One of the most interesting and exciting phenomena that has been created by the Internet is online communities or social media as they are sometimes called.  Just think how often you hear the words, FaceBook or Twitter.   It is a natural evolution from the connectedness of the Internet that was heralded in the Clue Train Manifesto.  Here we will discuss how one can best profit from involvement in such online communities.

Social Media / Communities

Whenever one interacts with other people, the results can sometimes be unpredictable.  There are four good, recent articles on how best to handle these interactions, perhaps not surprisingly all written by women.  Lisa Barone has set down some of the rules to follow as one grows a community and expresses a commonly shared concern.

Were all hoping to create strong, thriving communities around our brands. We want folks to want to interact with us. We want to be friendly and to encourage conversations. We want our site to feel warm and comforting and to smell like Thanksgiving dinner complete with the pumpkin pie. But thats a hard feeling to accomplish when most people cant stop talking about themselves and continually make you want to smack them in the face with a stick.

Twitter blue bird logoKimberly Krause Berg has developed an even longer and more complete list of do's and don'ts that reminded Glenn Silloway of the rules of etiquette from Miss Manners.  A somewhat shorter list has been written by Beth Harte offering Ten Things to Consider Before You Get Started with Twitter, particularly for Business.   Patricia Skinner has also remarked on Twitters Population Explosion and offers similar thoughts on Getting the Hang of the Twitter Culture.

Perhaps from all these different sources of advice, it is all summed up most simply by the precept, Behave Yourself.

Viral Marketing / Exponential Marketing

.. and there is the dilemma.  Many people are getting involved in social media in order to spread the word.  Word of mouth marketing some call it. Seth Godin suggests something more powerful is needed than word of mouth marketing since it can slowly lose momentum.  He uses the term viral marketing.  I would go even stronger and suggest that Exponential Marketing is what we are all involved in. 

How can you behave yourself and at the same time get the message to an ever increasing audience. (She tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on..)  One common practice is to get somewhat controversial, preferably involving someone else who is well known on the Internet.  This is sometimes called link-baiting.  Raising the volume even more, Michael Gray suggests the answer is perhaps to use Unexpected and Shocking Imagery.  It presumably is a question of degree.  Thankfully another man, Andy Nulman, is trying to put some science around that in an upcoming book.

Surprise Marketing

Andy Nulmans book, due to appear early in 2009, is called Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise.  I received a pre-publication copy of the book, and can confirm it is a good read and very thought-provoking.  Surprises are of course unexpected.  In other words they are not what the audience expected to happen.  Nulman discusses how to create such surprises.  A big part of that is just being incredibly creative.  Clearly the reactions to such surprises will depend on the community involved.  Different people may well have very different reactions.

The Sociability Scale

A good illustration of the differences among people can be seen in the somewhat heated discussions that occurred about Live Blogging at the PubCon Vegas 2008 Conference.  This is the practice of writing blog posts online using WiFi while sessions are actually taking place There was somewhat strong criticism of this in one blog post and the social chatter on this then became very intense.. Search Engine Roundtable has done some excellent live blogging of Internet Marketing events for several years.  For Barry Schwartz, the owner of SER, it was sufficiently controversial that he wondered whether they Should Give Up Live Blogging.  That is the surprising outcome you can get from some of these heated exchanges.

Perhaps a recent Simon Fraser University biologists theory may help us better understand our differences.

Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at SFU, has developed a theory " with the help of Christopher Badcock, a sociologist at the London School of Economics " that suggests a genetic tug of war could be behind mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.  The theory, first published in Behavioural and Brain Sciences, suggests autism and schizophrenia are at opposite ends of a spectrum of mental disorders. Each is an extreme outcome of a battle between the mothers and fathers genes, which can steer brain development in one of two directions.

The article goes on to say that this links to how sociable any individual is. Too sociable and you are schizophrenic: not sociable enough and you are autistic. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle.  Presumably the introvert << >> extrovert scale fits somewhere between these two extremes.

With online forums, it is noted that there will often be many lurkers who watch the activities like flies on the wall.  Only a small proportion of the community may get involved in the action.  Those involved are of course the ones who are more towards the sociable, extrovert end of the scale.

Culture - The Way We Do Things Around Here

Any given social medium will attract a certain group of individuals who are comfortable in their interactions with each other.  Over time any social medium will develop a certain culture, it is the way things are done there.  If a strong culture develops, then any newcomer quickly becomes aware of that culture and knows what is acceptable behavior. 

The question of what is a suitable surprise must then be carefully considered in the light of that culture.  If it is too bland, then no one will be surprised and certainly no one will talk about it.  On the other hand if it is too extreme then the group as a whole may reject both the surprise and the person responsible for creating that surprise.  Choosing the point of balance sometimes is not at all easy.

The Morning After - No Regrets

Andy Nulman has some useful advice on this question of the balance.  He coins the word post-dictability.  A good surprise should not be predictable and therefore does not have predictability.  After the event however, Nulman believes that someone looking back should find that the surprise was really exactly right for the occasion.  That means not just right in itself but right for the community who received the surprise.  It is not a bad way of looking at things and certainly represents a desirable outcome to shoot for.  Just make sure that after the event, most people will still want to talk about it because it was just the best possible surprise that could have been envisaged.


Barry Welford is a writer, speaker and Internet Marketing expert working for SMM Internet Marketing Consultants in Langley, BC, Canada. He is a consultant and coach to businesses of all kinds. He has extensive international business experience with major multinational corporations, particularly in marketing.

Barry is well known in the Internet marketing world and is a moderator on the Cre8asite Forums. Many know his writings through three business blogs. BPWrap covers Internet Marketing (SEM, SEO, etc.) from a global perspective, The Other Bloke's Blog covers Business and Internet Marketing from a Canadian perspective and StayGoLinks provides news and views on the rapidly growing Mobile Web.