How do we achieve that great inclusive social experience that’s so much more than posting your ads on Facebook, YouTube and Pininterest? Naturally, it’s about engagement and interaction with real people, with real needs and wants, not just technology. These are a few conclusions that I’ve come to about creating a good social experience online.
My Case Study:
My first social effort was in the late 90s when email addresses were the accoutrement of the trendy and domain names were a status symbol on a business card. Pretty close to the popular beginning of the internet. I grew up in a military community and all my old high school friends were scattered around the world. The first thing most of us did on the internet was try to connect.
- Email started generating mailing lists of updates with new friends as they were discovered. Mostly, the interaction was one-on-one.
- IRC brought us onto common ground in real time and a new paradigm to explore.
- Static websites were next, with picture galleries and forums for discussion.
- Web2.0 media were the next step, classmates, yahoo groups, and now Facebook.
It started with three 70′s students hooking up with six more and now numbers close to 10,000 alumni from this high school, covering 1949 to 1996, in many niche groups. All done non-commercially and organically, starting in the beginning and continuing today.
We’re still fighting to get Facebook to actually create a School page for Frankfurt American High School, to compliment the half dozen hobby pages that are active.
The Four ‘C’s of Social Engagement
Social fails often because it doesn’t generate ‘critical mass,’ that point where users begin to interact with each other and generate increasing amounts of content and interaction, forming durable relationships.
So, what creates this critical mass? What lights your social efforts on fire with intercourse? What are the environmental or experiential aspects that a user experience architect needs to consider for this ‘life-of-its-own’ engagement?
Is there a common ground for being there, a real reason? Is there something that makes people feel it aligns with their needs and that they are in the right place. So, will you find your fellow dog owners, health conscious people, old high school friends or [fill in the blank].
The experience must provide these reassurances and clearly identify itself. The need is to align the promise with the reality, and build the bond of trust with the user based upon delivery. You need the people who will get value from the experience, not just bums on seats.
You need to protect users from unplesantries and reinforce positives.
Only when you create a community can you become a member of it, breaking down the us-and-them perception.
Social interactions allow people to create. Is it just knowledge gained lurking that you apply in real life? Or, is it writing insightful, aggressive, comedic or socially confirming posts? Or, groovy pictures? Or,…?
Unlike other forms of entertainment, social interaction is active, and allows for self expression during consumption.
Good writing and contributors should be highlighted, multiple media options should be available for the user to flexibly choose how they publish, the options available to the user and the tools should be promoted. Can you come up with user interactions that promote creativity?
Everybody likes attention. Everybody likes recognition for their contributions. This is all part of the process of not only feeling needed, but feeling special. This third principle is what motivates some people to generate the highest quality content and add the most value to your social environment. Basically, its as simple as saying thank you, and allowing other people to do the same.
Things like the ‘like’, post ratings, authority ratings, comments. Perhaps, moderated promotion of key contributors on a rotating basis, x-references to other posts by writer, Hall of Fame posts, ‘best answer’ ratings within thread can be used? All these interface devices add to the potential for celebrity status.
And, What Goes Wrong
The discussion wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also talk about what goes wrong, what are the negatives one must manage around.
Personal Attacks and Bickering
No matter what, in the world of open discussion, people will get their nose out of joint. The key to preventing that is through moderation and guidelines, with enforcement. People pretty much conform to the social mores of a ‘community’ with token enforcement emboldening the citizens to be self policing.
A good thread quickly goes off when filled with personal off topic jockeying for intellectual position content. The negative is that the content becomes diluted and of less value to potential users and it has brand impact as well. Nothing wrong with sanitising threads of off topic content in lines with the terms and conditions.
This can also lead to the sundering of the community into polarised groups, essentially undoing the critical mass you are trying so hard to achieve.
There are instances where heated debate can generate dramatic amounts of traffic and engagement, but it all depends on the objectives. Quality vs bums on seats. There are cases for both.
Controlling the proliferation of ‘specialist’ sub, sub, sub, sub groups/sites/pages. How many is the right amount? It changes. Its best to start with one, then divide into more, as opposed to starting with a set of groups and trying to fill each up. Its about reaching critical mass as early as possible, and then keeping it.
Let moderated mitosis take place, based upon actual behavior. It is a user oriented answer, and more insightful to the market intelligence community.
Breaking the Contract
When people engage in an online community, they put effort and a bit of themselves into it, and in return, they expect the host to act in a manner they have been led to expect, and in line with their expectations. To suddenly change the deal breaks the trust so critical to developing the sense of community. You may notice the attitudes change significantly.
Yes, most importantly, lots of social efforts live in fear of criticism, or even simple heckling. They need to get over it and look at the opportunity. Here is a ‘misunderstanding’ that has provided us a legitimate opportunity to clarify and our value proposition. Or perhaps, it’s an even better opportunity to understand a user’s problems and make positive steps to solve them, demonstrating our value proposition.
So, if you the UX architect can create an environment where Community, Creativity and Celebrity are the characteristics of the experience, you’re on a path to success in getting Critical Mass.
Social has so much more to offer than just broadcasting on a new channel. It offers opportunity to:
- Engage and occupy more front of mind
- Listen to your customers and gather metrics
- Inform your customers on more complete and intimate levels
- Reinforce your brand values by doing instead of saying and build brand equity.
- And its great for organic SEO