Monday, March 23, 2009

Building Community: A 12 Step Social Media Program

One of the things that's been bugging me about the SXSW Interactive conference was the generalization of advice given in most of the sessions I attended. Actually, that bugs me about MOST conferences I attend.

What Is Moderation? Not Enough Excess?

I think when people pay money for a conference, they attend because they are looking for specific help to a specific problem they face at work. At conferences, however, presenters often give a broad overview that you could get from reading a book, and usually only take 3-4 questions from the audience on specific problems.

I realize that there isn't time to help everyone one-on-one at a conference, but I can read a book and figure stuff out on my own time. I don't need to spend $450 or so to have someone tell me, for example, that a community should be moderated for a more pleasant user experience.

I want to know, what exactly is moderation? What does moderation entail? How many hours per day does it require? What *specific* guidelines should I have in place? What are the pros and cons of having topical moderation? What do I do when a flame war breaks out? Should my CEO be posting on the boards?

Yes, I understand that the answer to each of those questions CAN be "it depends". Which is of no help to the person shelling out scarce dollars to attend a conference. The person presenting is supposed to be a Master Practitioner. At the very least, I would want a very specific list of questions that I need to answer in order to proceed.

The typical response of "your community should be moderated" is just not helpful enough.

12 Steps and Tips You Can Use

Well, I'm going to try and fix that and provide solid, practical and detailed tips on how to use social media to develop online communities using the principles of a 12 Step program. I've been in the business of developing online communities for 10 years, and I have a few experiences that just might be useful for others.

Now, a 12 Step program is typically associated with recovery from addiction and getting on a more productive life path. So in my use of the 12 Steps, I'm going to assume that companies are addicted to 'old school' marketing, production or communication techniques and need to be broken of this addiction.

The principles of a 12 Step Program are founded on:
  • admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion
  • recognizing a greater power that can give strength
  • examining past errors with the help of a sponsor
  • making amends for these errors
  • learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
  • helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions
Can you recognize how these principles might be applicable in your company?

Step One: Admitting Addiction

Does your company have an addiction or a compulsion to a particularly destructive behavior?

Maybe it's that your company is too much under the influence of the legal department and free exchange of information is prohibited for fear of liability. Or completed projects never get an internal review for lessons learned because that's 'not billable time.' Or maybe business objectives overrule design principles, because the business folks want to force the users into a particular experience rather than let the user *choose* their experience. (and thus the business people ensure the failure of their own objectives)

When it comes to using social media or developing strong relationships with their clients, MOST companies have an addiction that prevents them from getting closer to their customers. These might be addictions to personal power, control, fear or an aversion to change, but whatever the addiction, there exists an "us vs. them" mentality.

The company is us. The customers are them. But there is rarely a "we" that embraces the customer as an integral part of the company. (notable exceptions: Nike, Southwest Airlines, Apple)

Your Homework Assignment

1) What is the most significant obstacle in the way of your company using social media?

2) Can you list 1-3 things that your company is addicted to that is preventing your company from establishing real relationships with your customers? Is it a person? A culture? A department?

Identify it. Give it a name. You won't know what to change unless you can name the addictive behavior. Please use the comments section to 'fess up to your addiction, but if your obstacle is a specific person, please use a psuedonym.

Tomorrow: Recognizing A Greater Power That Can Give Strength (or: Case Studies in How The Collective Rules)

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