Defining the relationship you want to create

Its important to understand that in the context of user-generated content (UGC), the relationship you currently have your community and what type of relationship you wish to create, are two different things. Therefore you will need a strategy and goals to support community management using UGC.

The barriers/challenges

1. Organizations feel the need to protect their reputation and refusal to listen to the needs or expectations of their customers.

2. Organizations want to have a relationship with users but does not want to put in the time, commitment and be controlled by their users.

3. Fear of the comments that might come from strong opinionated individuals that might influence the rest of the community.

4.  Fear of losing control and not knowing how to react to bad comments.

The argument

1. Yes, we all do agree we have a brand or reputation to protect but its like watching a reality show, nowadays every organization’s reputation is online and conversations are happening because eyes are on you.  Organizations need to deliver products and services continuously to be able to run their business. But whats happening now is UGC creates the opportunity for what would have been closed consultations or a dedicated source of news on TV or the newspaper, to an open world of feedback with no filters.  Product and service improvements are no longer dependent on professional scales and measurement of success but by the buzz and value of word of mouth that circulates online and sips into our offline world.  Therefore expectations of users now have never been more valuable than ever. In fact users aren’t just voicing out their dissatisfaction but also freely expressing their ideas for improvement. If there was one opinon worth more than gold, it is this. The capability for users to tell you how they would want to use your product or service and freely help you improve your organization.

2. The principles of relationships with your users are essentially not much different than a relationship between 2 individuals in love.  In any successful relationship, there must be an element of trust, consideration for the other half, a willingness to listen and investment of understanding what problems lie beneath and of course commitment. Of course we can all say we are committed to our customers, but are we really? Are we willing to hear about our weaknesses and mistakes to overcome them and improve upon the  relationship? Are we committed to make a difference instead of making empty promises? The fundamental truth is, in a world where UGC is gaining more and more consumption and momentum, many organizations still fail to understand its merits and refuse to be committed to their customers.

3. Its often we face with the challenges of people disagreeing with us and voice their opinions quite strongly.  We need to be able to recognize where their frustration is coming from. In order to gain trust and build good social capital in any community, there needs to be the urge to want to get to the bottom of things instead of looking at the problem on the surface.  In most online or even offline interactions, frustrated comments can come from many places and the worry of this is understandable. 1 opinionated user is deal-able but 100 might be too many.  But the worst case to do in this scenario is ignoring it. Ignoring a frustration voiced by even an unreasonable customer can lead to the multiplication of frustrated customers and in the end get out of control. By responding quickly the ‘fire’ can be put out quickly and not leave any burn marks. The trick is to recognize how to respond and when to respond quick enough without responding hastily.

4. Fear of losing control is often there because organizations feel they own their customers and therefore can control them. But the truth is, just like celebrities who nowadays are deemed owned by the public, organizations face the same dilemma too. The balance of power has flipped from the organization to users. Users now drive your revenue because they now have their own mind and others. They can now listen to other users thoughts and values then make up their own minds. Marketing campaigns are having to be more honest now because they can no longer cloud our judgements. We are living in a more honest or might I say brutally honest times. Control should not be on the agenda. Energising users should be your agenda, getting them to talk to you instead of other people. Make them realize that talking to other people doesn’t make a difference but talking to YOU does! LISTEN, but don’t just listen. ACT on conversations and ACT swiftly because in a world of UGC, time might be your worst enemy. Give confirmation of progress, notify improvements or plans for improvements – there are the things that matter. Its the “TALK TO ME” time and not “TALK AT ME”.

Conclusion

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, before we can move forward and embrace UGC, we need to be open to the possibilities ourselves first. We need to trust our users and build a relationship with them and let them come to you organically. Remember TRUST IS CHEAPER THAN CONTROL (@LeeBryant – Co-Founder of Headshift, once said at the Corporate  Social Networking Forum conference I attended and blogged about here last year).

Find out what makes them tick because like any beginnings of a relationship, you need to want to know everything about your users and show them you trust them before you can move forward to the next level. Let users talk to each other and allow them to talk about how they would like things to progress. Encourage advocates in your community by giving them tools to share and collaborate. Allow them to be in the driving seat but also have a strategy to lead discussions that your organization wishes to improve upon.

Always start your community with a goal and track/monitor every single little wins you make. Because little wins lead to big ones, and that’s when you can proudly stand side by side with your users and say, we did this together.

Hope this was useful!

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