with knots, tension or dysfunction elsewhere (e.g. the pain in your neck caused by the tension in your mousing shoulder).

Your social media “pain” is similar: it’s caused by knots in your customer service, operations, HR or other area. Social media is just the place you feel it. If you’re getting smacked down publicly for your missteps, taken to task on YouTube for your poor products or lousy customer service, suffering organizational implosion from the overtime hours that are going into your Twitter presence, then maybe it’s time to stop what you’re doing.

Any of those pain points signal that you are not just going too hard too fast, but that you may be using the wrong muscles. Your social media relations team can’t overcome an outdated brand or tone-deaf advertising; your clever blog posts can’t disguise a fundamentally flawed value offering; your tweeting won’t be sustainable unless you’re prepared to expand or reallocate your staff resources. Most of the actual pain that organizations suffer from entering social media isn’t from social media: it’s from all the other organizational problems that social media simply begins to reveal.

But all that just speaks to pain. Mike talks about a different creature: social media discomfort. You will feel discomfort when you talk in a personal voice on your company blog, rather than The Official Voice found in press releases, and when you let your customer publicly declare their dissatisfaction with you. The Facebook wall, as Mike points out, is an invitation to discomfort.

For most of us, this discomfort often boils down to one question: “What if people say mean things about me?” Forget “what if.” People will say mean things about you, and it will be annoying and uncomfortable. But you should do what my physical therapist said I should do: Keep going. Respond to the substance of those comments (if they’re offered with anything other than violent or profane hostility); ask a colleague or two to read your response before you post, to make sure your discomfort isn’t leaking in and making you sound hostile. Then step back and see what happens: I’ll bet that after three or four cycles of responding to negative comments, you’ll discover that the discomfort doesn’t cause pain. You’ll probably even find that living with it, and responding to it, makes you more accessible to — and more liked by — your key audiences.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between discomfort and pain. In my physio session this morning, I decided to keep going; the discomfort was tolerable, and working through it helped my muscles get a little stronger. Tomorrow I’ll know that I can handle the uncomfortable sensation, and I’ll stand just a little bit taller. Work through your social media discomfort, and your organization can stand taller, too.

Social Media Strategy: Make Your Own Romania

This blog post originally appeared on my blog at the Harvard Business Review.

“Create a social media presence that highlights your expertise,” I told a room full of entrepreneurs. “And that will do more to drive business to your site than anything else you can afford during your startup phase.”

Then came the question I know enough to dread. I talk to a lot of business audiences about how they can use social media to build their reputation, and there’s always someone who wonders if that strategy is really viable in their market, their field, their budget.

“How could this work for me?” asked a man who was thinking about his small chain of language schools, and especially, how to expand the demand for his after-school classes for kids. “What’s the best way to get more customers for my schools?”

If I were speaking to a North American business audience, that question might have stumped me, or at least sent me to Google for a quick scan of the competitive landscape. But I was in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, speaking to a group of business people who were part of a year-long program run by the UK-based School for Startups. Googling the competition would simply have turned up a sea of websites that were impenetrable to me as a non-Romanian speaker. So I had to put my question to the room:

“If you want to find out about second language learning for kids, are there any websites that can help…in Romanian?”

The answer was no: the field was wide open. That’s the beauty of launching a startup in Romania, a country of 21 million in which you can be guaranteed that virtually anyone who speaks your language is sitting in your market. If you’re running a business in Canada, or Jamaica, or New Zealand, your English-language website has to compete for attention with websites run out of the US, the UK or any of the dozens of English-speaking countries around the world. Your customers may be right next door in geographic terms, but once you go online they are spread in a thin layer that stretches around the world.

Romanian business people, in contrast, have a clearly defined market in which their offline customers are defined by a common online language. That makes it easy to target online content — even content on a very widely-covered topic, like early childhood language study — and to become the premiere online destination for people seeking that content in their native language.

