March 26, 2014

What Madison Avenue Ad Agencies Know about Facebook that You Don’t

Facebook’s screwing them over: That’s what the ad agencies have figured out.

The very agencies that — by purchasing Likes and plastering its logo all over their traditional advertising buys — helped build Facebook into a multi-billion dollar corporation have grown exhausted of the bait and switch. They’ve invested time and money to build up an ocean of Likes only to be told by Facebook that they need to invest again just to get messages out to the audience they’ve grown.

Fortunately, you can learn from their costly lesson.

When you build your organization’s social presence on public social media sites — like Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and Twitter — you’re beholden to their rules. The rules aren’t written in your favor and they’re constantly changing. In short, when you use public social media sites to support your organization’s goals, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.

This is the danger of digital sharecropping and why so many organizations are moving towards owning — instead of renting — their social presence.

One of the ways that organizations are taking control of their social presence is by setting up their own online communities. NTEN is reaping the rewards of an online community, and so can you. Download this guide to seven leading solutions for nonprofits if you’d like to learn about some of your online community options.

Online communities enable organizations to better control their online destiny by:

  • Deepening engagement beyond simple Likes and Favorites
  • Gaining the ability to view engagement data that public social media sites will never reveal
  • Increasing the likelihood that their messages will be seen
  • Setting community rules that favor their stakeholders
  • Mashing up data from both online and traditional engagement

Running your own online community may require a more significant investment of time and money than leveraging public social sites, but the ROI is both higher and more predictable.

While online communities are relatively new on the technology scene, there is a growing body of research and best practices. If you’re thinking about implementing your own online community, here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Start with a simple, laser-focused strategy:
    A great online community strategy can overcome a suboptimal community platform, so it’s important to get it right. Broad, unfocused strategies like “empower users to collaborate” will do you no favors. Find an important program in your organization’s strategic plan that needs some life breathed into it and see if you can build a community strategy around it. Your audience will need a reason to participate in your community, so be sure to take their wants and motivations into account. Having a focused strategy will require saying no to other potential uses for the community, but only to begin with. Once you get traction with your initial strategy, you can branch out to others.
  2. Identify a dedicated community manager and engage them early:
    Just as important as a solid strategy is a dedicated community manager. It’s important to ensure that their attention isn’t divided between the community and other priorities. Effective community management is a daily process, and if the process goes undone for days at a time because of competing priorities, your community will suffer. Involve your community manager in the project early on. When they’ve had a say in decision-making, they’ll be more invested in the process.
  3. Select a software package tailored to your community strategy:
    Based on your community strategy, create a list of up to 30 of your most important community technology requirements and prioritize it. Not all of your requirements are equal; force yourself to make these hard choices. Distribute the prioritized requirements list to community software vendors (download a guide to some of the leading solutions for nonprofits) and ask them to submit a proposal if their features meet the requirements. Don’t let the account exec just do their standard product demo. Take control of your demos by using your requirements list as the agenda and ask the vendors to show you how their software satisfies the requirements.
  4. Expect the unexpected during implementation
    You’ve probably never implemented an online community before, so be ready for some surprises. It’s different than implementing a CRM or CMS. Most community implementations take between 2-4 months, but some can last longer. Resist the temptation to stand up every feature that the community software offers. This extends and complicates your implementation, and also tends to blur your laser-focused community strategy.
  5. Don’t launch your community, build it:
    Avoid flashy launch campaigns and don’t make a big deal about your community until it’s actually a big deal. Your community should go live on an average day, not on the first day of a major event. A slow, steady build is more effective than a noisy launch. Also, temper expectations with management and the board. Some communities need up to two years to reach critical mass, which is the point at which more activity is generated by the members without help from the community manager.
  6. Dedicate your organization to community growth processes:
    Effective community management is a process. There are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly tasks that virtually guarantee success when followed. It’s critical to make the process part of your daily routine. If you’re not — or can’t afford — a dedicated community manager, add the tasks to your calendar and set reminders so you remember to do them.
  7. Start reporting on your community from day one:
    As the community project owner, you should be more serious about community ROI than anyone in your organization. Take monthly measurements in your community starting at go-live. Begin with a list of 8-10 metrics that align with your community strategy and post your reports to the board and staff so they can see your progress. Include in your reports screen shots when you see examples of the community accomplishing the objectives it was intended to produce. But keep in mind that stats are only symptoms of success. You must be able to link your stats to the strategic outcome that your community is intended to support.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. NTEN has a Community of Practice specifically for online community managers called CommBuild. Join the group today and start owning your organization’s social presence.

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Ben Martin