Is Technology Ruining Online Community

Online CommunityOnline community and our lust for it is at its apex. Companies of every size and description are pondering ways to engage with customers, and interact with their fans. But the big miss in many cases is social media staffing.

It’s difficult to recall the age of not-so-long-ago when we didn’t even have websites, much less email newsletters or Facebook pages for our businesses, and other flavors of social media.

How did we “engage” and “interact” back then? How did companies possibly succeed in that technologically challenged epoch devoid of touchy-feelie buzzwords?

We succeeded by actually – not metaphorically – engaging and interacting with our customers.

We can learn a lot from the past, when instead of humanizing our companies, we just deployed actual humans. Instead of listening software, we just listened. Instead of measuring influence, we just treated our customers well, and with respect.

Did we do a lot more with a lot less?

Today, we spend considerable time and effort and emotional capital on how to construct the ultimate online community, festooned with custom tabs and iframes and videos and the sparkling Christmas ornaments of social media.

I suggest we should largely eschew all that, recognizing it for the tip of the iceberg it really is.

Let’s shift our focus under the water line where the real mass of online community floats.

Our customers want to be informed in a relevant, timely fashion about companies they support. Occasionally, they’ll tell their friends – but usually they won’t. And if they have a problem, they want an alternative to soulless call centers and maddening email runarounds. That’s how customers see online community and “engagement” and “interaction” – in a practical, “what’s in it for me” way.

Most businesses massively overestimate the bond between company and customer in social media. Even your robust online community with appropriate social media staffing doesn’t create a blood oath among fans. Recognize that – especially in Facebook – your brand is literally competing for attention with friends and family and close confidants. There’s not been a company-authored status update ever written that I care more about than routine updates from my friends and family.

Social Media Staffing is the Overlooked Success Quotient

So the way to win that game for business isn’t through apps and case studies and metaphor and magic. It’s with social media staffing, populating your online community with a cadre of truly outstanding employees who can inform, entertain, and assist your customers. That means you don’t base your social media staffing plan on who is the least expensive resource (interns) or who “grew up with this stuff” (interns).

Does that drive up the cost of the human capital managing your social media? Of course. As Charlene Li once said, social media isn’t inexpensive, it’s just different expensive. Why would you manage an online community that is the epitome of multi-faceted, real-time communication with people who possess a paucity of actual customer service or communications expertise?

Until companies realize the key to online community success isn’t technology, but rather a culture of caring and skilled labor, social media will never fulfill its true promise.

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