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Growing Social Networks for Business: 3 Essential Lessons

Posted on Jul 16th, 2012
Written by Lee Odden
In this article

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    grow business social networksA lot of businesses, large and small, consumer and B2B focused, are grappling with how the social web will be a tool for their business. Research is actually showing asocial media CEOs are bad for business. I’ve even heard from executives at digital marketing agencies, “I really need to learn this stuff myself” about social media applications and networks. So they start.

    The first phase seems to focus on getting to know social applications as a user and the “rules” both explicit and implicit within social communities.  When to use @ and when to use RT for example. Or that you don’t mass follow/friend people you don’t know or make explicit sales pitches to people who you’ve not developed a connection with.

    Once a feeling of social savviness sets in, social media management tools like Hootsuite start to get used for monitoring, publishing and interacting with social communities.  Those tools make the mechanics of social network development, engagement and content promotion more efficient. Through efficiency comes an effort towards scale and that’s where it’s essential to learn a few key lessons about growing social networks.

    Businesses need to grow and so there’s a tendency to equate operational efficiency with social content promotion as equivalent to increasing effectiveness. i.e. share more content with your social networks and you’ll reach more people. In the PR world that’s called “spray and pray”.

    Since a lot of companies are still wondering about guidelines and parameters for how they should behave on the social web in a way that grows both the community and the business without alienating customers or future customers, here are a few considerations:

    Social network size is not the same thing as social network quality – There’s a rush to buy fans, friends and followers but hitting a certain target doesn’t automatically equal a concomitant increase in network value. Sure, growing your networks is important and you should make an effort to do so every day. But the addition of a follower is a stepping stone, not an objective.  It matters how you grow your network more than the size of network you end up with.

    Evaluate your network: Will they respond to your offers? Will they answer questions, participate and refer your brand to others? I’d take 10 active fans who advocate vs. 50 that are simply waiting for a coupon, giveaway or freebie.

    Meaningful vs. mechanical – The drive to scale social media networking and content promotion efforts is strong, because companies want to see a return on their investment. The gratification from social media participation can involve a delay and longer timeframe depending on your industry, company and objectives. There’s a tendency to identify surface level patterns of effective social media usage and turn them into processes. Once in process form, duplication leads to a scaled social participation model.

    The problem with that is not having an understanding of the underlying reasons for social interactions, sharing and engagement. Simply executing a process creates a mechanical social media effort, not meaningful. Mechanical brand Twitter accounts simply post information culled from a social editorial calendar with no one to one engagement. It can look robotic.

    Meaningful company social media participation shows personality and personalization. Questions are asked, mentions are responded to and interaction occurs between people, not software like these two AI powered chatbots:

    Attract interest by showing interest. People will only be as interested in your brand’s social media efforts as the interest your brand shows in the community – individually and collectively. Identifying topics of interest to your community and being proactive about engaging with people who can be advocates or add to the discussion is important. Asking questions and recognizing participation is an essential part of qualitative social engagement.

    There’s an old saying, “People will work for a living but die for recognition” and companies should actively seek ways to create opportunities for the community to participate and then recognize the desired actions. Social listening for customer service is part of showing interest but marketing, PR, sales, recruiting and any other department with an audience in mind can be proactive about engaging through social channels as well.

    The steady stream of social interactions published every hour is no different than conversations at a party or business event. Listen, show interest and people will want to engage with you.

    What lessons have you learned as your company matures in its social media participation? How have you been able to scale social participation without compromising the quality of interactions?