Managing Your Online Presence

3718012035_79aa74b7c0By Jim Stiles

So you made the jump and launched your company’s social networking sites, you updated your web site to accommodate the new linkages, took pains to synchronize the new media with traditional vehicles, but are you really ready?

Chances are you expect the social sites to work like traditional media, where the marketers have control and manage the messaging al the way through the cycle. However, many companies have been caught unaware that social sites operate completely differently. In fact, the company role is decreased dramatically from complete power to being a member of the crowd.

[Whats Different] The explosive proliferation of online social sites has created a whole new realm of relationship building. Online communities are an online group of people who meet frequently to share a common interest. Whether they gather on Myspace, Facebook, Blogs, YouTube or Twitter or any of a number of other social networking sites they all are there to converse, exchange ideas, and be entertained. Over time these discussions developed into relationships and eventually the interactions cross over into other aspects of their lives. What used to take place in-person now happens in a compressed timeframe online and the line between in-person and online friendships has blurred. 

Marketers who spent enormous amounts of money on sophisticated targeting techniques drool at the thought of having all of these like-minded people all in one easily accessible place. Not so fast though, these places don’t operate like the focus room or your on-site demo, businesses need to learn how to navigate the structure of these communities to be successful. 

[The Players] These groups grew very organically from a topical seed. But while it may seem like a virtual Woodstock style gathering, it isn’t, like any group of people in real life there are different leadership roles and group dynamics. Understanding these nuances is crucial for marketers entering this personal level of customer lives. If you are not able to identify key players in the community your efforts could be torpedoed before they really get going. Remember high school politics, think of this as the same – but on steroids.

[Moderator] 
These are administrative roles in the communities there to primarily censure any content that violates the site code of conduct. Of course the power to censure also brings with it the ability to steer the site to a certain extent. 

[Influencers]
Some members become very active and very persuasive to the extent that they can direct the thoughts and ideas of others. 

[Cliques or Ambassadors]
Sub-groups of people within the community form usually directed by an influencer or second tier influencer. These sub-groups have found some collegial agreement and can use sheer numbers to sway opinion. At the extreme these sub-groups often split off to form another community elsewhere.

[Implications] Marketers need to understand their role in these groups. The messaging needs to be carefully crafted to support the ongoing strategy. Management must go beyond simply delegating the upkeep to the hippest twenty-something intern in the department. If they don’t read the dynamics correctly you can kiss an entire population of customers goodbye. However, properly identifying the influencers and their hot buttons not only helps keep you in good graces but, more importantly, they can become brand ambassadors. 

Before leaping into new advertising vehicle we always advocate a 360 degree analysis of your brand. This is especially important when considering integrating social media into the mix. Success is driven not by taking the first step, but by taking the right step in the right direction through a consistent SocioBranding philosophy.

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