6 Ways to Succeed With Social Networks

For you who have created social networks, what do you do to drive activity and success on your networks?

I recently asked that question over on LinkedIn. Let’s put the answers I got in groups, and talk a bit about them.

Participate in the conversation; follow up; create momentum; show up
Stay active and have a deep commitment

One respondent remarked, “You can stay ahead of 90% of the people by just showing up.” That’s the truth.

Make no mistake about it: creating and running a “social” network is work. It’s an everyday commitment; of the million or so Ning “social” groups (Ning is an online service that allows anyone to create, customize, and share a social network) that have been created on that network over the last year, about 80% of them are inactive or abandoned. This is partly because about one million of the platform’s 25,000 or so members one day got this hare-brained idea to create a network that, for some, was going to make them rich.

When the money didn’t emerge during the first week, they lost interest. Their commitment vaporized as their disappointment ballooned. Instant gratification rarely occurs on these networks and it takes a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and toil to get these organizations up and running, and then another Herculean push to make them profitable. They’re processes, not events. Many failed because their creators did not understand on the front-end that in order to be profitable you may have to spend startup company hours on the site to make it happen. You have to show up — consistently — every day, and yes, even on weekends.

Be a psychologist
Strike nerves
Listen, a lot

Recruiting Animal says that playing a psychologist is ridiculous and dilutes the class purpose; I say it isn’t so. Phone sourcing is very much about understanding the human nature of the caller and the recipient of the call. These days, as troubled as people are about what’s happening in the world, a forum in which they can express themselves, ask questions, and have them answered (sometimes anonymously) goes a great deal toward helping people.

My followers have told me that there’s a great sense of relief knowing that they’re not alone in this historic downturn. When the economy rebounds, these people will remember and feel some commitment toward the sites and the people who run these sites. So in some sense of the concept, yes, the doctor is in.

Give up control; let others help you
Give back with advice, support, opinion, shared knowledge
Be honest and authentic
Be consistent with tone and messaging

People hear it immediately when you’re sending messages that are nothing but self-serving. Hey, I’m the Queen of Self-Serving, I know. I have to be — I’m self-employed.

But I like to think that I deliver enough value that my readers roll their eyes, chuckle, and pass over my not-so-subtle pleas to buy my stuff for the good center-of-the-plate content. Yet try as I do, I have some trouble with the giving-up-control portion; it’s hard for me, and I have to work on it.

I think I may have a trust issue — as in, I only trust myself to take care of me — but I realize that to be successful in this thing called social/business media, you need to place your trust in others. It is paradoxical then that during this economic downturn, some social media users are in fact placing their blind trust in others but you have to be smart about it. You have to know who and when to believe — including yourself.

Make membership in the community viral; strive for a critical mass for sustainability and autonomy
Reward contributors
Twitter new content
We are engaged but many business people are not

Many of us who run these networks lose sight of the fact that the majority of our target audience doesn’t have the foggiest idea we exist, or that networks like ours exist at all. No kidding. It’s easy to adopt a center-of-the-universe mentality when much of your waking and what could be sleeping hours are consumed with monitoring your sites, tweaking them almost beyond recognition and, all in all, being obsessed with driving your “numbers.”

Numbers are important, but not nearly as important as the “active” numbers who show up and participate on your site. Participation can take a number of forms — they may be “readers” who come for the content, they may be contributors who religiously bring content to share with others, or they may be gadflies who come to look around, land on a subject and then seek to create controversy. Many times gadflies are creating their own brands in the process, and that’s okay. I love these types: they’re the ones who drive traffic, in my opinion, and are fun to watch in action and help to, as my friend Steve Levy reminds me, “make life worth living.” In the future, I believe these last two types are going to be highly rewarded.

Highly focused niches = higher values
E-mail list of members at least once a month
Host a private, invitation-only event in a different city each month
Let other networks know you exist
Create content that is valuable to the target audience

This is interesting to me because I believe as “social” media evolves, tightly focused communities are going to deliver greater and greater values to their members. I think those are the ones to watch. Here on ERE I think the groups are true and reflective subsets of the community and I also think if communities like ERE would allow group moderators access to their own group members, much greater viability could emerge from them. Active group moderators would have more freedom to do many of the things listed above. This kind of hearkens back up to the “Give up control — let others help you” advice, doesn’t it?

The one above that says “Host a private, invitation-only event in a different city each month” is interesting. The transition from online to in-person seems to happen these days, as friendships that started online “evolve” into flesh-and-bone meetings that have the opportunity to evolve further into deeper relationships. This does not rule out the fact that online relationships can remain valuable and meaningful and evolve just like as these in-person meet-ups. It’s a new and emerging phenomenon in our society, but I see nothing wrong with people meeting one-on-one if that’s their cup of tea. But I also see nothing wrong with people keeping things online, especially for business. A handshake can be delivered either way for skillful marketers.

Become an advocate/evangelist
Nurture it like a garden

If you do many of the things listed above, your “brand” will emerge. After all, as we were talking about earlier, isn’t that exactly what you want from all this time you spend on these “social” networks? I love the garden-tending advice. That’s exactly what it is: a network is a garden that must be planted, sprinkled, fertilized, watered, flooded once or so a season, hoed, weeded, sprinkled again, hoed some more, hoed, hoed, and hoed. If you do all those things, your “produce” will be bountiful. But it takes time. A seed doesn’t pop up overnight.

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