Jul 5, 2011

Social Media Cannibals: When Communities Are Left Unchecked

Building a vibrant social media community faces a daily tug-of-war. On one side is your company’s brand, and on the other side are the competing agendas of employees trying to create personal brands. If the personalities are not managed they can cannibalize your corporate brand.

The challenge for many companies is to determine how much freedom to give their staff in social media. To manage this tension many companies have restricted who can and cannot participate on social media. Anyone outside of the privileged few are required to have their activities verified by legal prior to publication. The problem with this approach is it fundamentally limits a brand’s ability to scale its social media presence. The restrictive attitude stifles creativity, innovation and participation.

At the other extreme, companies jump into social media with no governance at all. It’s a free-for-all. Sometimes this works, but usually it’s unfocused and unproductive. When you have too many leaders vying for attention, it can get ugly – real ugly.

It’s similar to cannibalization amongst chickens. If you put too many chickens in a coop they will begin to peck and pluck each other to compete for space and food. As the chickens exert their dominance their pecking can get out of control, and deteriorate into cannibalization. What is fascinating about this behavior is if it is left too long the cannibalizing can become a social norm in the flock. The density issues can be resolved, but the aggressive behavior does not dissipate.

Both extremes need to be avoided. They’re counterproductive to building a thriving social media community that engages your customers and builds your brand online. You need your staff to be fully participating in the community, but they need structure too.

Community starts with purpose

A community can thrive when it’s loaded with strong leaders, but they need to be focused. Everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction, and working for the same goal. This is described as a Stage 4 Group in the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright.

Dave Logan et al. define a Stage 4 Group as a tribe working together to achieve a common goal. The participants align their personal ambitions and desires with the purpose of the group. They hold each other accountable, they make-up for any gaps and shortcomings, and they work as a single unit. This is vastly different from a Stage 3 Group where everyone is working for their own advantage, and competing with one another for supremacy – similar to the chicken coop scenario.

To create a Stage 4 Group, the community needs purpose: a purpose that unifies your team, and enables everyone to contribute in growing and scaling the community together. This purpose is what shifts the team from a “me” to an “us” perspective.

As you look at your social media group’s purpose ask: Why are people participating? How should they contribute? What do they hope to accomplish? What will they get in return?

Give roles and structure

Having a purpose is only the starting point. Your team needs to know how to focus their talents and contribute effectively. What should they do? How do they know they’re doing a good job? What is the destination they are striving for?

Companies rely on functional departments such as operations, marketing and sales coupled with job descriptions to provide structure. A similar model can be applied to organizing your social media group. In your social media strategy you will need recruiters, moderators, content creators, subject matter experts and organizers to support the growth and development of the group. You can draw on departments such as sales and customer service and build on their strengths. Sales can support recruiting and engagement, while customer service can handle inquiries and questions.

Let your team know their respective roles in building the community, how they can contribute and what it means to be successful. Set it up so each member can make a meaningful contribution that fulfills the group’s purpose.

All hands on deck

Building a community needs people – lots of people. The more talent you can leverage from your organization to support and grow your social media community the better.

One of the challenges of growing your social media group is achieving a critical mass. Often the magic number is 1,000 followers. The first 1,000 followers are hard to recruit, but the next two or three thousand come much quicker. When my team and I launched the Sticky Branding Group on LinkedIn last year it took us eight months to reach 1,000 members, but then we tipped. We’ve added 8,000 more members in the past six months, and are growing at over 400 new members per week.

By leveraging the strengths of your team, you can build a thriving social media community. One that builds your brand, engages your customers and creates a meaningful experience for your staff. The key is to create the community’s structure and purpose from the get-go. Social media is broad and nebulous, but with the right infrastructure you can create a community greater than the sum of its parts.

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