Some SXSW-inspired thoughts about online communities, affinity, and the rules of engagement.

I am starting to get a bit overwhelmed by all the SXSW talk. But much of the palpable tension regarding social media and corporate interaction I’ve been able to crystallize and articulate in a way that may actually be useful; at least for me.

It was best explained in the “Make Yourself More Interesting” panel on day one: the tension between developing a transactional interaction with users versus a relationship building interaction in their social media initiatives. I think the real tension comes from corporations/organizations trying to force  their online engagement into a transactional interaction while in the process of  relationship-building.

It rings false; consumers know it, so they leave and create relationships on their own.

The fact is, we don’t need companies to create communities for us to interact online. We can do it on our own. We do it better, and we have more fun in the process. Companies need us more than we need them, so the onus is on companies to give us a reason to interact with them online. Whether it’s through interesting content, or discussion, or free stuff. (Never underestimate the power of free stuff. It was my big reason for going to the Google party last night.) But with “social media marketing,” companies assume that affinity alone is the going to be the draw to a Facebook page, Twitter feed, whatever.

I think people get involved in online communities for three reasons:

1.) to interact/communicate with like minded people

2.) to feel more connected to the source of their affinity (product/celebrity/cause)

3.) to get information that they can’t get anywhere else about the source of their affinity

In theory, a company should be able to achieve the last two things better than any fan could, but often they don’t.

Mostly because companies are so focused on the end-game (buy our product! give us money!) they don’t spend enough time really doing the first thing on my list, interacting and communicating with the community they are trying to build. They are too eager to exploit the community interaction before it’s even had time to build.

That’s why bottom-up, fan-based communities tend to grow and mobilize more effectively, the rules of engagement are different, people want to connect with each other; the end game is the connection, not the transaction.

The ROI (if you really want to define one)  is a community of like minded people who share information  and resources freely, so when the time comes (if it ever does) to mobilize that community or to get them to do something (like pay for something), all you really have to do is ask, if you even have to do that at all. Think Obama, or read my Nine Inch Nails post from a couple of weeks back for an example. No really, READ IT.

If companies /organizations want to do this (and honestly, I think very few of them can do it successfully) they will have to do a few things:

1.) Be more open. In real life (hopefully) your friends are diverse and far from “ideal”. Same goes for social media.

2.) Shut up and listen to your fans. Really, that’s it. SHUT UP. and LISTEN to us.

3.) Don’t freak out so much about the right thing to say, talk to people like it’s a conversation, not a press release. Admit when you screw up, when you are mad, be random, like a real person would. It’s OK. we will love you more for it.

4.) Be patient. Just because a whole slew of people don’t love you immediately doesn’t mean they won’t ever love you. Like real-life, the best relationships take time to build.

5.) Accept when we get mad at you, and know that if we love you enough, we’ll be back.

That’s it for now.

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Comments (5)

the end game is the connection, not the transaction.

It seems so simple, but when you’re worried about the “bottom line (read: $$$) it becomes easy to resist. You should be teaching at B-schools!

thanks! 🙂 I can see why its a really scary concept for those who need to measure success by the bottom line, but since the rules are so different with this interaction, it’s pretty imperative that businesses under this concept, or nothing they do in social media is likely to work.

This is a really great post.
I will now use my facebook page, my preferred online community for sharing interesting content, to tell my friends about this post.

[…] fantastic learning experience and I came away with some head-exploding resources and ideas. You can read about my experience at my blog, The Learned Fangirl, but here are 25 things that I came away with from the conference […]

[…] Some SXSW-inspired thoughts about online communities, affinity, and the rules of engagement. – I've been thinking a lot about the idea of friends, followers and the like. I'm pondering how affinity, as a concept, ties these things together and whether getting people in the media to buy the concept is a way of getting better community relations. So this post from a while back pushed the right buttons for me. Esspecially the idea that "the end game is the connection, not the transaction." […]

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