21 Considerations Before Your Business Starts A Social Network

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Social networks are all the rage and many of my posts at OnlineMarketerBlog recommend social tools for businesses. However, there are potential pitfalls to consider before you facilitate interaction between customers and your business.

Here are 21 things your business should consider before starting a social network:

Internal (Your Business Capabilities)

1. Can you invest the necessary resources to run a social network properly? Can you afford the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to properly create and staff this resource?

2. What is the role of marketing, sales, IT, customer service, advertising, HR, etc.? Social networks often delve into all of these departments and more. Make sure all of your teams are engaged, enthused, and prepared.

3. While the potential ROI of a social network is proven, is this the best investment of your time? If you don't have a unique product or your customers aren't enthused (or your product isn't any good), don't look to a social network to solve your problems.

4. What are your expectations - number of members, amount of content, etc - on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? Create little benchmarks to ensure you do not go far off course.

5. Will your employees have their own voice on the network? Will they use their full names? This transparency can be daunting, but it can also provide high emotional buy-in from employees.

6. Is the correct employee in charge of the social network? This is often not the highest paid or the most experienced. (It's also likely not the intern - this is your brand, after all.)

7. Which came first: customer need, company strategy, or cool technology? If it's anything besides customer need, reconsider everything.

External (The World You Compete In)

8. Are your audience Joiners? You should read Li and Bernoff's book of the same name, but at the very least check out the free Groundswell tool from Forrester. If your audience isn't likely to join any social network, it's highly unlikely they will join your social network.

9. What value does the community offer your customer? Do not think of the social network as a marketing tool - its primary existence is for the good of your customer.

10. Who are your network's competitors? If someone is already offering the service you want to provide, don't spend time trying to re-invent the wheel.

11. What does your network do better than anyone else? Use that strength to separate your network from imitators and provide a quality service to your customers. If you cannot identify that unique quality, consider piggy-backing on someone else's network.

Before The Launch

12. Who approves interaction or content? What is the chain of command? Is your process streamlined to react to breaking news or is it clogged with a bunch of red tape?

13. How will negative comments be handled? Have you prepared a code of conduct for participants? Will constructive criticism be considered honestly and without pride?

14. How does the social network affect the priorities of your business? In other words, is it clear to your employees when they should opt to work on the social network as opposed to their other tasks?

15. How will you promote the network? Will there be a URL on your print advertising? Should customer service mention the website? Use existing channels to promote this new one.

16. What capabilities will members have? Can they speak to each other, create profiles, or upload files? All of these aspects have their complications.

17. Are there different levels of engagement? For instance, could a member of your social network take on an administrative or editorial role? What are possible levels of engagement and how do members move up?

18. What motivation do people have to participate? What is their incentive?

19. Is your network "sticky"? Is there a reason for participants to tell their friends?

After The Launch

20. What will you do with the community once you have it? Will you have the infrastructure set up to benefit from customer insights, free market research, justified criticisms, helpful customers, etc.?

21. How will you gauge success? While the potential ROI of social networks is great, it is rarely as cut-and-dry as most other marketing. Are visitors more important than commenters? How is beneficial engagement quantified?

The Most Important Consideration

I think one of these considerations is more important than every other one and I will write a post on it later this week. Make sure you don't miss it.

What Did I Forget?

Did I forget anything? Feel free to leave other considerations in the comments section below.

Or, am I wrong about anything listed here? Please let us know!

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