If you’re in business, you understand the concept of adding value. You evaluate every action in terms of whether it adds value to your business’ goals or bottom line. So how do you evaluate community-building initiatives?
The Conundrum of Social Community
In our business, we regularly hear from companies that built strong Facebook followings only to realize that they can’t figure out how the “community” adds to their bottom line. Yet they are deeply aware of how communities could take away from the bottom line and how a single bad experience could lead to a brand-destroying social media explosion.
Yet social communities cannot be avoided. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your customers and prospects want to know more about you and want to connect with others in your circles. And while the challenge used to be around which tools to use, now it’s about how you make the community valuable. We believe the question should be turned around: Ask not how your community adds value to your business, but how your business can add value to your community.
This is where clean-tech companies have a great advantage. Unlike many businesses that leverage subjective values for differentiation, clean-tech companies can leverage in-house expertise and experience to make a material difference to their communities. For example, apparel companies such as Lululemon and Life Is Good create communities around corporate social responsibility initiatives. Yet what they do best is make clothes and selling those clothes is how they make money. In essence, they run two businesses to make the apparel business successful: a clothing business and a social business. For a clean-tech company, the relationship between what makes money and what adds value to the customer is naturally much closer.
Quality Over Quantity
It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you. To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.
The point is not to focus on how many people you attract to your community, but rather how well you engage those you attract. The following diagram shows the flow of activities in a successful social community-building initiative.
Notice the lack of arrows and what we’ve put in the center. “Choose your Audience” gets away from many businesses, but it needs to remain top-of-mind at all times because it’s a moving target.
Is the audience you have today appropriate to your business, and how it has changed since you first started reaching out and building a community? For many businesses, legacy audiences are not only irrelevant, but can be a source of blinding headaches when they voice their disappointment at the way the company has changed. This can be particularly true of clean-tech businesses that have changed their business models to respond to market conditions or government incentives. On the other hand, legacy audiences — if they are still relevant — can be your strongest advocates in a community. The important part is maintaining awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.
To create a “quality over quantity” community-building engine, we recommend you focus on a few key activities and let the community do the rest. These activities are all about adding value. Just as you care about each of your tasks adding value to your bottom line, you should care about each of your social initiatives adding value to your community.
The categories in our diagram represent general guidelines. Many organizations will take these further and create a specific plan — scheduling exactly what needs to be done at what time each week or month. Such a schedule will include tweets, blog posts, comments, Facebook updates and more, often with much of the content created ahead of time. Even tweets are regularly scheduled.
While this can keep momentum going, we believe that it can also dampen creativity. A good community-building team will keep target audiences engaged with new ideas all the time, often responding to late-breaking news including politics, climate, economic shifts, scientific discoveries, social changes, business announcements and cause-related events. They will pepper these in among items that have been scheduled ahead of time. In addition, we believe every social initiative down to each tweet should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength. Take a look at this acid test from a clean-tech social community initiative HB recently built:
The Clean-Tech Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass
- Do we believe it?
- Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
- Will they believe it?
- Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
- Will they feel good passing it along?
- Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
- Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
- Can it reflect on the company in any negative way?
- Does it add value to our audience’s life in an easily explained way?
- Does it help advance clean technology in the world?
- Does it help audience members feel good about themselves because of their identification with us?
- Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?
Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.
For example, supposing you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, building managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies. And as you can imagine, such an acid test would be very different for an apparel company building community around corporate social responsibility activities.
Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you consistently add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives. In return, the community within that intersection will add value to your business for the long term.