Relationship Building Is At the Heart of Building a Solid Community

building relationshipsAny community whether it is offline or online is only as strong as the relationships that have built it. Understanding that building a community one relationship at a time is critical to how long or how fleeting a community survives. Knowing that fact, is critical to any online marketing strategy companies or even individuals embark on in social media. One day you might find that a community has sprung up around your brand, product or service, if you don’t build solid, enduring and transparent relationships with your audience, it can disappear just as quickly if you don’t invest in building relationships with community members.

There’s no quick fix for building lasting relationships. No “drive-thru”, “fast food”, “overnight success” answers to building a lasting, thriving community that can withstand the trends and falls of the every picky, constantly distracted consumer. There’s only the ardent task of reaching out to one community member at a time and touching them personally. Unfortunately and sadly to some marketers, they are only interested in “how can I get X number of links fast”, or “how can I get X number of friends fast”, and that’s where they go wrong when jumping into social media.

Something magical happens to companies and individuals who take the time to reach out on a more personal level to build those relationships they deem important. They create evangelists. They create word of mouth marketing. They create something viral. All from taking the time to personally respond to an email, a blog comment, a post on a forum, a message on a FaceBook fan page, a glittery comment posted on MySpace, that personal “reaching out” means something to people. The simple act of saying “Thank You” or “I’m Sorry” or even “How Can I Help?” goes a long way towards building trust and a relationship that can touch many more people than who you reached out too.

Social Media and Community Building are not overnight sensations, you can ask any forum moderator or message board administrator. It takes time to build relationships that last. Even the “A” list bloggers (o.k. Perez Hilton could be the exception) didn’t become hot sensations overnight, it took reaching out, commenting on others blogs, linking to other posts and sites and speaking directly to the audience members to build their communities.

Social Media and Community Building are areas that do need a specific strategy planned for. How do you approach building a relationship, who handles building the relationship, what are the boundaries (yes, you do need to define them), and how do these relationships help you as a company or an individual become even better? Those are things that need to be considered before jumping in. If you just set you team loose on building relationships, it could go array, as one person on the team has a very different idea of how to build a relationship than another person.

Take the time to figure out what your message is and how you want to build the relationships around you, your brand, service or product. Research your audience and understand what they are receptive to, and then go out and start building those honest relationships, before your know it, you could have a thriving community on your hands.

Are Ghost Writers for Social Media Profiles Wise?

Britney Spears MySpace PageI stumbled across a piece on MSNBC today about Britney Spears advertising for a “Britney Spears 2.0 Media Manager”. I paused and momentarily thought about how manufactured some of the music industry “pop princesses” have become. I’m no fan of Ms. Spears, but I, along with every other American who has an internet connection, couldn’t help but watch that train wreck shave off all her hair and beat a car with an umbrella a few years back. Now that her father is in charge of her affairs and her image, this in some semblance of saneness does make a logical sense (using a social media ghost writer) if you are trying to control every aspect of a persona that’s been manufactured (and not have a Lindsay Lohan MySpace situation).

There are some cases in social media that expecting to speak to “the person”, pr having a conversation with “the person” is generally accepted as “not going to happen”. Take for example Barack Obama. Most people on Twitter or Facebook understand it isn’t exactly Barack Obama speaking to you, it’s someone he’s appointed from his campaign team to handle that interaction. Thus, in a sense, a ghost writer. There’s sort of an “unwritten rule of understanding” in these types of situations. It works in these types of situations because in the case of Barack Obama’s team, they were very focused on bringing back the feedback to Obama and his senior staff and have a conversation about it. That knowledge alone is enough for people to feel like they were having a conversation with a “team” that cared. It works because everyone is on the same page on the team and understands its about conversation, not about just “having a profile and adding friends”.

Just Because Your a Social Media Addict Doesn’t Mean You Understand The Social Sphere of Influence

The Spears job ad has a requirement of “you are addicted to social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. … You are a popular culture addict and passionate about the intersection of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Britney Spears Facebook PageThis job requirement makes me stop and think. Do these people even understand these social networks or social media outlets at all? Just because you are an “addict”, doesn’t mean you understand how the online social sphere works. With these record labels so closely manufacturing these images, you’d think they’d have a clue!

What If We Use a Ghost Writer, What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Clients ask “does it have to be our CEO working our social media profile?” No, but it should be an experienced, seasoned company professional that knows your brand, marketing and the direction your company wants to go in that is representing you out on the social sphere. You should also be transparent. Don’t have someone running around on these social networks pretending to be your CEO, that just makes for really bad situations.

