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December 8, 2010

Social Nation Building Done Right: Why It Takes a Community Focus — Not Tech Savvy — to Harness the Power of Social Media

Richard Carufel's spotlight this week: Barry Libert, Chairman and CEO, Mzinga

When social media first came on the scene, companies couldn't wait to get on board with the new trend, because they saw it as a way to expand their brands and grow their businesses — and, of course, they had high hopes for return on investment. Now, fast-forward several years. Today, many of these same companies have hired employees devoted to using social technologies but are now faced with answering the all-important question, Now what?

"There's no denying that social networking has worked for some companies and been a flat-out flop for others," asserts Barry Libert, author of the new book Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business (Wiley, 2010). "Most companies are confused about what social networking really is and about how to successfully leverage it.

"The good news," he continues, "is that these companies don't have to give up their goal of building a successful 'Social Nation,' as I call it. They simply have to change the way they think about it and develop effective strategies. Primarily, they have to learn it's not about technology, as is commonly assumed...it's about community."

Libert knows what he's talking about. After all, he's the chairman and CEO of Mzinga, a company that provides social software to businesses. Quite literally, it's his job to be social media savvy. And he's adamant that before you start building your own Social Nation, you need to have a well-researched game plan. In fact, it's that knowledge, gathered through years of Mzinga's real-world experience, that prompted him to write Social Nation, a sort of social networking best practices manual.

"There's no denying that people know how to use tools like Facebook and Twitter—they just do it to no avail," Libert explains. "What they should be doing is focusing their attention on their customers, partners, and employees. Listening, acknowledging, connecting, and rewarding these people—and implementing what they have to say. I can't stress enough that social networking isn't about accumulating followers for the sake of having them—it's about building a community that brings real value and true ROI to your company."

It almost sounds too simple—but when faced with skepticism, Libert points out that a focus on building community spelled success for his company's clients long before the advent of Facebook. To date, Mzinga has worked with hundreds of companies to manage a total of 2.5 billion interactions a month through online communities.

Ready to rethink your own company's social networking strategy and start seeing some real value? Then throw out what you thought you knew about social media and read on to learn what really works in the land of social networking, as explained in Social Nation:

Build your own community. "Social Nation" is a catchy phrase, sure — but what does it really mean? Well, social is the construct of wanting to belong with another, and nation is being part of something that has purpose. Taking that into account, then, your company's social networking goal should be to bring like-minded people together in order to achieve a common purpose.

"It's all about connecting people who need to be connected, allowing them to become a part of your company experience," says Libert. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Technology is important, but it will never be a substitute for community. If you want to see growth, you've got to develop a social network that helps people grow, engages their minds, satisfies their unmet needs, and connects them to one another."

Don't broadcast but share. Talking to someone whose conversation is constantly "me-me-me" isn't anyone's idea of a good time...and that principle also holds true in the world of social networking. It doesn't matter how frequently you update your company's status or blog about its achievements if you never deliver information that your followers actually want and need to hear.

"Always remember to create and disseminate quality content that helps people make good decisions, improves businesses, and enhances lives," advises Libert. "They want to read about topics that are actionable and applicable—so we always make sure our clients at Mzinga are providing their constituents with information, tools, and tips on subjects that are of interest to them."

Don't be a guest in someone else's home. Think about the differences between a house and a home. A house is only a structure—but a home is a place where you feel like you belong. That, Libert insists, is the difference between joining random social media sites for the sake of doing it and embracing and building a truly social business.

Realize that might does not make right. Just as your company should avoid disseminating "me-me-me" information via social networking, it should also avoid dominating the conversation. And make no mistake—a symbiotic two-way conversation is exactly what's going on here. A successful Social Nation always lets its community be part of telling the story, from start to finish. Look at it this way: Employees, customers, and partners are essentially volunteering their time and energy to serve as developers, sounding boards, and advertisements for your company. They want to belong—so let them, and listen to them.

"Recently, a company came to me and asked what they needed to do to become the leader in their industry," Libert recounts. "The first thing they had to do, I told them, was to stop trying to 'lead' everything! Instead, make it your goal to be the definitive 'community.' This will draw people in, and it will turn them into raving fans."

Social Nation tells the stories of companies that have embraced this shift to more open, social business models in substantive ways, forging new paths to workplace collaboration, product development, customer relationship management, brand loyalty, innovation, and profitability.

"What businesses should be doing is focusing their attention not on social media itself, but on how they can use it as a channel in every facet of their business to establish the genuine connections that are increasingly becoming the new path to profitability," says Libert. "As a business leader today, your job is to make sure these things happen, and I believe Social Nation can help you get there."

Barry Libert is chairman and CEO of Mzinga, a leading provider of social software, services and analytics that improve business performance. He has also published five books on the value of social and information networks, and is a regularly featured keynote speaker at industry associations and for leading companies on the power of social media. For more information about "Social Nation," go to www.socialnationbook.com.

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