Part 2: Social Networks, Communities, Aggregators and Wikis
The third social media space where you will find your customers are social networks. These range from public networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to private branded networks. You need to understand if your customers are actively engaged in these networks, and participate accordingly.
The easiest way to understand LinkedIn and Facebook is to understand their roots. LinkedIn started as a way for business professionals to connect with each other through mutual connections. Facebook, as the name implies, was the Internet version of the ubiquitous college facebook. Although it started as a closed network for college and high school students, it’s been open to the general public since 2007 and really exploded that spring. Both networks offer numerous interactive features and interest groups in which members can collect around shared interests.
Flickr, YouTube and similar networks are more specific to a certain type of interest; Flickr is photography, YouTube is for video clips, and so on. Conversation happens but it is about the photo, about the video clip.
For the most part, though, these public social networks are more enablers of conversation and community than places where folks “hang out” for any length of time. In my opinion, they have a flatness that stems from their primary role as conveyers of information. However, you need to understand how your customers are participating in these spaces. Some Facebook and LinkedIn groups are very active; if your customers happen to have joined together in one, you should be aware and act accordingly.
Private branded communities, enabled by social software like Ning, let anyone build a community around a set of shared interests.
Companies may also launch their own communities using enterprise-level software. For example, Saturn recently launched a community that exceeded its six-month estimate of signups in the first three weeks.
When these communities succeed, whether consumer-driven or company supported, the conversation and engagement level is generally quite high because the distraction factor of other interests is absent.
Some of the other social media tools and terms you may hear of:
- Aggregators or memetrackers like Memeorandum and Tailrank collect the most linked/talked about posts of the day and present them in a threaded format – the original post and the follow-on ones so you can follow the online conversation. Another news aggregator site is Digg, which uses a voting system to promote articles to the front page.
- Wikis are simply websites edited by a group versus an individual using specialized software that tracks changes, updates and access rights. The best known public wiki is Wikipedia but increasingly wikis are used by companies for internal project management and support knowledge bases. You will often find them built into online communities.
- Podcasts and videocasts are online radio or video shows. They are typically pre-recorded. Unlike streaming audio or video, listeners/viewers can download the show to their computer or a portable device like an iPod and listen or watch whenever they want. Users can also sign up for regular updates.
In part 3, we’ll discuss the impact of social media on customer care. If you’d like to read more about customer service issues, please check out my client Caras Training’s blog For the Face of Your Business. Principal Ronna Caras has been focusing on customer service of late, and I think you’ll enjoy her perspective. I certainly do!