I’m ignoring for this post that NOT participating would always be better than bad, negative, dishonest, undisclosed, paid, etc. participation.
I often hear (in fact I’ve said it myself in the past) that when it comes to community conversations about your products/services/company that it’s happening with or without you. Therefore the question is not about whether that conversation is a good thing or not, it is whether you will participate in the conversation or not. Further, I’ve suggested that in the future you WILL participate - it’s only a matter of time. Therefore, stop sitting on the fence and decide how to dive in and be a participant in conversations about you.
With this, I realized I haven’t talked about what participation means. Typically, when the topic of social media comes up, participation means taking explicit external engagement actions. Start a blog, comment on others blogs, launch an ideation site, answer questions in your own forums, contribute content to a wiki, tag, rate, etc, etc, etc. This is often a sticking point for companies - jumping in head first!
On the whole, I still say this is a reasonably good idea, but I’d like to suggest an even better place to start: Listen, categorize, inventory and review. Whether you use manual labor, Google alerts, or sophisticated sentiment analysis tools to crawl conversations might be determined by your size, ambition, budget or other constraints, but they are all good places to start.
Ask yourself through this process:
- What are people saying about you?
- What else do they talk about when they talk about you? (associations)
- Where are the conversations taking place?
- Who are the “most interesting” talkers? note: Define “most interesting” for you. Who talks the most and who is listened to the most are often not the same person!
- How big is the sphere of conversation?
This isn’t comprehensive, it’s just a primer. I’m sure others have good suggestions for questions to ask. The point is that listening actually is a form of participation and likely the smartest place to begin. Allow the listening phase to inform your approach to participation. Listening will actually answer many of the questions that have people on the fence about more active community participation.
So, still on the fence about “participation?” Ok, at least launch a listening process!
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