Any business use of social media ultimately has to form a Community to be successful. That may seem like an overly strong absolute but it is easily justified.
The main difference between social media and traditional media is the interaction between people who use the service – users writing their own content on their own terms. Without interaction the entire medium is nothing more than a traditional outlet where information is pushed. That’s why it is important to separate the difference between a real social media Community and a “Scene”, or a place where the hip gather to show their fashion power and prowess.
The difference between a Community and a Scene can be used to predict the staying power of just about any social situation, including social media. That’s one strong way of measuring success.
As an evolving concept, social media is subject to a lot of new approaches and many fads. There are many rating sties, for example, where people can share their opinion about content on the web – such as digg, technorati, and reddit. Each of these has had its success at some point but they seem to come and go in popularity. None of them, except reddit, has a strong component of interaction outside of a voting system – and voting does not appear to be enough interaction to keep people engaged for a long time. They’ve all faded slowly after some initial splash.
Other social media sites have gone through the process of being red-hot fads and may have enough to keep them around. Twitter appears to still be growing, as does facebook, but there is a developing sense that both have lost their innocence and are moving towards places where people plug their stuff in more traditional one-way ads. They both are likely to be around for some time, but they have suffered because of their own success – they both became a Scene. Their use as a tool that was important to people’s lives has often been less important than the need to be seen using them and accumulating big numbers of “followers”.
This difference may seem academic if you’re not trying to develop a social media site of your own. But this distinction important for any small business that wants to use social media to their maximum advantage.
Many businesses come onto social media sties because they think that they have to in order to be at the top of the latest trends, which is exactly the wrong reason to be there. Every small business, from a bar to a grocery store to a jewelry store, needs to be a part of the lives of at least a small group of customers they can depend on during slow times. Call them “regulars”. They are what pay the bills.
A Scene that follows of even develops fashion may make some money for a while but it almost always has a limited life. The allure of being part of a Scene will pull the people who are most attracted to this kind of environment off to the next “in thing” and away from what was fashionable yesterday. What keeps people around is the sense of ownership, belonging and dependability that can only come from strong interaction – a two way street.
Designing a social media campaign strategy that will work over the long haul has to start from an understanding of Community – what it means in general but especially what it means to your customers. There is always a temptation to instead develop a Scene with a well controlled image and message along the lines of traditional media. That may work for a while, but it can’t hold everyone’s attention forever. Community has far more staying power than a Scene.
That’s why Community has to be the goal of any use of social media. It’s a matter of developing staying power by letting go and letting the customers take ownership just enough that it becomes more than a message but a part of their lives.