Experiments in Social Media – Part I

Jonathan Crow of ThinkFree recently conducted what he calls The Great Social Experiment where he tested and practiced the art of online social networking as a strategy for helping his company join the conversation across popular online communities and in turn, evaluate the business implications for doing so.

Crow assembled a roundtable of those active in the Social Media landscape to offer feedback, commentary, constructive criticism, and advice for the good of all marketing.

Those joining the conversation are Chris Brogan, Aaron Brazell, Cathryn Hrudicka, Doug Haslam, and me.

Before you read below, make sure to first read, “The Art and Science of Social Media and Community Relations.”

Question One (Well 1a, 1b, 1c):

1a-Did I devote enough time to the exercise?

1b-More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities?

1c-Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?

Honestly, Jonathan did not invest enough time, effort and sincerity in his quest to cultivate meaningful relationships within each community of not just peers, but also users. His experiment, while ambitious, was spread way too thin, only allowing for a superficial interaction with very little value for him and also the people who participate in the communities in which he wished to reach.

Jonathan has a full plate of marketing activities to run and therefore can’t be everywhere at the same time. This challenge is common throughout marketing departments everywhere. This is why businesses are starting to consider hiring fulltime community “managers” or build community teams to dedicate the required time and resources to cultivate relationships online.

The development of friendships must be based on something meaningful, interaction, basically invested in, before a community can give back. It’s just the nature of things.

What’s the intent? What value do you bring? What’s the goal for participating?

Social Media requires cultivation and a genuine desire to help those around you. It’s more aligned with Customer Service than marketing I would say.

I’ve always believed, among others, that Social Media shares many principles and beliefs with anthropology. Any in-the-field engagement requires a “holistic” view, observation, and complete understanding based on a “four-field” approach, Biological, Socio-cultural, Linguistic, and Archaeology. Of course, not everything applies, but it’s pretty close.

There’s much to learn from approaching Social Media and online communities from this foundation because it forces us to think, learn, and observe before we pretend to be part of any new culture. And the only way to truly “go native” is to spend time acclimating into the very culture you wish to join.

You have to start as a person and not as a marketer in order to fully appreciate your surroundings. It requires immersion.

In order for businesses to understand Social Media, it requires a strategy, goals, metrics, and a tactical plan. It all starts with answering one simple question, “Why do we want to participate?”

Is it about trends?

Is your competition devouring customer mindshare?

Is it a new avenue for sales?

Or, is it because you wish to bring value to communities and increase customer service and loyalty?

Should you even be here?

It all starts with why and what you expect to get out of the engagement that helps define how to participate.

The next step is to listen and answer the following questions.

Where are your customers?

Where are your competitors?

Where do key words take you?

Are there conversations taking place about your company, products, and if so, where?

At that point, and only at this point, can you answer the question of where Social Media fits into a company’s marketing hierarchy – regardless of maturity.

But everything comes down to the investment made into each community. You get out of it what you put into it. And, in the era of Social Media, companies will earn the relationships that they deserve.

Click here to read the responses from the entire roundtable.

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

  • Connie Bensen

    Good points.
    A community manager provides a pivot point in both directions from customer to corporate. And listening & connecting the conversations definitely takes time. That position can provide a focus.

    And yes – a strategy is key with the ability to experiment. Some things will work & others won’t. The community is in charge of the conversation.

  • Brian Solis

    Thank you Connie. I agree!


Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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