Clients ask “can we have a ghost writer for our CEO on the blog?” I strongly caution against this, for many the same reasons as not to have a CEO “ghost written” social media profile. If your ghost writer does not intimately know your CEO, how can they reflect their tone, idiosyncrasies, humor and inflections? What happens if your CEO is so out of touch, doesn’t read the blog he’s got someone ghost writing for him, and lands in an interview on the Today show and Matt Lauer asks him about a piece he wrote for the blog? Uh oh, big trouble.

But it gets worse with social media. If your “ghost writer” starts having conversations with customers or fans that you don’t know about, and then you come in contact with these fans at events and they mention these conversations and you have no clue what went on, its you with the egg on your face. But it doesn’t end there, word of mouth spreads, “do you believe he didn’t even remember our conversation we had on Facebook about xxxxx? What a farce, it probably wasn’t even him!” From there is just moves from person to person within these social networks and the trusting base you so meticulously grew with your ghost writer is gone because of one interaction gone wrong.

In some cases, ghost writing makes sense and its acceptable. Character blogs, like Robin Scorpio of General Hospital, are the ideal example of this, as is the Barack Obama situation. But in general I strongly caution against ghost writing anything on any social media platform. Every situation is different, however, not knowing or not controlling what’s going on with your social media profiles and just handing the “keys” over to a ghost writer is just asking for another WalMart fiasco to happen with your brand.

XMen Origins – Wolverine & 20th Century Fox Miss The Online Marketing Buzz

This past weekend the internet was buzzing. What were they buzzing about? The movie trailer for the new Wolverine movie coming out. It wasn’t on main stream news, where it was buzzing was on social networks, social news sites, video shares and forums as well as social communication channels like Twitter.

The trailer hit theaters as a lead in to the Keanu Reeves’ movie, a re-adaptation of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. The first real big buzz coming Friday night. A smaller bit of buzz about the Wolverine movie came during Comic Con this year where they showed a slightly different trailer.

So how did 20th Century Fox stumble out of the gate on this one? There’s several ways, and as a marketer who’s well versed in online media, it just frustrated me to no end that these big movie houses still just do not get online marketing in any sense of the form.

What Happens When You Can’t Find The Website?

Let’s start with their website. Think you can find the official Wolverine website by typing in Wolverine Movie? How about Wolverine Movie Trailer? How about using it’s official movie title “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? Nada – Zippo – Zilch. All through out the weekend I tried, today I took screen caps – no where in the top 10, take a look below (click the thumbnails to get a larger view).

Wolverine Movie Google Search   Wolverine Movie Trailer Google Search   X-Men Origins Wolverine Google Search

X-Men Origins Wolverine Official Site Google SearchTheir website is in flash, totally absolutely in flash with absolutely no content a search engine’s spider can read. The only thing it can read is the title tag for this site. Talk about being invisible to the search engines, and to the rabid Wolverine fans! It wasn’t until I typed in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine Official Site” did I get the movie site to come up in Google. Now tell me who the heck is going to type that in, other than me who was bound and determined to find the official site?

Video, Video, Video… It’s Where the People Are At

Now lets go to the subject of the trailer. Talk about needing to loosen control! 20th Century Fox definitely needs to loosen their death grip if they aren’t going to put their trailer out on their site the same day they release it in a movie theater. They also need to realize that when they don’t come up for “Wolverine Trailer” for their own site, they need to have it ranking else where, or someone else will. On Friday, Saturday and early Sunday there was still no Wolverine trailer on the official site, what in the world is wrong with their marketing team? Granted today when I went out to look the trailer is now there.

People were clamoring to see this trailer who didn’t want to go see this movie. Let me tell you, as a comic book gal, and a XMen fan from my childhood years, I was clamoring to see this trailer. I’ve been waiting like the rest of the XMen fans since the last movie to get more. We all scour the internet for clues, tidbits and the slightest bit of information we can glean to satisfy our need.

Thus why looking for this trailer became an obsessions with not just me, but others as well over the weekend. According to Groundswell, the author Charlene Li, points out that 29% of the people in social media are watching videos other people have made. Google was pulling down more trailers of Wolverine this weekend than you can imagine. But people were still searching for this trailer on YouTube and any other video share they could find.

