Prerequisites For Setting Up A Business-Driven Web 2.0 Effort

Since the beginning of the year, have been asked the following question (in various forms) time and time again: If we want to use this social media "stuff" to connect with customers, how do we get started?

At
this point, it seems that the natural inclination is to jump right in
and start prescribing technology (e.g. "well, let’s set up a WordPress
or TypePad blog and we’re done!" or "Let’s get the Haystack network up
this week!").  While the technology is an enabler, there are still the
basic questions that need to be answered in order to get things off on
the right path, and help to stack the deck in favor of success.  Today,
let’s concentrate on the fundamentals of what an organization needs to
think about before embarking on a social media activity.

Communityprereqscolor

#1) Why

Why do
this?  Why start a blog or a social network or other Web 2.0-oriented
effort?  Sometimes, the answer is simply "In order to connect."  And,
in the case of many, many blogs (and IM, and Plazes, and Twitter,
etc.), that answer is sufficient.  However, as is more often the case,
there are additional reasons to jump in:  better and more timely
feedback from customers, the ability to connect with others working on
similar problems, putting a human face on what had been historically a
sterile organization, creating a framework for communications, or, most
importantly, creating a platform for enabling better/broader/more
timely information exchange. 

The "why" is critical.  (And, as a point of note, "because we
want to explore this and get to understand it" may be the right
answer.  When that’s the case, make sure that expectations are set
accordingly.)


#2) Who

Web
2.0 is about people.  Period.  Who are the people involved?  Who will
be the primary contributors to the effort?  What are their
backgrounds?  Who are they as people?  In addition, who are the other
people who will be interacting with the environment, even if they don’t
initially contribute?  In a blog, the ratio of commenters-to-posters is
large; the ratio of readers-to-commenters is astronomical.  What’s in
it for each of those constituencies?  Does the environment support them
and provide what they need?  What value does each group derive from it?

Similarly, in a social network, there are typically a handful
of "power" users, a slightly larger group of sometimes-contributors,
and a huge group of people who may only be observing.  (Members of this
last group are commonly referred to as "lurkers.)  What’s in it for
them?

#3) Where

Online gathering places are examples of the "third place" as
defined by Oldenberg:  a "place" other than home or work, for
democracy, civil society, and social engagement.  Is what you are
putting together a destination, or a directory that sends people forth
on their journeys?  (Both are relevant.)  What does the place feel
like?  Is it open, or exclusive?  Is it part of a larger site, or a
stand-alone entity?  How will people find it?


#4) When

Is the activity that you are proposing using social media an
ongoing concern, or tied to a particular event?  Note that unless there
is a large, existing group of participants, it will oftentimes take a
few months, perhaps even a year, to achieve "critical mass."

It’s like planting a garden.

#5) How

"How"
is all about the norms of the place.  What’s the tenor of the
interaction?  Is it "strictly business," or relaxed?  Is it moderated,
or free-wheeling?  What will participants do if their contributions are
edited or deleted?  If there is a "topic," will off-topic discussions
be immediately squelched, or will the interactions be free-form, like a
lively dinner party?

Additionally, a key "how" item is thinking about how the
site’s members deal with "trolls" and spammers.  Will the be ignored?
Banned?  Given a warning?  Deleted without comment?  Sent to "time out"
for a period of time?

Much of the "how" derives from the "who."  The types of
individuals who collectively make up the constituency of the place are
the ones who will drive the "how."  Heavy-handed moderation will make
the place constricting, yet too lax a policy will rapidly devolve the
interactions into noise.

Want to see a guide that you can use to start conversations in your organization?  A template you can use, after the jump.

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It’s Only True If It’s True

John Coate: “Assigning the mantle of ‘community’ to one’s enterprise before-the-fact as a marketing hook just serves to cheapen the term. Because it can only really be true if the people who are actively involved in it, declare for themselves that it is true: we are a community.”

N.B. That sentence was written in 1998. Or earlier.

Big Jump In Feedburner Stats? Here’s Why.

Via Stowe, from Google Now Reporting Subscribers:

“Starting with our Saturday February 17th subscriber reporting, FeedBurner publishers will be able to see how many Google Reader and Google Personalized Homepage subscribers they have. (Thanks, Google!) This information will show up in tonight’s subscriber reports (meaning that most of you will start to see the data on Saturday morning, U.S. Central Time).

What does this mean? This is one more data point to help you understand how many people have asked to receive your feed (aka “subscribers”). For those who are interested in the particulars, the number that Google is reporting is the total number of Google users who’ve subscribed to your feed in Reader or with Personalized Homepage.”

So there ya go.

Tying One On


Post Number 8
Originally uploaded by Auntie P.

A couple of decades ago, my old friend Joe DeCarlo used to talk about “posts” in communities and social groups. A “post” has nothing to do with a blog post in these conversations, incidentally. In these conversations, a “post” was a person or concept that was solid. Tall-standing. Deep-rooted.

A post was the anchor to which other things could be lashed.

On February 7, in his SuitWatch piece, Doc Searls tells the story of his interactions with Sayo Ajiboye. Doc:

“A few years ago I had a Socratic exchange with a Nigerian pastor named Sayo, whom I was lucky to find sitting next to me on a long airplane trip.

He went on to point out that, in his country, and in much of what we call the developing world, relationship is of paramount importance in public markets. In the industrialized world, prices are set by those who control the manufacturing, distribution and retail systems. Customers do have an influence on prices, but only in the form of aggregate demand. The rates at which they buy or don’t buy something determines what price the “market” (meaning: the demand side) will bear. But the whole economic system is viewed mostly through the prism of price, which is seen as the outcome of tug between supply and demand. Price still matters in the developing world, Sayo said; but there is a higher context that tends to be invisible if you view markets exclusively through the prism of price. That context is relationship.

He said relationship is not reducible to price, even though it may influence price. It operates at a higher level. Families and friends don’t put prices on their relationships. (At least not consciously, and only at the risk of cheapening or losing a relationship.) Love, the most giving force in any relationship, is not about exchanging. It is not fungible. You don’t expect a payback or a rate of return on the love you give your child, your wife or husband, your friends.

Yet relationship has an enormous bearing on the way markets work, Sayo said. And it is poorly understood in the developed world, where so much comes down to ‘the bottom line.’”

If you haven’t read the SuitWatch piece, it’s worth the time. Here’s the link again. And I have a feeling the Sayo story is a post that will anchor many other things over the next few years. Actually, some things are lashed to it already.

One of the things the Sayo story is currently anchoring is a discussion of how VRM might apply to changing public radio. In other words, can we use the concepts of VRM to create direct relationships with artists and producers?

Also, as I write this, I’m taking a sidelong glance at Dave, who has chimed in on this issue. Dave’s been very vocal and a key lynchpin to the development of what we currently call “podcasting.” I wonder if, down the road, we’ll see “public radio” and “podcasting” as synonymous terms. Actually, it’s much bigger than that. Much, much bigger.

If this plays out, what we currently call “podcasting” becomes public broadcasting. Think about it.

Oh, look what’s in the bottom of my mug…some tea leaves!