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Monday, August 20, 2007

5 Musts For Building A Social Network

There have been a lot of stories lately about Social Networking fatigue. The argument is that it takes time to for people to invest in a new platform, time to build up the list of friends and time to build trust and assess the level of experience of others in the network.

In a short period of time, users have expended their available energy, and they want to stick to the platforms they are comfortable with, which means new social networks lack the growth to take off.

All of that is true, but it doesn't mean you can't build your own social network. It just means that most marketers, and their clients, are too lazy and too cheap to build a platform that advances their needs.

That's right. Most marketers are too lazy to build effective social networks, and most companies are too cheap to pay for them. Personally, I think this is why we saw so many companies in the last two years purchasing fake comments, building fake blogs, and looking to "game" social networks, only to get called out for astroturfing and lame campaigns. Companies wanted something to do with social networking, and didn't want to pay much for it, so they turned to companies who promised them new media strategies with no effort. In other words - we'll take your money and hire people to leave lame comments around the web.

What should have, and should be done, is instead a social networking strategy built around individuals with a proven track record of success (of which there are only a few, and yes, we are one of them, but no, this isn't supposed to be self-serving).

Here are the steps I take to ensure social networking success.

1) Have a Point: Don't start a social media program just to have one. Lay down specific goals, a budget, and milestones. Make your consultant or internal team familiar with social media pick their own goals, and decide if you will sign off on them.

2) Do Your Research: Know your competitors (other people competing for the attention of your target audience). Know your likely allies (anyone who can provide content for you, link to you, send traffic your way, or endorse you in a manner that improves your reputation). Build lists of the people you need to contact and then contact them (This is the major selling point of our social media projects. It's one thing to type your companies name into a search engine - it's another to get a targeted list of people that have online influence in your industry).

3) Keep the Program Small and Focused: One manager, with a small team of 3-5 is enough. Everyone else is superfluous. Your goal is not to bring in the experience of every person in the corporation, but instead to find a team that can deliver on those goals from point one. The more targeted you are, the better chances you will have of success.

Once you have seen small success, you will have the internal experience to grow the program to include other parts of the corporation. Big projects aren't nimble enough, and they include too many people who don't know what they're doing. That's not a slam against the rest of your company - it's a fact. Do you build large teams composed of people from sales, logistic, and PR to help you do your company taxes? Then why add everyone into your social media strategy. Small, and focused. If you need more, the manager can always ask for more.

4) Executive Support: Nothing works in corporate America without executive support, and when you get to questions like blogging policy, or moderating comments, or even access to MySpace and Facebook, you're going to need someone to grant you permission.

5) Build an External Team of Experts: The social networking site is about a topic, and that topic has experts. If you want to build traffic, reach out to experts that already have audiences online and convince them to join your network. This is not easy to do, but it is the investment required to create success. Experts create the "stickiness" you need to make your social network a success. Remember that a social network with lots of members and no interaction is worth nothing. People will sign up for anything. What you want is for them to get involved. If you take the time to build a small, highly active core - the rest of the social network will generate that organic growth.

Contrary to popular opinion, this doesn't just happen. It takes work, but it can be done.

Summary: The people who believe that social networking fatigue has set in are using the wrong label. It's not that social networking is bothering us - it's lame social networks that give us little value. If you knew that adding 500 friends to a new social network would make you $100,000 - you'd do it. Most people would. If all it got you was the "prestige" of having another network to monitor - well - that's not fatigue - it's time preservation.


Anonymous Ianternet said...

always need to have a point when you sell and attract a reader or prospect - its the nature of trying to sell something

6:07 PM  

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