Wolverine Trailer Search on YouTube

The Fans Take Action…. 20th Century Fox Misses Out

I did find it on another video share, I’m not going to say where, because I don’t want to see it taken down. I found another trailer from Comic Con too – and what’s amazing about that video, it captures people cheering during the trailer, talk about fandom! Cheering during a trailer – now that speaks volumes.

People were videoing the trailer from their phones while in the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. They uploaded it to video shares and blogged about it. Why did they do this? 1) they love XMen, Wolverine in particular 2) they recognized that 20th Century Fox wasn’t filling their need or the need of others.

No where on YouTube is there an official Wolverine, 20th Century Fox, or Marvel Channel for the movie. What 20th Century Fox doesn’t realize is that there is real buzz going on about this movie. One look at Google Insights tells the story. Just over this weekend searches for Wolverine skyrocketed, several terms are break out terms with searches increasing over 1000% (I don’t get the big surge in Michigan though). None of these terms are pushing traffic towards the official XMen site either, and if you notice, none of these terms use the long arduous title that 20th Century Fox Does.

click images for a larger view
Google Insights - Wolverine - Trend and Map Data  Google Insights - Wolverine - Search Trend Data

So this leads to showing you the audience, a lesson in strategy in combining both SEO and Social Media strategies together when you are launching something big. When you understand online media, and aren’t having such a death grip on control of your brand, you can reap huge rewards. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, they are just making their fans of XMen and Wolverine not like them very much.

And btw the way, yes I did a fan girl squeal when I saw Gambit. 😉 ahhh Remmy LeBeau makes me weak!

Barack’s Youth Vote Energized by Social Media

Youth Vote for Obama - Picture by Washington PostAccording to CIRCLE, a nonpartisan research center studying youth engagement and civic education, without the youth vote, Barack Obama might have had one heck of a time winning this year’s election. That’s just how energized and how active a part in the campaign the youth vote has became. The youth overall turned out in record numbers this year. Although the increase might not seem big at first, a conservative estimate is only at 1% right now since votes are technically still being counted with the absentee and early voter ballots from 30+ states, that percentage is sure to rise.

Young Voters Favored Barack Obama 2 to 1

The youth vote was amazing, especially in Obama’s case. Voters in they age group of 18-29 voted for Obama 66% to McCain’s 32%, that’s over a 2 to one advantage. When you look at the higher age brackets, above 45 and especially above 65, McCain did better. Apparently thought, there were a lot more youth coming out to vote to overcome the over 65 difference that favored McCain.

When you also stop to think that this youth vote was also partially responsible for helping to get the word out and even drive people to the polls, the Obama campaign owes that age group a debt a gratitude. Without them, it might have been impossible to win, especially in those traditional red states. What’s even more impressive, these young voters broke away from the tradition of following their parents’, meaning that they made up their own minds and didn’t vote for a candidate because their Mother or Father did.

Barack Obama Engaged Youth Vote Through Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Flickr, YouTube, AIM, Yahoo Messenger. Today’s youth, or “The Millenials” as they are called by the media, generally discuss or consult everything with their social networks online before they make a decision. Morley Winograd & Michael D. Hais, the co-authors of “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics”, classify this group as the “Barney” generation. That’s right, that big ol’ purple dinosaur is back to torture us again, but in this case its lead this segment of the population to figure out their problems together, and that’s why this age group is turning to these social media sites.

Barney Generation - Photo from PBS KidsThe Barack Obama campaign figured out that utilizing the social media platforms to engage the youth in issues that they care about the most – paying for college, energy independence, the environment, health care, etc., was the most effective way to get them engaged. By having already engaged supporters reach out to their own network of friends, the “fire”, “buzz”, “movement” just spread. From the original networks, it spread to the friends-of-friends-of-friends. The engaged volunteers helped to make over 1 million calls, put up road signs, hand out stickers, drive voters to the polls, register their neighbors as voters and even write in independent blogs so their own network of peers could be informed about the campaign and the issues it was taking a stand on.

Not only did they write in blogs, they made videos, they took pictures, they created art online, they had contests and online watch parties. All of these promoted through social media. This all leads me to call Barack Obama the First Social Media President.

The question now becomes can Barack Obama continue to keep these young voters energized and actively engaged in these civic roles they just filled? Can he continue to tap into their mindset to help him look at issues as he governs in the White House, or will they just do like every other campaign has done in the past …. and forget about these enthusiastically charged voters? That’s the real question.

What Can Companies Take Away from Obama’s Use of Social Media?

