A client mentioned to me recently the pressing need to deliver, “strong results, quickly,” from the community engagement programme I was being asked to deliver. I’ve been asked for that before of course. Almost every time a client or prospect sticks their hand in the air it’s to ask for the required strong results in a timeframe that almost always equates to the specifics or generalities of, ‘quickly’.
So, once and for all, the desire to build and manage an online community of brand evangelists is admirable. Well done. That’s the right path. Customers have moved online and you want to communicate with them on their terms within their online environments. Good news. But. (You knew there was a ‘but’ coming, right?)
But, you can’t snap your fingers and build an engaged community. You can’t bitch and moan and delay and procrastinate and squeeze costs and when you finally take an incremental step forward (usually a small one) expect the miraculous creation of a venerated online citadel overnight. It doesn’t work that way – for all the reasons that you originally agreed to. It’s the customer’s community. Unless and until you prove otherwise, your brand is the guest. Whether your brand is a welcome guest, a tolerated one or a toothless, flatulent aunt who sups tea out of a saucer, depends in no small part on how ‘quickly’ you press for ‘strong results’. Rome wasn’t built in a day. No one in the history of the world has ever delivered a website on time. So why is there the expectation that social community building is a switch-on, switch-off commodity?
It’s the opposite. Online communities need beliefs and principals on which they can be built. They need nurturing and inspiring. Content needs to be created and crafted and curated and shared and distributed. Personalities need to be identified. Influencers and influences need to be moderated, adjusted, supported. There’s a whole world of pain you’re about to switch on and you are clueless because you’re still treating it like a mailing campaign from the late ‘80s.
There was a certain comfort in the tactical campaign delivery of yesteryear – design it, print it, mail it. Achieve a predictable response from a predictable channel and then do it all over again. But community engagement isn’t a tactical play. It’s strategic. Building online relationships requires a fundamental shift in marketing perspective. It’s not promotional, or lead generating, or conducted at arms length. It’s attitudinal. It’s behavioural - how an organization feels about customers and prospective customers – and it’s conducted up close and personal for the whole world to see and engage with. Or not.
Either way, on the subject of Community Engagement, you’re no longer allowed to ask me to ‘deliver strong results quickly’ – not unless you have the first clue about quickly delivering strong, integrated, digital, social and content strategies to sit alongside them. Quickly is the decision you should have made five years ago. Quickly is the speed at which news travels within your competitors’ established online communities. Quickly is how our meeting’s going to end.
The results may come quickly, or they may not. At which point, you have a choice – tactically try to put the genie back in the bottle, or, strategically, make a longer term investment in the needs of your customer instead of the short term needs of the quarter end figures. Whatever you decide, at least you know how to attach some urgency to the matter now. Move quickly? Yes. Deliver strong results? Absolutely. In the same sentence? Forget it. From now on, ah izz juss gonna take mah time…