Powerball math, Facebook, and how to build a proper social support site

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Brands engaging with consumers in customer support forums or on social platforms like Facebook must fact check all content before sharing in order to retain credibility. 

We’ve all done it; you see a brilliant post on your favorite social network and click the Share button. Then the responses start, “Hey Dave, did you actually check the sources on that before sharing?”

Sheepishly, an acknowledgment that maybe a visit to Snopes or Wikipedia first would have been a good idea before sharing. I was reminded of this during the onset of Powerball-mania this past January, as I watched this post and others like it make the rounds (and no, I did not share this).

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On Facebook, people can say and do anything. Sourced or not, the content is presented as fact and then spread. Why? Because Facebook runs on the human desire for attention.

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The more outrageous, the more controversial, the more attention.

This basic pattern of “share first, verify second” is likely to continue, as dopamine levels ramp towards a 10.

And unlike your local bar, where your own level of “Well, oh yah….?!” is generally (but not always) held in check by your fellow tipplers, there really is no check for this on Facebook. A few people may unfriend you (but you’ve a thousand, and who’s counting anyway?), or maybe you’ll even get blocked (which means you’ve scored!). So, on it goes.

As entertainment, that’s great stuff. But as a business with a socially enabled presence, you have to encourage a higher level of conduct with a more meaningful (and yes, sourced) interaction that results in more reliable content.

This is particularly true for businesses engaging on the social web, in customer care, pre-sales (think social lead generation), and innovation. In all of these activities, the credibility of the content source and the accuracy of the content itself matter – a lot.

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Why sharing substantiated insight makes a difference

Consider a typical support community or a technical discussion board; a customer may post something like, “My phone is doing this weird thing…” and then go on to describe the issue. All too often, the first responders will reply with things like, “Well, what it’s supposed to do is…,” and they are typically dismissed out of hand. Customers generally know what is supposed to happen when their devices are working properly, and the fact that it didn’t work as expected is precisely why they felt the need to pose the question to begin with.

There will also be a handful along the lines of “I think if you…and that should…” which is slightly better (at least its an idea). But did the responder test their idea before posting? Did he or she include a source referencing someone else who had? Or is the contribution best summed up by the phrase, “Gee, I hope that works.” People like to be helpful, but suggesting something that results in a bricked phone isn’t helpful.

So what do you do?

  1. When implementing a support community pre-sales forum – whether for pet health, fixing a car, recovering a phone or other device, or shopping for a new one – encourage the original author, also known as the person that initially asked the question, to positively indicate which suggested solution actually worked.
  2. Promote that solution. Make it sticky, as this will allow it to appear first so that subsequent visitors will find it.
  3. Review the solution and test it. As you review and test, ask yourself a few key questions:
    • Is it complete?
    • Is it dangerous?
    • Is it brilliant?

These are things you need to know, because your customers need to know.

To sum up

As you continue to build your business presence on the social web, implement a specific strategy that builds not only credibility and accuracy in content, but also identifies and reinforces the personal expertise and recognized influence of the participants in the conversations around your brand, product, or service.

Just as not all conversations are equivalent in actual worth, neither are the reputations and motives of the authors of the posts that make up those conversations. Make it obvious who is reputable and who is not. Clearly identify content that is valued and accurate versus content that is suspect or outright dangerous. Build your content strategy around these best practices and your customers will quickly make your community their preferred first-stop.

As for Facebook’s Powerball math goes, as it turns out, the right math was 1.5 billion divided by three. And yes, that did eliminate poverty, at least for those lucky three.

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