The biggest question that I hear from people who are new to the use of social media is what the tools are that they can use and when should they use them. Today’s lesson starts to look at these and in particular will look at four types of tool, which get increasingly more complex: blogs, forums, social networks and online communities.
A blog is a website that has regularly updated commentary – either on an individual’s life, a business, a sector or any subject. Many people think that it is just an online diary, but really it can be much more than that. Blogs are ways for one person or one team of person to regularly develop and communicate their opinions. They can connect with other blogs to start to form an exchange and to develop ideas with others.
For businesses, blogs can be a great way to get your message out. They are updated more often than websites typically are and can be thought of as a great alternative to the traditional newsletter mail out. Blogs, however, are about ongoing communication – so you need to update very regularly; they’re about collaboration – so it’s not just pushing a marketing message; and they’re personal – not corporate speak.
For an amusing take on blogs from the CommonCraft Show watch the video below.
Forums are a way for lots of people to discuss and contribute to an idea. If a blog is very much about the author (or authors), then a forum is about the ideas. Typically organised into topics (or threads) people post suggestions, answers or contributions which others can respond to or add to.
Forums are particularly good for groups of people with shared interests. HR professionals, doctors or entrepreneurs in a particular region would make great candidates for forums. Brands can use them to engage their customer base – with forums about their product, services or support functions. You might even think of replacing your customer service team with a moderated forum that answers queries. The key here is ‘moderated’ – too many forums have no activity on them, they need to be pertinent and well managed to survive.
Social networks are ways of connecting with people you know (and people they know) online – think Facebook, MySpace or Linkedin. They are about individuals, we say that they are about a ‘me’. It’s where you go to share things about your life with friends and to find things out about them: photos, stories, what you’re doing right now. You share all of these things with people through your profile.
For businesses, social networks are particularly useful if you want to track what a particular customer segment is saying and doing. Find out where they hang out online and then check in to see what they discuss and talk about. You might even find them discussing your brand. Of course, because social networks are based on individuals, it can be difficult to speak to engage people directly here without it seeming too much like you are forcing yourself and your brand on them, which is not the image you want to give.
If social networks are about a ‘me’, then online communities are about an ‘us’. These are built around issues, themes, or even brands, and are about the common purpose of the community rather than an individual member. They’re great ways to engage customers or stakeholders and some big brands use them a lot. They can help with innovation and creating new ideas; with testing ideas and concepts or getting insight into what customers thing; and they really build advocacy and word of mouth.
Like forums, the success of an online community comes down to good management and moderation and a well planned set of activities or topics to discuss. You need a reason for people to take part – what do they get out of joining. This is where they differ from social networks, but also where they are more powerful. Social networks attract people because they want to meet friends and share information about them. Online communities are about sharing information for others.
And are they successful? Well you only have to look at Tripadvisor – and online community for travel and hotel recommendations. The site is owned by Expedia and is now the biggest source of traffic to their e-commerce site, and sees the highest conversions to sales. Impressive stuff.
We’ll be back next week with a look at User Generated Content (UGC).