Who’s in Your Community: Friend, Follower, or Figment?

communitySocial media offers us an opportunity to build our own virtual community. One would think that if you are creating the community, you would have control over the participants. You do, if you make it private. If not, your online community is like a real neighborhood filled with friends, dissidents, curmudgeons, and trolls. There are also figments – users who aren’t really present and sometimes aren’t real.

The difference between real and virtual neighborhoods is management. Active users of social media have to manage their community. They have to choose who to follow or friend, when to block, and how to respond to trolls. It can easily consume hours every day.

If you want a good community, the management cannot be automated. There are tools that speed the process, but your eyes are needed to differentiate between the good, bad, and nonexistent. They all look the same to a bot. You have to clean it up yourself.

Last week Sharon Mostyn (@sharonmostyn) asked about managetwitter.com. Since I’m continuously testing new tools, I decided to check it out. The functionality for managing following/followers is similar to Buzzom.com, but one different feature was particularly appealing to me. It allowed me to see inactive people that I was following.

If someone hadn’t tweeted in a month or more they were flagged as inactive. I scrolled through the list. The people that I knew and wanted to follow were unchecked. If they ever decided to tweet again (or for the first time as in the case of my “I may become a SM rockstar” brother-in-law) I want to know what they have to say.

Approximately 7% of the people I followed were inactive.

It was surprising because I review the profile of every person before following. Since they weren’t participating, I unfollowed them. Over the next 48 hours, my follower count dropped. Apparently 30% of my inactive followers were using automated follow/unfollow bots to manage their profile. They didn’t have an interest in a relationship with my community. It was all about the numbers.

In the inactive follower group, 12% had been very active on twitter before going cold turkey. I emailed a few of them and asked what happened.

Too much time for too little results” was the overwhelming response.

How could that be?

I looked at their tweets to see what they did wrong. On the surface they did everything right. By right, I mean they followed the social media rules. They had built a community where there was plenty of conversation, sharing of content, and no promotion.

Several of them had followers in the thousands and were disappointed that there hadn’t been a measurable response to their efforts. I understand their feelings all too well. When I first started participating in social media, I followed the rules. After an extensive period of no response, my frustration level hit its limit. I added marketing and promotion to the mix. I continued to share content and converse, but included links to my newsletters, e-books, and services.

I lost followers, but I gained friends, fans, and clients. My participation in social media began as a test, but I’ve become an advocate. I love social media as a marketing channel. I still don’t get the “it’s all about the conversation” hoopla, but I definitely see the potential. Social media allows unprecedented one-to-one customer access. The companies who do it well will create dynamic, loyal, and interactive communities of real people who want to participate.

If you start with a strategy, focus on your objectives, and follow through, it’ll work for you.

It takes time to build a community that responds. To do so, you have to manage your neighborhood. If you are simply tweeting and hoping that someone will buy from or hire you because of your obvious brilliance, the odds are against you.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sharon Mostyn

    Debra, I’m happy to be the thought-provoker behind this amazing post! You’ve taken a simple Twitter question and turned it into an insightful post on communities. I am definitely a fan, I consider you a friend, and maybe someday soon we’ll have a client relationship, too. I always love your #WECtips and look forward to your posts – keep up the good work!
    .-= Sharon Mostyn´s last blog ..2010 Internet Marketing Olympics Dream Team =-.

  • Debra Ellis

    Thank you, Sharon for the inspiration and your kind words. I’m fortunate to have you as a friend and look forward to possibly working together.

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