Monday, March 10, 2008

Content Boundaries: A 12-Step Program

That was the name of the second panel I attended, featuring Heather Armstrong (of Dooce fame*) and Maggie Mason (Mighty Girl). These two women are well-known for writing highly personal blogs and their panel was about the lessons they've learned along the way.

I am a regular reader (not at work, of course!) of Dooce so it was fun for me to see Heather, the writer, in person. Here are some key points I took away from the presentation, which I wholeheartedly believe are things that Gap should continue to think about as we figure out what it means to build a community online. Additionally, there were some great points about overall editorial process that were really interesting.

1. You are powerless over your users.

Essentially, as hard as you try to control people from saying bad things about you, you really can't. It takes a huge leap of faith for a company to be able to open up a campaign/blog/application/product for public commentary because there is always a risk (and for us, probably a pretty big risk) of the community being critical of you.

2. Set the tone for the conversation from the beginning.
Though you ultimately can't control your users in social media, you can control the tone of your communication. If you communicate to people in an honest, straightforward way, you will most likely get the same kind of feedback. If you communicate in an aggressive way, you will more than likely get aggressive feedback. If we set the tone of our external communications in a positive way, it will help to mitigate the tone of the feedback.

3. Be clear on comments policy.
Will we delete comments? Will we respond to comments? What about direct emails? We need to state our case up front to avoid flap in the blogosphere.

4. Attract the users that you want.
Before we figure out what kind of users we want, we need to figure out who we as a brand are. (Thoughts?) Once we figure out who we are as a brand, we can discuss who we want to be--and therefore, who we want to attract--in the online space. Personally, I think the users we want are the fashion influencers. They are already out there--there are tons of fashion/shopping blogs online--and already interested in us. How do we start communicating to them in a direct/social way? Cuz we need to do this, like, pronto.

5. Protect your brand.
The panelists were talking on a much smaller scale (ie, brand as individual) but it goes without saying that the more focused we are in our communications and visuals (ie, the more we have a point of view) the more we'll be able to protect our online identity.

6. Keep small problems from ballooning.

Don't feed the tigers. If a flame war starts in the comments or in the blogosphere, don't fan it by responding to every little thing.

7. Know thyself.
If we were to create a social experience online, do we want to create a top down community (ie, New York Times) or a bottom up community (like Threadless?)

8. You get what you give.
If you don't put 100% into it, you won't get it back. You also can't take hiatuses or long, extended breaks if you want to cultivate strong community. Basically, we can't throw something online and then forget about it/never refresh the content. In fact, the more often we refresh the content the better.

9. Be transparent.
Corporate communications would not agree with this, but it's basically saying "we f-ed up" if we f up.

10. Be as human as possible.

See be transparent.

11. Find your sweet spot. What are our metrics for success?
What does a successful online community look like to us? How do we measure engagement? By number of users in the community? By ROI/CPM/other fancy marketing acronyms? Or do we measure it by the elusive "buzz" that our experience generates?

12. Hone your editorial process.
To the panelists this meant checking the accuracy of their posts and asking themselves if anything they posted would damage any of their relationships. To use, I think it means establishing a voice, a STYLE GUIDE, and an editorial content calendar--that we actually stick to.

13. Admit your mistakes.

This is something we are already pretty good at doing.

14. Don't try to please the whole world.
This is something we are not that great at doing.

15. Lack of authenticity = kiss of death.
If there was one phrase that pretty much epitomizes social communities, this is it. As a brand, you simply cannot implement a social experience on the Internet that is basically just advertising in disguise. Period.

Stay tuned for a report from our favorite panel of the first day: LOLCATS!!!

*Heather was one of the first people to get fired from her job for blogging about work from work. Now getting fired for blogging is known as getting "Dooced."

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