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When Engaging in Social Media – Focus on Which Needs You Satisfy

Submitted by on November 28, 2011 – 12:43 am7 Comments

This post is part of an ongoing series taken from my eBook on Social Media Architecture; a Field Guide to Unifying your Social Media Presence.   You can download the entire book here.


The Internet has revealed that there is no limit to the number of communities to be found online.   For every obscure passion, hobby or interest there is a thriving online community.  Yet while communities vary, needs do not.   There are a finite number of need states that exist within any community.   I will put forward and define five here.  Feel free to disagree.  Put together your own list, get agreement in your organization and then stick with it.  The point is to realize that communities have needs, and organizations should prioritize which of them they will serve.  If you look at nearly any successful social media presence out there, it has a clear focus. Whether that is Dell’s discount and promotional use of Twitter, Maria Sharpova’s  (@brainpicker) use of Twitter as a source of constant inspiration, Best Buy’s focus on Customer Support using Twitter (Twelpforce) or Red Bull’s use of Facebook for delivering entertainment.

The Five Need States:

To be Inspired, Entertained

At its most basic, people still want to be entertained.  There is no end to the possibilities in this arena of creating entertainment or inspirational content that connects to your brand and an audience – from nutrition to farming, to science, green living, technology, personal beauty, social justice, financial well being and on and on.  TED is a great example of a community that is brought together around “big ideas” and the future.  Philips (disclosure: client) has used Youku (Chinese equivalent of YouTube) to deliver a series where products and storyline are intertwined to provide entertainment value to consumers.

To Earn Status

Recognition and reputation within a community is a great glue to nurture power-users or brand advocates.   Much of the “gamification” concepts that are currently in vogue trade off of this notion, where the previously intangible assets of reputation are formalized and expressed through badges (“top poster” etc.) and ranking systems.  Making this visible encourages participation by conferring status.

To Learn

Communities are great places to find information you can’t get elsewhere.  The value in finding information from social media is that it comes from peers.  Exemplars in this category include The Carphone Warehouse, which uses its YouTube channel, “Eye Openers” to deliver tech tips.

To Get Support

Many of those coming to a community are seeking answers to basic questions, “should I buy a BMW?” “is this product reliable?”  “how do I fix this problem?”  AT&T (disclosure: an FH client) for example has created rich integration with customer support directly from its Facebook page.

To be Rewarded

Especially when a community surrounds a product or product line customers appreciate getting discounts, promotions or being rewarded for their loyalty.  Product manufacturers often find this the simplest path to take by providing coupons, sweepstakes and other promotions to their fans.   Product brands tend to head down the rewards path.  Nokia (disclosure: client) frequently runs interesting programs to reward its users and reinforce perception of the brand as an object of style and fashion.

When a brand launches a “community” without clearly addressing the unique qualities of the community and without understanding need states they will focus on, you can see the trouble right away.   What is the consistent source of conversation?   Should a community be devoted to advancing thought leadership (to be inspired/entertained), giving discounts on products (to be rewarded) or providing customer care (to get support)?

The decision you reach should take into account both your brand (what you say you stand for) and your reputation (how the public actually sees you). For instance, a company whose brand is built upon innovation might wish to focus on providing inspiring content.   If that same brand has a reputation for poor customer service, however, then focusing on support might make more sense. The point here is to balance what say you stand for (your brand) versus how you are actually perceived (your reputation).   Choosing your focus does not mean that you should not have an operational capacity to provide customer support.  If social media has taught the corporate world anything, it is that the terms of the conversation are no longer under their control.  Even if you wish to focus on entertainment/inspiration – be sure to have a means to handle service/support issues.

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