The Role Of Social Engineering In Social Media

socialWhat do Disney World and social media have in common? The answer to the question is social engineering. I recently gave a talk at LexisNexis about this topic and it was initially met with resistance… community and social media is all about collaboration and sharing, right? Right. But there are methods to achieving, designing, the experience for users to get what they need out of the engagement. Social engineering, though it sounds evil, can really serve your members well by providing them with the assistance to make the most out of their experience on your site.

There are two components to successful social media: there’s social design and technical design, both of which play an important role in establishing trust and creating vibrant online communities. From a technical perspective the community must be closely aligned to the needs and gratuitous features don’t always make for an engaging community. The features and the different technical offerings on the the goals of the group. So if a group needs to work on documents, there needs to be document-sharing capabilities; blogging, for example, and some of the newer, cooler features may not really be needed.

From a technical design perspective, trust can be established and displayed by matching the goals of the community with the functional features that they offer. More importantly and often forgotten are the social aspects of trust. Returning to the Disney World example; when you go to Disney World, there’s an awareness of what the needs of the constituents are before their needs become bothersome. They know exactly where to put the snack bars and rest rooms, and they let you know how long you’ll probably be waiting in line for your rides. That is a very important aspect of online community building as well, really to understand the psychographic and demographic profiles of the group that you’re building for.

You need to ask “Who are these people? What are their needs? How do they like to interact?” Break your constituencies into different groups of personas to predict some of their requirements, both informational and social. For example, “How much moderation do they need? How much handholding? Are they a self-sufficient group that can look up how to do things in a technical wiki? Or do they need more interpersonal interactions with the community builders?

Another driving need to to identify the business goals for the engagement activity and map then judiciously to the user experience. What are the rings of activities that you want the users to do on the community? Perhaps the first step is to log in and create a profile – then you design incentives around the fulfillment of that activity and track progress. Is is likely that you will create a goal of 60% (for example) login, and perhaps 40% profile submission. Next, perhaps, you will want the members to view a video on the site that discusses some company-centric new product offering. Well, the member will have a variety of choices about what they will do on the site – so you will want to create triggers – both social and technical- to guide the user to view the video. Again, assign goals for conversion to that activity and track the progress. It is critical to design engagement activities that benefit the members as well as the business. If you become too company-centric than the engagement crosses over into overt marketing and that is not the reason why your members are participating in the first place. Significant attrition will happen if you loose sight of the members’ needs and goals. This is just a way to help focus the energies of engagement into a productive step-wise process. Enhancing your user experience should be your primary priority.

Here is an example:

Now, it is to be expected that not all community members will reach the center or core of the activities. With each ring of goals, the engagement deepens but the participation drops – and that is fine. It is the nature of the thing itself. But through this type of programmatic approach to socially engineering engagement, you can keep laser-focused on the goals. Community and social media engagement can often seem to be a daunting task – as it is big and never-ending. But this is a way to create micro-initiatives that help you move towards the center of success.

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