Ben Yoskovitz wrote an interesting post this week entitled “You Can’t Build Authority and Thought Leadership via Twitter”. He made a good case for the idea that microblogging platforms like Twitter are great for transient stuff, but cannot replace a blog for developing “authority” through in-depth, focused opinions and subject matter knowledge. He also pointed out that no one has established themselves as authority on any subject strictly through their activity in Twitter, but that it is a great tool for expanding your audience.
As an example of that last point, I found Ben’s post through Twitter. There was a discussion going on there regarding his post which evolved into a question about where communities start. That got me thinking about how and were online communities develop.
Communities can develop around all kinds of social platforms. Those communities have notable differences which I think are due in large part to the nature of the platform. Ben says if you are looking to be a thought leader/authority then you need a blog. But what if you are an organization looking to engage a community (or build your own) using social media? Is is a blog the best place to start or is there a sharper tool in the social media shed? Let’s take a look.
Long before blogging became popular, online forums and chatrooms provided the foundations for “virtual town halls”. Forums are still widely used as a vehicle for supporting discussions regarding certain products (Macbook, cars, gaming). Forum content is typically moderated and limited to specific topics. A forum Moderator is responsible for ensuring that the forum’s content is appropriately organized and on topic. Online forums are much like conferences. They offer subject matter experts sharing their opinions and knowledge of specific topics with attendees who have questions and want to learn. Conferences typically offer a number of topical sessions which are often moderated.
Are forums the right place for you to engage. Perhaps. If your objective is to provide assistance regarding your products or services, engaging in forums may be a good approach. The downside is that forums don’t generally have the traffic or reach of social platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Some organizations have been successful creating forums within their website to assist in product support.
In recent years, well known bloggers have developed dedicated audiences who visit and comment on the blog regularly. Of course, very few bloggers ever rise to this level. The internet is a very big place and a blog is like little cabin out in the woods. You better have some amazing stories to tell on your front porch if you are looking to attract and build a community on your property.
Is creating a blog the best way for an organization to engage a community. Many have tried it, but my personal opinion is that corporate blogs are generally boring and offer very little for the community they are trying to engage, therefore there is usually not a compelling reason for people to travel down the dirt road to your cabin in the woods.
If blogs are like cabins, then “personals” sites like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are like large residential developments. Lots of people have houses there but only your trusted friends and neighbors know where you hide the key. Like in a physical neighborhood, you meet new people through your neighbors and through social associations and events.
There are many more Personals sites than the three mentioned above and even they have significant differences. MySpace never had much appeal to adults and appears to be losing favor with Millenials as well; however it does have a strong music-oriented component. If you are a musician/band looking to build a community, it’s a pretty good place to start.
LinkedIn is clearly oriented to professional networking. Using the groups feature, you can establish and engage with communities, but I sense that most people who have LinkedIn profiles don’t spent a lot of time interacting there.
Facebook has evolved into much more of an application platform than the other two. Companies have leveraged this capability to create Facebook applications that can be useful (or not). The trick with Facebook is finding your target community and then getting them to use your application and share it with others. Simply setting up a Facebook page because it’s the latest corporate trend is not going to provide any value to you or your customers.
In all of these cases, the reach potential is great because they have very large populations. On the other hand, you are dealing with platforms that require some sort of acceptance on the part of the “residents” before you can interact with them which may be a barrier for your organization. If you want to engage the people in this neighborhood, you better be offering something of value or they won’t be answering the door.
There are many emerging platforms that follow this model, but the king of the hill is Twitter. Twitter is a village festival. Everyone is in the street, talking, sharing, showing off their wares (blog posts, presentations, subject matter expertise). There are people (lots of them) providing entertainment, news, advice. It’s vibrant, alive, growing and you don’t need permission to come in. People will listen to you (and tell others about you) if you have interesting things to say. They will just as easily ignore you if you are annoying. For companies, Twitter is a great place to just sit back and listen for a while to see what people are saying. They are talking about their lives, their families, their friends and their jobs. If you are in business, chances are someone is talking about the the stuff you are selling, or they may be talking about YOU!
Would it make sense to engage communities like those on Twitter? Absolutely, BUT you must do so in a way that adds value.
- Does that mean telling people to go read your corporate blog? NO!
- Does that mean pitching your junk in 140 characters or less? NO!
- Does that mean listening first and offering ideas and solutions to help people get something done? YES!
- Does that mean helping people in the community connect with others who have similar interests? YES!
- Does that mean getting involved with charitable causes or perhaps organizing your own? YES!
There are certainly other social platforms out there and there will be more in the near future that we haven’t even thought of yet. Ben’s post said you can’t build authority on Twitter and he may be right, but I know of no better platform to build community engagement. Participation in social media continues to grow and organizations will find creative ways to engage with their customers there. Will you be one of them?