What Are the New Rules for Engaging an Online Community?
Marketing and public relations’ role within professional organizations has shifted drastically with the advent of the online community. Now there’s a greater emphasis placed on storytelling. Traditionally, organizations would simply broadcast news, or channel it through the media – observe the reaction, then respond on a flexible timetable. Today, branding isn’t simply about beaming out a message. It’s about building trust with end-users, telling a compelling story and creating two-way social streams of dialogue.
While the media matrix and consumption patterns have irrevocably shifted, the value of powerful communication strategies has only become more vital. In an online community and multitasking world, companies must first find ways to connect with increasingly fragmented audiences and build empathy and awareness. Create channels for customers and influencers to help organizations engage with brands and products in exciting new ways.
Customer impression carries increasing weight with brand impression able to travel greater distances in less time. Users increasingly look to their personal networks for expertise and validation as opposed to traditional media channels.
Traditional marketing and public relations principles now play an increased role. Practitioners can excel in the modern world – provided they adapt to changing markets and best practices.
The book, Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, offers several tips as you nurture positive conversation in an online community.
Establish a Social Media Policy
Make it clear to employees what is OK to share online, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. With every employee serving as a brand ambassador, training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce the importance of these organizational values. Detail formal rules of engagement with the online community, and explain what’s expected from hires.
Develop an internal program to teach social media literacy and aptitude, provide continued education efforts and reward employees for successfully practicing these skills. You may wish to consider regular skills refreshes, training sessions, certifications, and gamification-based programs to reinforce these maxims.
Be specific about what’s expected in terms of tone, attitude, end-results and output from your social media pros, and regularly monitor and assess how well they align with and meet these goals. Providing running feedback and commentary to help them grow and improve is a vital to bolster performance in these areas. To this extent, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts or updates to provide a sense of how to better shape these communications efforts.
For sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, post formal guidelines for communication within your own blogs, communities and online venues, public-facing or otherwise. Having guidelines in place sets expectations up-front and helps you address any issues that may arise. Issues such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.
Set Clear Guidelines for Interacting with the Online Community
Social media’s immediacy allows you to interact with customers without filters. However, policy and protocols set in place beforehand ensure professional and productive interactions. Understanding that some room must be given to operate between formal guidelines, make it clear to employees the appropriate rules of conduct when speaking directly to end-users or customers, whether exchanges are B2B or B2C in nature.
Provide on-going development and training to your team regarding these policies. Especially for employees who manage social media efforts, outreach and campaigns. Pass on learning and knowledge gained from direct frontline interactions with customers and promote positive transfer and enhance best practices.
Marketing campaigns and branding efforts should adhere to consistent guidelines. This ensures the right messages are sent and that your company is portrayed with the image and professionalism you desire. Outside of formal guidelines, practice basic rules of politeness, professionalism and business etiquette online just as you would when engaging with customers face-to-face.
Identify which influencers to reach out to, and brief employees on the best methods for doing so. Through social media, you will likely also interact not just with individual customers, but entire communities. As in real-life, virtual group dynamics can differ greatly from one-on-one interactions.
Express Your Brand’s Online Personality
Be less formal, but adhere to your company’s rules and guidelines about your brand, message, and tone of voice. Thus creating value for your online community. When people visit social media sites, they expect exchanges to be more personal, immediate and engaging.
Be cognizant of post quality, taking care to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors. Note that kindness, courtesy, positivity and empathy should be reflected in every post. Casual and fun doesn’t equate to flippant, glib or self-centered. Think about how you or your brand may be perceived, and present yourself as affably and respectfully as possible.
Humor is appropriate to use depending on context. Consider using only the same sort of humor that is appropriate for use in an office or business casual setting. Unless it is part of your brand’s marketing strategy, proceed with caution when using risqué or controversial statements.