But the Romanian strategy isn’t limited to those targeting a small language group. You too can become the premiere online destination for your market, if you can find a way of defining a boundary around your customers in a way that speaks uniquely to them. You can make your own Romania. Here are 5 ways to do it:

Use a foreign language. Usually I advise people to avoid jargon, but if you are trying to reach a specific professional audience, jargon can work in your favor. Using vocabulary that is specific to your peers, particularly words that are searched frequently in your field, can help you position yourself as an insider and ensure you come up when they look for information on that topic. If you are speaking to an audience in a specific (non-English) language group, so much the better: you’re differentiating yourself from all the English-only options already out there.

Focus on a location. Maybe you won’t be the top English-language website about early childhood language education (or supply chain management, or maternity care, or mortgage finance). But you can be the top English-language Twitter feed for early education resources in Pittsburgh. Or the most comprehensive set of YouTube videos about dance studios in LA. Or the best blog about recruitment strategy in the Southwest. Define your location focus very clearly (in the name of your blog or your Twitter handle and description) and make sure that a solid majority (70%+) of your content is geographically specific.

Focus on a demographic. One of the drivers of social media success is a clear voice with plenty of personality. But it’s hard to create an online voice that appeals to both grannies and grads, to partiers and managers, to curmudgeons and Pollyannas. Defining the demographics and psychographics of your target customers can help you create a social media presence (or possibly, two or three quite different presences) with a voice and focus that will appeal to your target. Bake that targeting into your content and your message: sell designer cola to urban moms by offering advice on the latest hipster mommy hangouts; market software to aspiring CIOs with a Twitter feed targeted at mid-level tech managers; pitch your restaurant at the after-work drinks crowd with videos that appeal to 20-something singles.

Add a keyword. Search for skiing videos and you’ll see how hard it would be to market your resort by creating the definitive site on skiing technique. But add the word “telemark” and the field narrows by 97%. So find the keyword that represents your area of greatest strength, and focus on being the top expert in that subarea. Often that’s a matter of identifying the intersection point between two different topics: you can’t be the top expert on mobile or on wayfinding but you could be the top expert on mobile wayfinding. You can’t be the top expert on action movies or athletic gear but you can create the top site for athletic gear spotted in action movies. You won’t be the top expert on banking or women-owned businesses but you can be the top Twitter feed with banking and finance advice for women-owned businesses.

Focus with Facebook. Get to know the ways that both Facebook and Google can target their advertising, and tailor your social media presence to appeal to locations or demographics that you can pinpoint through online advertising. The best way to figure out your targeting options is to try setting up a Facebook ad campaign or a Google ad campaign; each of them allows you to target in slightly different ways. For example, Facebook lets you target by age, education level, interests, and relationship status (among other things); Google lets you target by gender, location, the device being used to search, and of course, by the keywords your potential customer has searched on. If you’re focusing your social media presence (and especially your Facebook presence) on a demographic that Facebook’s ads can target — like single, college-educated women who are interested in travel — you’ll find it that much easier to use ads to build awareness of your online efforts. The same goes for creating a blog, Twitter or YouTube presence that appeals to a market you can isolate with Google Adwords.

Defining the boundary of your markets is more than just handy social media trick. By focusing your social media presence so that you can own a specific niche online, you’ll also get clearer about your overall marketing and growth strategy. And you better do that fast, because the Romanians are catching up.

11 social media tools that put entrepreneurs on the right strategic path

My latest post for the Harvard Business Review was inspired by a trip I made to Romania earlier this spring. I visited Bucharest and Cluj as part of the School for Startups, a highly successful UK-based entrepreneurship program created by Doug Richard. S4S is running in two different Romanian cities this year, with about a hundred entrepreneurs in each, thanks to the support of the Post-Privatization Foundation. Doug invited me to Romania to lead day-long social media workshops in each of the cities where S4S is now underway.

“Are you hoping they can catch up to North American entrepreneurs in their use of social media?” I asked, when we first discussed what a workshop might cover.

“No!” Doug responded definitively. “I want them to leapfrog.”