Companies can certainly look at the strategies employed by the Obama campaign and learn a heck of a lot. If you are trying to reach the ages of 18 up to even 40, Social Media is definitely a way to actively engage with and audience who can become very enthusiastic and charged up. They can also easily communicate through mediums readily available and already active, rather than building out whole new marketing ideas, plans, strategies and so forth.

Social Media is definitely going main stream, especially after this election. Marketers will look to what it did for Obama’s campaign and think “I want that success, too!” Unfortunately it doesn’t always instantly translate for everyone. The key is to have a strategy and know where your audience is. If you don’t know that, it’s pretty much like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks.

Offline & Online Marketing Convergence – Missing Out on Key Opportunities

Sometimes I get a little frustrated when I see things in an offline environment, and I cannot find head nor tail of it online. Has that ever happened to you?

Techno Twins Comercial from AT&T on YouTubeRemember those AT&T Wireless commercials from about a year ago, where one person said they went from city to city, the background would move behind them to reflect those cities, and they’d come up with some weird concoction of a city name like PhilaDevMunichopolis? I thought those commercials were clever and wanted to show them to my mother without having to wait around for the commercial to actually appear on TV. Do you think I could find them on the AT&T site? Hell no! Think I could find them on YouTube? Hell no! The closest I could find was a blog post about them because of the director Wes Anderson. The videos though, are no longer on YouTube, and don’t play on the blog post.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

Now AT&T has “the techno twins, Slad and Veeder”, I laugh every time I see this commercial. This time, AT&T has stepped up a little bit better, they have their own YouTube channel and have the commercial out there. But here’s the thing, it’s not on their website! You would think they’d have this as a widget in their front page. These commercials are catchy – from the family going to a nude beach in Spain by mistake, to the guy who’s checking into some shady French hotel, they are funny and they get people talking about AT&T – people go to their site and get disappointed.

However, take a trip and go to their service centers and all their commercials are being played on a loop in the waiting area ( I had to back in May). Now, that’s monotonous when you’ve seen the guy in the pool hall missing out on concert tickets 8 times, and the other guy calling a client Mr. Stinky Fish Face.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

Travel + Leisure Magazine Front Page 10/31/2008Today, I was on MSNBC, and I clicked to watch a video segment from the Today show about “23 secret beach retreats”. It was about a 4 minute segment, with Nilou Motamed from Travel + Leisure magazine. I got interested of course, I’m a beach bum at heart. I then went to Travel + Leisure’s website to look for the rest of the list since the Nilou only discussed 4 places with Meredith Vieira, gosh darnit, I wanted to know the 19 others!

Travel + Leisure didn’t have the article anywhere on its front page for me to click, not even giving me a tidbit and then have to pay to see the rest. They didn’t even have an image of their latest magazine’s front page on their site, so that if I wanted to go pick up the magazine because of this article, I would know it’s there – I remembered a brief flash of it in the interview and thought I saw it, but wasn’t sure. Then there’s MSNBC, no link to an actual article on the video.

Thank goodness I’m a bit more technically savvy, and decided to check out the Today Show website. It wasn’t on the main page of the Today Show, so from there I clicked into the Travel section, and found the article, it’s 2 pages on the site, with very little to really go on. I suspect this is to draw in the person to either buy the magazine or go to Travel + Leisure’s site. Two problems here with going to Travel + Leisure’s site 1) I’m not sure at this point, if that magazine on the shelf has my article 2) Travel + Leisure isn’t featuring this article on their site.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

Carnival Cruise Lines - World Record PinataHas your Public Relations department let your Online Marketing folks know about that special event you are planning? Carnival Cruise Lines apparently does.

Carnival is planning to break a world record for the largest pinata, ever. 6 foot tall this thing is suppose to be. I’ve heard about it on the news, and on the radio, since it’s suppose to happen here where I live in the Philadelphia area (home of the 2008 World Series Champs – The Phillies). I go to Carnival’s site and they’ve got the information about this right on their front page, featured front and center.

Talk about pulling things together and getting it right.

So these instances always lead me back to my clients, and making sure their offline efforts are easily found online. As our population becomes increasing web savvy, and relies more and more on finding things on the internet whether it’s going through a companies site, or even through Google to find something, stop and think – Are you tying all your marketing efforts together?

Don’t be an AT&T, or a Travel + Leisure magazine, don’t miss out on the opportunities. It can end up costing you branding opportunities, relationship building opportunities, the chance to create brand evangelists or even sales. Make sure that you have someone pulling together all the ends of your marketing strategy, not just one or two.