Being a social media strategist at Microsoft, by way of Projectline, involves much more than just tweeting and maintaining a Facebook page. It’s about building community. Our product, one in the educational sector, requires a lot of online networking. I work hard to establish and build trust with educators around the world. Microsoft is a behemoth of a company and while you’d think the MSFT name would give you a shoe-in to any community – it simply doesn’t.
Teachers want to know that you are just as passionate about education as you are about the product you are marketing. To show them this, I usually sign my name at the end of my tweets to help give them a personal touch. Many social strategists and community managers sign only with their initials in this fashion: ^EB. I go the extra mile and sign: -eric. On Facebook, I will send them personal e-mails and comments with my own profile (Eric Burgess) as well with my Mouse Mischief profile. It’s absolutely crucial to be as reachable as possible to your customers. The old ways of conducting customer service through 800 numbers and expensive CMS e-mail software are on their way out. People want immediate access to you, so why not give it to them? It’s all a part of the community building I mentioned earlier. How can you build a community without making you and your product as transparent as possible? You can’t. Below are some important things to consider as you work to build your community.
1. Are you Tony Hsieh’ing it?
Tony Hsieh is the founder and CEO of Zappos.com. Hsieh inspired me to get into social media. He was one of the first people I followed on Twitter and I was completely blown away by the amount of time he spent tweeting. He was so passionate about his customers that I consider him a social media pioneer: He used it to grow his business. And, he was reachable to everyone. I actually received a message from him when I responded to one of his tweets. What CEO does that? How could an online shoe business have nearly 1.7 million followers? Hsieh worked hard at growing his community. You’ve got to Hsieh it to stay in it.
2. Maintain a Blog
Blogs are so 2000! Not. They provide huge SEO opportunities, which will ultimately lead to helping you save money in paid search while giving you a leg up in organic search. Let’s face it, your company’s website can’t be changed on the fly. You may have to jump through several hoops, including working with a developer, just to make a minor change. Not with a blog. A blog provides you the opportunity to quickly get out a message through a simple post. Want to poll your customer base about a new feature? Blog it. Blogging is community building. Make sure your marketing department and/or higher-ups understand this. Additional note: Carefully consider the title of each blog post to further help you with organic search. I do on my blog.
3. Listen to the Conversation
There are a lot of great tools out there to help you find out where the conversations about your industry or product are happening. I use Radian6. With Radian6 you can search for comments, tweets, blog posts, news blurbs, etc. on any topic for your specific campaign. It’s an amazing social media monitoring tool. The only caveat is that it cannot search for things that happen within closed networks, such as Facebook. Other helpful tools include SocialMention, Twazzup, Klout and many more. Search Mashable.com for more on listening tools.
4. Join the Conversation
You already know about and use Facebook and Twitter. But are you using them in a one-sided way? What I mean is, do you just post and tweet about your product or service in a self-centered way? What about trying to start an actual conversation on your Facebook page by asking a question? I recently asked all the teachers that like our page how they spend their summer? It’s fun and engaging and this sort of discussion will keep them coming back to our page for more. On Twitter, try joining a real-time discussion with a hashtag (#). Each Tuesday, I join the #edchat conversation for one hour. From 4 to 5 p.m. all of my tweets end with #edchat and I can talk with other teachers around the world by watching the #edchat thread update in real-time.
5. Be Transparent
Transparency can be hard for some companies. They cower behind their brand’s established persona. They want to protect their persona and prevent anyone from bad-mouthing it. It’s 2010 though and people have plenty of opinions about your brand. So why not listen? A big part of being transparent is letting the conversation happen on your own network. A great example of this is the recent online sparring between Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. At the height of the discussion, many people left comments on Southwest’s Facebook page saying things like: “I can’t believe you don’t like fat people,” and “You guys suck, I’m never flying with you again.” The people behind Southwest’s marketing/PR/social media efforts were very smart for not screening these types of comments. By letting people vent, it actually helped put out the fire.
6. Have Fun
You won’t be successful in building a community if you’re not having fun. Tony Hsieh had a lot of fun building the Zappos community. Fun is a huge part of the company’s culture, and it showed in his blog posts and tweets. Are you tweeting about things that only have to do with your product or service? Try throwing in some random, fun tweets here and there. It won’t hurt. Maybe take a picture of yourself in your office and tweet the pic with some creative, witty caption.
Eric Burgess is an MCDM student (cohort 9) and social media strategist for Microsoft’s Mouse Mischief product. He’s a Social Media geek and a recovering skateboarder, having spent the last several years blogging and building up communities in the action sports industry. In his spare time he blogs about being a new dad.