I have always been a bit of a trekkie. One of my favorite Star Trek phrases is Captain Kirk's, "Engage". I prefer it to Captain Piccard's "Make it so". Engaging customers is on the mind of most everyone in business. One of the key differentiators between new media, especially social media, and more traditional 'paid media' is that the former offers a greater ability to engage. Most brands have a real desire to engage the customer, but fail make the investment required to create more than a one way conversation.
Traditional mass media has always been a one way conversation. I love Seth Godin's first law of mass media: "Organizations will work tirelessly to de-personalize every communication medium they encounter." Last June, Chris Brogan blogged that, "the difference between audience and community is which direction the chairs point." Many organizations understand the benefits of social interaction but few used the tools available to built a community.
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are three keys to building community through social media:
Produce consistent, regular content: I have observed that many brands have jumped on the social media bandwagon, but fail to generate consistent, regular content. They may 'drop' a blog post or a tweet here and there, much like a bird flying over on a summer day. You never know where it will drop (they quality may be about the same as the bird dropping too). No follow-up, no discussion, and very inconsistent. Folks, if you are serious about building community, generate consistent, regular content.
Authentic content: Is your message self-serving? "We want you to buy x" or "Join us at x to see y". Post like these to any social media portal will not build community. Engage the audience and build trust. The audience can see through a non-authentic content. (Check out Important Steps in Building Authentic Social Media by Graeme Newell).
Relevant content: Liz Strauss wrote in November 2005 that "Content without "relevant" is less than content." She was specifically talking about SEO techniques, but this is a profound statement. SEO is important if you want to build a community (they have to find you). Ultimately your content will engage the audience only if it is relevant to their interest and values. I frequent several blogs and blogs. By frequent, I mean daily. Why? I am part of the community and those communities are focused on content that interest me. Be relevant!
If you want your social media strategy to be successful and if you want to build an enduring community: be consistent, be authentic and be relevant. Transform your audience into a community.