WPC – Social Media & Community: 5 Basic Tips

I'm going to take a detour to something that may not seem immediately SharePoint-related, but it's a topic that I know many of our readers are interested in: Social Media.  You see, I'm here attending my first Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., and besides being a great and eye-opening event that provides invaluable opportunities to meet with other partners face-to-face, there are also numerous sessions led by knowledgeable leaders.  Of these sessions, the only one that I've been able to attend so far has been on the topic of Social Media & Community.

I know that we've gotten a few questions from some of our readers asking us what we use for our community site (Telligent), and that this is a brave new world that many of you are trying to enter. For the record, here at Bamboo we make the conscientious effort to be available to you on multiple fronts. You can find us on all the standard outlets, from Twitter, to Facebook, and even YouTube.  All of those outputs are there to complement our existing blog and provide additional outlets for the content found on the Nation. Just because we're doing it though, doesn't mean that we don't still have tons to learn. So here are some of the points that I came away with from the session that I attended led by Jackie (didn't catch her last name unfortunately).

  1. Be Intentional. Have a Game Plan
    Social Media is all the rage these days. Everybody and their grandma's food truck has a Twitter feed, and it's hard not to feel like you're missing the train if you aren't doing it too.  It turns out though, and I know that we can vouch for this as well, that progressing into these areas of new media isn't something that should be done haphazardly.

    It's hard stopping yourself from jumping right in. A quick survey of the room during the session showed that most companies had started a blog and other efforts in order to become more competitive online. In a world where the more content you put out means the more chances someone will find their way onto your page, social media is like low-hanging fruit and something that you can't afford not to do. More than that, it has the potential to offer that intangible reputation booster: being a thought leader in your field.  

    But how hard can it be?  People often underestimate the amount of dedicated resources needed to cultivate an online community, and more than that, they tend to be totally blind to the necessity of broad support and contribution.  The insidious lure of these social sites is that it is so easy to sign up, and with that low barrier to entry, it's also easy to forget how much work and time can be involved in maintaining it. One could argue that no presence looks significantly better than a failed or ill-maintained presence. Consider whether it's better to have a solid community and strategic purpose in one place or to be spread thin.

  2. Broadcasting vs. Engaging
    If you're strategic in your social media endeavors, you should take note of whether you're reaching out to users or if you're only treating the technology as another pulpit to speak from.  I'm not saying that it's a crime to be broadcasting only (these are great outlets to announce a message), but these forms of media are at their best when being used to facilitate a conversation. A great way to create a positive experience for your users is to actively listen to the ongoing conversation about your brand and company and to have an involved presence – and not just when a user flames you.
  3. Everything is Public
    It doesn't matter what firewalls or what access is needed, if you post something to your LinkedIN Group, treat is as if it's not only going to your customers but also to your competitors. This may be seen as a risk, so take the time to evaluate your risks accordingly.  For example, one of the wonderful things that Microsoft has done for this conference is set up the WPC Connect Wall. It's a system where attendees can create a Pinpoint profile and request meeting times with other attendees. The Wall, complete with names and titles, is open to the public.  While it facilitates the synergy of the Partner Program, it also functions like a detailed public partner list, information that they may not want to give up. In the end, it's obvious that Microsoft decided it was worth the risk.
  4. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
    PRs worst nightmare is a lot of bad talk ruining a carefully crafted reputation. Know that when you open yourself up to social media, you're also opening yourself up to customers who might be so brazen as to start a discussion on your board about how much you suck. Evaluate now if you're willing to take the heat externally from outspoken anons, and if so, if you're willing to take the heat from internal management who might not appreciate completely free speech.

    Jackie gave a great example from Microsoft where a discussion was started on the weaknesses of the Microsoft Partner Program. About 150 posts in, the disapproval from partners was still venting strong and there was heavy internal pressure to pull the discussion down.  Their commitment to keeping the board open to all topics prevailed though, and eventually other users came in and turned the conversation around in Microsoft's favor.  This result was ultimately a much more powerful response than Microsoft could've ever created themselves.  

  5. All the Personality of a Stick
    Consider encouraging the members of your team to have a personal presence as they moderate or respond (while still maintaining professionalism). That means signing off with a name, having a picture available, or other information on their profile if they feel comfortable with it. Users want to know that they're not talking to a robot. The voice and personality, and consequently the positive rapport, is something you want customers to associate with the brand.

As I mentioned before, social media may not seem like it's related to SharePoint, but that's changing with the whole new set of features found in SharePoint 2010. My Sites have evolved and now support a status update feature that will pull your information into the feeds of your coworkers. How will this change the way that SharePoint is used? It will have to be figured out. Some people will be more willing than others to combine their personal and work lives in using these new tools. It's also questionable as to whether these features will gain the critical mass needed to become socially functional without having the ability to work with other social media sites.

What does Web 2.0 hold for you and your business? It seems that we're going to find out soon and we don't really have a choice. As you embrace it, hopefully these tips from the Worldwide Partner Conference were as helpful to you as they were to me.

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