Maggie Fox, a Toronto-based expert in social media, contends that when you're building a social network, you don't create communities, you join them.
Part 2 of our conversation (distilled below) is about bringing together communities online.
Mark Tovey: You were mentioning a site in Toronto -- http://www.takingitglobal.org/ -- can you tell me a little about that?
Maggie Fox: As far as I know, that site has a population of a hundred thousand, and they organize as any other social networking site is organized. Same concept, same paradigm. And what they do is organize groups around issues. You start a group. And you say this is my issue. And here's all the information around it, as much background information as you can provide, from what I understand. And people who are interested join the group, and you begin to engage in activities. You can send out messaging to them, like "here's what we're going to do," "We're going to meet at this date at this place," or whatever the group activity is. Or whatever it is you need help with. You can then source it from this group of people you know are interested. You've connected with this community of interest.
MT: Have you seen examples of communities where people are getting together in a social networking capacity, and creating things together, designing things together, and what might be some examples of that? Or lessons learned for producing that?
MF: A good example would be something like podcamp. Which is a podcast camp for people interested in podcasting. Totally collaborative, totally online. Wiki-based. So they usually set up a wiki. If you're interested in attending, you just edit the wiki, add your name, your email address, or whatever, and then the organizers will host updates to the wiki--and say "look we need help with this," or "we need help with that"--and collaboratively the group of people who are interested in participating helps the group come together. So that's probably a pretty good example.
MT: You talked about joining existing communities, rather than trying to seek to create communities. And how do you reach out to engage with a particular community? How do you identify those people, communicate to them, send the right messages to the right groups?
MF: If you want to join a conversation, you've got to listen to what people are talking about. And so basically we do an outreach process, where we--using the tools that are available to us--identify all of the people in that niche. You identify whatever your target group is, find out what they're talking about, do a top level analysis, make recommendations on that. Every situation is completely different, because individuals are all completely different. Groups are all completely different. Clients are different. And all of their needs are completely different. So there's no "here's what you do." It's listen, see what they're up to, how they behave, what they want. And try to give it to them. And try to download the stuff in a way that's meaningful to them. Because you have to add some value, or else, what are you doing?
MT: What gives people the tangible feedback to know the companies are listening?
MF: I think that any company that engages in social media -- any kind of social media enterprise--whatever form that might take--is showing their marketplace that they're listening. Of course the proof is in the pudding. Social media is a long tail game. It's not a super-fantastic popular blog instantly. It's something that takes time, because building relationships takes time. The reality is that if you have a stronger connection with the people who buy your things, and they feel like you're listening to them, and if they feel that you care about them, that's probably the sweet spot that every business wants to be in. There's nothing more attractive than being listened to--customers love it--and if you're listening to them, and you're actually able to take that business intelligence and feed it back into what you do, so that that is reflected in what you do, that's pretty much a winning combination. That's why people did focus groups, right? It's just really about making it all human.
Part One of my interview with Maggie Fox is about disruptive media technologies.