Social media are dominating both our private and business lives. A level playing field has been created where everything and everyone is connected and where being social determines your success. Associations are also finding their way within those media. What is the best route?
We live in a time when Facebook is approaching a billion profiles, you can happily twitter along with any TV programme and your LinkedIn profile determines your value on the labour market. But in business, too, social media channels and their associated advisors abound. What can and should we be doing with them? Time to step aside and look at what this is actually all about.
In short, a level playing field has been created where everything and everyone is connected and where being social determines success. The mutual links forged at lightning pace with each new social tool or network generate their own dynamics and create a social layer over the Internet. To make use of that social layer, you also have to adopt a social attitude as a person or organisation. Relationships with members and your total position within this gigantic social network are built on the contribution you make. The dividing line between the wisdom of the crowds and the anger of the crowds is thin.
The route from a classically set-up organisation to a future socially-driven organisation, where social interaction with members and supporters is fully imbedded in the operational management, is a long road with many a pothole. Based on the Social Media Adoption Curve, a number of highly recognisable stages can be defined through which that transformation passes. Theoretically, associations can skip a number of major stages in this transformation because the relationship with the members is, naturally, already the central issue. The dynamics of an association can be compared with those of a social network, as long as the association is correctly integrated into the social layer and making use of relevant social channels.
To benefit optimally from the value and dynamics of social media, it is good idea to take a close look at a number of steps in the Adoption Curve (see figure 1).
It will have escaped the notice of few communications professionals that the rise of social media is changing the world. Building communities, managing conversations, putting the individual first, everyone has an opinion on the topic. Every communications manager is probably wrestling with the issue of how social media can be incorporated into the communication mix as a structural element. The Adoption Curve and its associated phases can provide a foothold. This shows that two major mind shifts have to be made. Firstly that from ‘sending’ to ‘entering into dialogue’ and secondly that from ‘gaining value’ to ‘exchanging value’.
Once the move has been made and a Facebook page or Twitter account has been opened, it will initially often be approached as a new channel in the existing mix, where the number of contacts or reach is seen as the criterion, like pouring old wine in new digital bottles. But having a Facebook fanbase, collected by means of smart marketing campaigns, or your Twitter account having a wide reach due to the deployment of smart tools is far from having a community. It might give you a wide potential reach, but more important is what then happens with the contacts that have been built up. Broadcasting information has to make way for conversation and encouraging dialogue. Starting conversations or responding in public to individual issues via the social channels is gradually facilitating the shift from broadcast to a dialogue between the organisation and its fans. Only once a healthy dialogue has been established where organisation, members and stakeholders are communicating can a further phase be embarked upon in which relationships are built up.
To gain insight into the dynamics of relationships, we can fall back on ‘social capital’, a concept from sociology. Social capital assumes that social networks, relationships and communities are built on the exchange of value. The more value you are able to add to a social network, the greater your social capital and, consequentially, the stronger your position in the network in question. Actively managing social capital from an organisational perspective not only strengthens your position in a social network but also works as a catalyst in generating value. The value generated by co-creation processes is a good example.
To build on relationships, as an organisation, and to gain insight into the process of value exchange, it is important to gain an understanding of the kind of dynamics in social networks. Content becomes the lubricant for building relations through conversations. The value being transferred determines the social currency. The social currency model is based on the following values:
1. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE, such as most virals or branded games
2. INFORMATIONAL VALUE, such as white papers and news items
3. UTILITY VALUE, such as apps and web applications that simplify processes
4. FINANCIAL VALUE, such as discount campaigns and free samples
5. PERSONAL VALUE, based on enhancing the image or the status of the relationship
Every successful app, viral video or trending topic can be gauged using this social currency model. They all score in at least one of these dimensions, as they all add value. Ensure, therefore, that you always test the content (of the online messages) for value and always ask yourself the social question essential to the other side: ‘What’s in it for them’?
FROM REACH TO VALUE
To make optimal use of the opportunities of the social network, therefore, it is important to build up social capital. This is one of the most important shifts organisations have to make in successfully deploying the dynamics of social networks: changing from an often one-sided organisation-driven perspective to a social perspective, with building social capital and therefore value exchange as the central focus. Organisations have to change their focus from building reach to adding value. Collecting as many followers or likes is therefore not the most important thing. Instead, organisations should attempt to distribute the most relevant information possible and enter into conversations. The social capital and relationships that enable you to build through social networks are a major gauge of an organisation’s social success.
FROM VALUE CHAIN TO VALUE NETWORK
Whereas classic marketing is still often based on Porter’s value chain, the social layer of the Internet ensures that the creation and exchange of value is more evenly distributed amongst individuals and organisation. For a long time, companies, organisations and associations have taken an egocentric attitude and put their own interests above those of customers and members, making value creation primarily one-way traffic. To regain a place within the new social layer, they therefore have to contribute something with immediately obvious value. Various forms of co-creation, such as the way LEGO reinvented itself by structurally binding consumers to itself and DELL’s continuous brainstorming with IdeaStorm, are examples of how, as an organisation, you can make use of networks for creating value for your company. The ultimate form of value exchange.
Not only will stakeholders, members and fans therefore better evaluate or recommend organisations from their position within their own value network, on the basis of exchanged value; they are also a catalyst for creating value for the organisation itself. Analysing and creating value networks is chiefly about finding and bringing together the right people. People with the same interests, shared passions or a particular brand perception can therefore be a catalyst for companies, organisations or brands for value creation and are the ultimate objective of a social organisation.
FROM ASSOCIATION TO VALUE NETWORK
To successfully integrate into the social layer it is therefore important to take a social attitude yourself, as an organisation or association. The difference between associations and brands and companies is that associations are, by nature, already a step further: The relationships an association maintains with its members constitute an asset many companies can only dream of. Member participation is better in one association than another. That can probably be attributed to the added value the association succeeds in providing for its members. The less value, the less activity and vice versa. Linking individual members to specific interests or linking specific functions through social tools facilitates value exchange. The big advantage of an association is that the connection to specific interests or passions has, naturally, already been made. When that connection is enhanced on social media and conversations are initiated, then suggestions can be put forward from fans and media and political events can be capitalised upon. That provides value and therefore support for decisions. And that is ultimately what matters in an association.
This article appeared in the June issue of VM, a journal for professionals working in associations, sector organisations and professional bodies.