That ambitious mandate was a function of one of Doug’s core insights about how S4S can help catalyze both individual businesses and a broader entrepreneurial culture in post-Communist Romania. Romanian entrepreneurs don’t have to be stuck playing catch-up: they can leap ahead in certain fields and in specific business practices, precisely because they aren’t encumbered with legacy approaches, expectations and institutions.

Social media is one frontier where that strategy seems especially promising. I’ve seen company after company, non-profit after non-profit and agency after agency struggle with social media because it doesn’t map onto existing org charts or ways of doing business. But that struggle translates into opportunities for new companies who can invent themselves, their business processes and their internal culture so that they’re engineered for a world of always-on, real-time customer engagement.

Fundamentally, that means transcending the message-push paradigm that has defined decades of business marketing, and instead embracing a conversational model of marketing that is mirrored by an internal culture of collaboration. In more specific terms, that involves:

  • listening to your customers’ and would-be customers’ priorities and evolving your products, services and marketing in response to their priorities, needs and input
  • asking how your online presence can create tangible valuable for customers and influencers
  • convening a customer community rather than pushing single customer message out to your customers
  • seeing your brand and products as something you co-create with your customers and employees rather than as something you own

If there is one thing I know from my own life as an entrepreneur, however, it’s that high-level principles like these are not where your head is at when you are getting a business off the ground. You’re thinking about how to find the next customer, expand your market, make the next critical hire or solve your cashflow crunch. With concerns like these, how can you think about the changing business paradigm enabled by social media?

The genius of social media is that you don’t have to. These principles are so deeply embedded in social media tools that if you focus on simply getting the tools in place that you need to do business — and if, unlike a big established company, you bake them into your business model as you build it from the ground up — your business will naturally evolve in a way that reflects this emergent social and interactive paradigm. Grow your company in a social media-flavored petri dish and you will end up with a company that thrives in a social media environment.

So while the S4S workshops touched on the big picture significance of social media, our conversations focused primarily on how to put specific tools to work in small companies in order to accomplish key marketing and business goals. Joy of joys, many of these tools happen to be free (which sure helps on the cashflow front). And since adopting these tools gets companies used to working in a real-time, responsive and conversational way, they do double duty: they solve immediate business problems while shaping a sustainable long-terms strategy. Here are the tools I recommended to put companies on that path:

Monitoring tools
Immediate impact: Track your customers and the competition so you know where to focus your growth potential…and where to protect yourself from potential thread.
Strategic impact: Create a culture of listening in which customer and influencer feedback is treated as a core form of business intelligence.

  1. Google Reader: For tracking a wide range of news sources, blogs and online searches.
  2. iGoogle: For monitoring the most crucial, can’t-afford-to-miss-this news (like blog posts and news stories about your company).
  3. Google blog search & news search: For tracking content specific to your industry, both as a source of business intelligence and as the basis for your own blogging or tweeting.

Storytelling tools
Immediate impact: Get your core message and brand to a larger audience without spending a fortune on advertising and PR.
Strategic impact: Build a committed customer community through your habit of communicating in a personal voice and through real-time conversation.

  1. WordPress: An easy and inexpensive way to set up a robust website or blog that can scale along with your company.
  2. Twitter: Maintain a Twitter presence that tells your story to a larger audience and engages them in conversation.

Networking tools
Immediate impact: Find potential customers, influencers and employees.
Strategic impact: Create a company in which your team sees itself not as an island but as one part of a larger business, economic and social ecosystem.

  1. Facebook: Bring your stories, offers and conversation to your customers by finding them in the online context they visit most.
  2. LinkedIn: Pinpoint your sales targets by searching for business people in the industries and locations you are focused on serving.

Collaboration tools
Immediate impact: Save time and money on internal communications and software by working together online.
Strategic impact: Develop a business culture in which your employees are used to working transparently, trusting one another, and supporting one another’s work.

