Principles of the Social Web – Let them guide you.

Retro TV CommercialPR isn’t press releases, media lists or speeches. Social media isn’t a list of tools either –blogs, wikis, Twitter. Social media is a group of organizing principles; the actions that communities (not an audience that soaks up one-way messages) notice and appreciate.  Great content is a must in order to enable community and conversation, but it’s not just content.

We have plenty of (dead) content on our corporate Web sites (including first attempts at on-site blogging which is usually just a new name for an article database.) Ironically, a lot of it is really helpful stuff that businesses and the greater community could benefit from if only it was presented dynamically and people were discussing it. Re purposing some of this content using social media principles would get a lot more traction for the firm.

The reason some people win and some people lose on the social Web, why some catch on and some don’t, why it works for some and not for others is determined, I think, by how closely the individuals regard the principles of engagement on the social Web. (This is actually true in both on-line and off-line relationships. Remember the last time you got cornered at a cocktail reception by the guy that was so awesome –in his own opinion?)

If you’re still trying to sell social media tools to your law firm, may I suggest that you re-think your goal and begin selling value. There is truly value in the medium, as a marketing tool. Certainly the tools you use and the content you publish on social networks and blogs is a part of it, but without the involvement of community it’s just an advertisement.  I’m writing a more detailed post on how marketers can communicate the value of the social Web, meanwhile, sorting through my EVERNOTES, I stumbled upon this gem of a post from way back in October of 2007 on the Now Is Gone blog. (I recommend the book, with the same title, too!)

For anyone who is new to the social Web or can use a little refresher course here’s one of the best posts about principles of the social Web. Seems just too good to not to reprise.

The Seven Principles

1) Do not try to control the message: Command and control is dead. Social media experts have been touting this for years now, but it still seems to be relevant issue. Though must folks out here get it, businesses are still struggling with relinquishing control. Let’s put it in the context of a relationship — which is the core of traditional PR and again, now with social media marketing.

Two-way communications are the heart of any relationship. Controlled relationships are considered dysfunctional on an individual basis, and from a large community standpoint, authoritative or dictatorships. Since social media is inherently two-way, a controlling entity that enters the community will be met with anger, distrust, and either rebellion or deaf ears.

2) Honesty, ethics and transparencies are musts: How can you have a relationship with one person or many if you don’t behave well? This isn’t about baring trade secrets or intellectual property. It’s about basic human relations, and creating a strong foundation for long-term, two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Think about the golden rule here.

3) Participation within the community is marketing (Heuer): Just creating content is not enough. That’s still a one-way mindset. Get out there into the customer’s realm. Comment and contribute to larger community groups and social networks. Read customer and related blogs (or vlogs and podcasts), and interact with the writers.

In short, your organization cannot become respected by the community unless it is actually part of the community. The Dell approach is a great example of this. Not only does Dell host blogs and community sites, it is actively engaging the community on its turf.

4) Communication to audiences is an out-dated 20th century concept (Rosen): An audience is a 20th century mass communications approach. Audiences receive one-way communications — movies, radio broadcasts, speeches, etc. Thanks to social media the audience talks back, forcing organizations to address them in a conversational, two-way manner.

Some people feel the difference between an audience and a community is splitting hairs. However, there is a tonal difference. One is command and control oriented, and the other engaging and community-based. The long-term results should be self-evident with a much more active discussion.

5) Build value for the community: This is a strategic principle. When looking to “market,” know your community. It is only by listening, reading and understanding them that you can serve them with valuable information. Building value for a community means a core decision to create content for them.

6) Inspire your community with real, exciting information, not corporate propaganda: Understand your community has problems, and you have some answers. Creating content for them does not mean give them a press release. It means give them Great Content, fight for their interest, and deliver great content that talks to them and their concerns. Don’t waste their time with BS product details, or an occasional press release, and instead remember that your job is to build intrinsic value.

7) Intelligently manage your media forms (RSS, frequency, etc.) to build a stronger, loyal community: Intelligently creating content to build a community means making it easy for community members to come back. Create calls to action, manage your RSS feeds intelligently, make them obvious and accessible. And don’t let them lie fallow. Create content on a schedule so readers’ expectations of regular updates are met.

Are you still selling tools? It may take more of your time and a one-to-one conversation to demonstrate value, but it will be worth it. Watching a Webinar on how to use Facebook or Twitter is helpful, but only if you have your principles in the right place. What do you think?

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