How to Foster a Culture of Contribution: Communities Take Investment and Engagement, Not Just Content

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Guest post by Greg Narain (@gregarious), co-founder of Chute, a social media platform that helps brands and publishers obtain rights to UGC content.

Customer-contributed stories are not only powerful, they’re also influential and important. Yesterday, customers conveyed their stories through text and voice. Today, we’ve moved to visually rich tools like photos and videos. While compelling to look at at face value, there’s quite a bit more hidden within.

Ever one of these stories affords us much more than just a means to fill a page or gallery. Media provides us a glimpse into how our customers use our services and products, how they interpret the values we stand for, and inspire future ideas and anecdotes for us to build on. A picture is worth a thousand stories.

Succeeding with user-generated media can be a daunting challenge without the right preparation. Most brands still dive into these efforts with a “hashtag mentality” – throw a hashtag on something and they will come. Unfortunately, that rarely succeeds.

While consumers increasingly create media on a daily basis, they are likely not creating it for a specific brand. Even less likely, though, are the odds that they are creating media for you on demand – regardless of how large the media buy behind the campaign is. To maximize success, brands must breed a “Culture of Contribution.”

Communities develop norms for behavior within the group which instruct them on what kind of behavior is expected and what is discouraged. This impacts not just the way they think but also the way they act. Despite our customers being well-versed on making media on their own, they need to be encouraged and guided towards contributing media back to your brand and their fellow customers.

Developing a Culture of Contribution takes time and energy. Aside from the rare viral hit, success requires a long-term view and dedication to the task at hand. There are several tactics worth considering as part of this journey.

1. Know your audience.

In today’s data-rich world, not knowing your audience is no longer an excuse. As consumers engage with a brand, they leave behind a virtual trail of their interests and intents. It is easy to glean several important items:

What content have they been most drawn to?
What content have they most engaged with?
Who are the most vocal or active contributors?

Each of these provide insight into what motivates your community and ultimately the threads you can use as you stitch together your efforts.

2. Compete for their Attention.

We cannot ignore that our efforts are in competition for everyone’s attention. An activated customer is one of the most valuable assets you have in the social landscape. They will evangelize broadly and be first-adopters for new initiatives. Turning passion into contribution should be our primary goal. This goal is only furthered by creating the right incentives and promoting their contributions back to the community at large.

3. Give it time.

It is critical to give these efforts the oxygen they need to survive. It is easy to be discouraged by first-time efforts, however, building a great community always takes time and starts small. To that end, a few simple techniques are worth considering.

For special events and at the onset, create campaigns specifically crafted to encourage your customers to participate. These will most often take the form of a contest or something related. They focus your audience’s energy around a specific task and have the best chance for success.

For publishing and other content creation, integrate calls to action for contribution around your ideas to draw great content from the community. This ties in well with editorial pieces and other content tied closely to your brand. Your more savvy consumers will have content on the ready or accept these unique opportunities to create new media.

Cultivating a “Culture of Contribution” is not simple by any means. Some companies trade in products and services that easily lend themselves to media-centric stories while others must dig deeper to surface these opportunities. Regardless of how hard the initial process is, however, the rewards of building a strong community ready to create compelling, targeted media is hard to deny.

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