  1. Evernote: A note-taking tool that helps each individual employee keep better track of all their meeting notes, document drafts and files…while making it easy for project teams to share files.
  2. Delicious: A social bookmarking tool that replaces your browser’s favorites and instead makes all your employees’ online discoveries available to the broader team.
  3. Basecamp: A project management tool that makes it easy to track tasks, deadlines and dependencies.
  4. Google Docs: Online spreadsheets, documents and slide decks that let your team collaborate on a single draft rather than circulating files by email and coping with version control

The list above links to references on this site but you can find great guides and tips for using all of these tools (and more!) on sites like Mashable and LifeHacker. You can find more resources for learning about these social media tools by reading this summary of my presentation at a Harvard Business School conference earlier this spring.

And remember, if the job of social media seems daunting: you’re not investing in software. You’re investing in creating a company with the processes, team and culture to become another one of School for Startups’ marvellous success stories.

The small organization’s guide to investing in social media

This is the sixth and final post in a series, Social media for small organizations.

Small organizations — as well as some large ones! — typically face a limited audience size and a limited budget as they plunge into social media. The 90-9-1 rule makes it hard to build a critical mass of user participation on a site with a total audience of less than 100,000 people; working with a budget of less than $100k imposes equivalent constraints. This series has addressed the way audience and budget size constrain social media efforts, and offered two feasible options for establishing a social media presence in the face of these constraints.

In principle, either the aggregation strategy or the in-house content creation strategy can work for you as an internal (member-focussed) approach, or as an external (general public) approach. But it is absolutely crucial that you know which approach you are pursuing before you start, because that will affect either what you aggregate and how you present it, or what topics your own content covers and how you frame that.

How much money, time and effort you invest in that framing depends on your overall available resources. One of our very first Social Signal clients, Mark Surman (then of telecentre.org, now of the Mozilla Foundation) insisted that an online community project should spend twice as much on people and content as it did on software. We’ve relaxed that ratio to 1:1, but the point remains: if you’ve got $100k to spend on social media in the next year, $50k should go towards paying for the site editor or animator who will populate it with content, outreach to potential members, and get your conversation really rolling. That means you’ve got $50k left to cover site design, development and maintenance.

You don’t want to spend that $50k on the wrong thing, but if you spend $25k on a highly customized and original web strategy, you probably won’t have enough money left to build what your strategist comes up with. Better to spend $10k on a strategy for framing, launching, promoting and managing one of the basic kinds of online presences outlined here: an aggregation site, or a content site you populate yourself. You can also check out Social Signal’s open-sourced Concept Jam methodology as a process for developing the framing or concept for your new presence, and take it for a spin yourself.

There is lots more to say about which social media platforms to choose, which topics to focus on and how to build audience. But the key thing to get right is to be realistic about your capacity to engage your members, and to create an online presence that will deliver value to them without imposing an undue burden on your staff or your membership to keep generating fresh content and conversation. Social media is a tremendously powerful way of deepening the public’s awareness of your mission, of strengthening your connection to members, and most importantly, of strengthening the connections among your members themselves. Set yourself up for success in this new medium by focusing on where you can excel, and build from there.

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The Rule of 84: Social media for your limited budget or small audience

“How can our organization create a social media presence?”

The latest person to ask me that question was a dear friend who is on the board of a 2,000-member non-profit. Their next board meeting was coming up, and social media was on the agenda. What kind of approach would I recommend?

This series of blog posts will answer that question. It’s for all the organizations that are creating their social media presences while working with a limited budget and a limited potential audience. And it speaks specifically to the challenge of building a social media presence now, in 2010, with the social web already well established.

Unlike the first wave of web 2.0 adopters, who were mostly larger organizations with the financial and organizational capacity to innovate, this wave includes lots and lots of smaller-scale, smaller-budget businesses and organizations. They’re trying to find their way into social media as a tool for connecting with an audience that can be quite small, but which nonetheless expects an organization or business web site to look like a professional, 2010 presence: in other words, a web presence that includes ways of contributing content or comments, rather than just pushing out information.

These organizations can still succeed with social media by following the Rule of 84: 80/20 + 90-9-1. The 80/20 rule tells you that you can get 80% of the way to a good social media presence with a relatively limited (20% effort); in this case, following one of our two recommended approaches rather than undertaking the 100% effort (and cost) of creating your own vision and approach from scratch. The 90-9-1 rule tells us that only 1% of your site visitors will actively contribute content: working back from that guideline, you can think about what kind of online approach is realistic and sustainable if the total size of your audience is constrained.

Working with a limited budget

The good news is that in 2010, there’s lots you can do even if your budget or audience is constrained. Compared to 5 years ago, it’s now much easier to create something really useful on a modest budget, whether modest is $10k or $100k (and yes, in a world of 7-figure online communities, $100k now counts as a modest budget. More on that later.) If you have a very limited budget (under $20k per year), you can use an existing platform (like creating a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group, a YouTube channel or a hosted WordPress.com blog) and spend that $20k on a half-time salary for a young, enthusiastic person who can be your social media manager. That $20k will go a long way towards creating a high-quality, frequently updated stream of content that engages your audience on a platform where they are already active; if you spent it on development you’d end up with a very simple site, and no resources to create content, foster conversation or promote what you’ve built.

If you have a little more money to play with, you can create a really compelling presence using open source tools like Drupal or WordPress, and have money left over to pay for content, promotion and animation. In this case, your main challenge is figuring out what to create. That’s where most of our client engagements start, but in many cases, it doesn’t take a full engagement for us to figure out what a client’s options might be. This series provides a concise overview of the options we typically recommend to constrained clients, beginning with an understanding of the key constraint: the 90-9-1 principle of online community participation.

Working with a limited audience

If budget constraints loom large in the minds of small businesses and non-profits, the size and makeup of your audience is an even harder constraint. After all, you can in theory get more money (especially if you’re clever with grants) but if your audience is tiny or has no internet access, it’s going to be hard to get much user-generated content. Organizations with audience constraints include:

  • organizations that serve a developing world or economically disadvantaged audience, which is less likely to have computers or broadband access (though may be very connected via mobile/SMS)
  • businesses and organizations that serve senior professionals with very heavy workloads (which cut into time online)
  • businesses and organizations that are highly local, catering to people in a narrow geographic area
  • businesses and organizations that are highly specialized, serving or speaking to people with a specific niche interest or need
  • organizations that focus on serving the needs of a defined set of members, like a professional association
  • umbrella organizations or B2B companies, whose membership or customer base consists of other organizations or companies

We hear frequently from organizations and businesses in these last two categories, because they are just the kind of organizations that should be able to benefit from social media. Many of these organizations and businesses figure that if they can get a social media presence up and running, it will rapidly become self-sustaining thanks to the enthusiastic and frequent content contributions of its members/customers/users. After all, if you’re a membership-oriented organization that exists to support the needs of a specific profession or group, don’t those members want to connect with one another? If you’re a B2B company that helps other companies with particular professional needs, don’t those companies want to work with/sell to/learn from one another? If you’re an umbrella organization for a set of non-profits, didn’t those non-profits come under your umbrella specifically so that they could work more closely together?

Yes, yes, and yes. But that doesn’t mean social media or online community will be easy. In fact, while most organizations and businesses in the list above may find social media a useful channel of engagement, their social media presences are unlikely to becoming self-sustaining on the basis of user-generated content. The reason is that social media presences and online communities run on what has become known as the 90-9-1 principle.

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Creating a social media presence in 2010

By now, virtually any organization that is committed to the web has asked: how can social media and online community strengthen our relationship to our members or customers, and help us fulfill our mission?

That is fundamentally the same question that a handful of organizations were starting to ask five years ago, when Rob and I first started Social Signal. But the context for that question has completely changed. Five years ago there was no Twitter, YouTube was a brand-new, unknown startup, and Facebook had only just opened its network to high school students. Organizations that built online communities for their members, customers or the public were typically convening a group of people who couldn’t connect otherwise, or hosting a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

At the time, we advised organizations that they had a unique, limited time opportunity to launch their online conversations. We pointed out that the growth of online communities meant that users were starting to make their commitments to specific sites or networks; get in early, and yours could be one of the primary networks with which your audience engaged.

That window closed two or three years ago: an organization that creates an online community today is mostly competing for attention with its members’ or customers’ pre-existing commitments to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube. Organizations that built niche communities before these sites took off have in some cases been able to retain their most passionate members, but it’s now hard to find members with that kind of passion for a new community: the kinds of people who can get worked up about participating in online communities have already joined several (or many!) and are busy blogging, commenting or posting on the ones they already belong to. Even if you meet those members where they are, by creating a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, it can be hard to get their attention.

Yet a great many businesses, non-profits and government agencies are still coming to the social web, with the party well underway. They want to tap into the power of online conversation for building relationships with customers, members or citizens; to access social networks as a way of getting a message out; to strengthen their brand and reputation with online content, especially the user-contributed kind that carries the greatest credibility. They’ve got fewer resources to work with as they enter the social web, and face tougher competitive pressures than the early entrants.

But there is a half-full glass at the end of the tunnel outside the social media window that has now closed. Sure, in 2010 it’s a lot harder to attract members to YAFSN (Yet Another F***ing Social Network). But it is a lot easier to explain your social media efforts to your board, staff, customers or members: the odds are good that most of them already use some kind of social media tool, so they’ll understand the intuition behind your social media efforts and find it that much easier to start using whatever you create, because it will feel familiar.

Something else is easier too: figuring out what to do. In five years of working with socially-minded businesses, government agencies and not-for-profits, we’ve discovered some consistent patterns in what’s feasible and effective for organizations under constraint. There are two types of constraint that typically shape how organizations engage with the social web: the size of their budget, and the size of their potential audience.

I’ve drafted a series of blog posts that walk organizations through the process of developing a social media strategy while facing budget or audience constraints. This approach is shaped by the 90-9-1 rule, which tells us that it’s very hard for an organization with a limited audience to achieve a self-sustaining volume of user-generated content; and by the 80/20 rule, which tells us that it’s crazy for an organization to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a social media strategy when their limited audience means they’re likely to end up with one of two basic approaches. I figure that most organizations can get 80% of the way towards a solid social media presence by following one of these two approaches, and that only a small number will have the resources to develop the innovative concept or high-octane engagement strategy that gets them to 100%.

You can call this approach the Rule of 84: 80/20 + 90-9-1. It’s intended to save a lot of time, money and wasted effort on the part of organizations — mostly nonprofits, but also some businesses — who would otherwise take the Field of Dreams approach to social media: if we build it, they will come. For most organizations, if you build it, they won’t come: they’re too busy on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Follow this strategy and you’ll be able to create an effective social media presence that is robust in the face of low participation or a limited budget.

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Group identity and the psychology of social media

What motivates people to contribute content to user-driven web sites? A blog post on the Psychology Behind Social Media does a nice job summing up the major factors? I was particularly interested that it noted the desire for group identity:

One of the main reasons that people decide to connect with others on social media channels is to have a sense of belonging to a community. They want to feel that they are an important part of a valuable group. When you focus your social media marketing campaign on your target audience, your approach should be simple. You need to include them in your communications, invite them to be a part of your relevant and appropriate online communities, ask them to share their knowledge and opinions and engage them in discussions as often as possible.

One of the primary themes of my dissertation was the power of group identity as a motivation for participation. Reading the social psychological literature on group identity, it became clear that people join groups that reinforce positive ascriptive identity — those identities that are positively valued in our society. The practical implication is that you need to organize your community’s membership around identities people feel good about: I’m far more likely to identify myself as a member of “parents of gifted children” than I am to join up with “compulsive nail-biters”.

The activities described above — inviting people to be part of a community, engaging them in discussion — are ways of helping people reinforce the positive identity you are offering. But any activity that reinforces their sense of “groupness” can be constructive, whether it’s offering a badge for their web site or adding their names to a Twitter list.