My latest post is up on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.  You can read the post and join the conversation on the SSIR blog here, or read the copied post below.

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A new report from the team at Forrester came out last week: Tapping The Entire Online Peer Influence Pyramid.  It comes at the same time that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the importance of community builders/managers/leaders or organizational voices to give permission back to the community members.  The evaluation and recognition of peer influence, something that is not only prevalent but inherent in social media, is something that help empower and sustain your communities AND increase your staff capacity.  Let’s discuss!

First, let’s talk about permission.

As organizations or community builders active online, working to practice and create quality engagement, we are often trying to guide, collect or herd conversations and interactions into spaces that we have created or monitor closely. When I say “give permission,” in this post, I’m really saying that you should balance the herding and collecting of the community with the encouragement and empowerment for the community to go wherever it wants with your message or information.

Giving permission to the community is really just recognizing that conversations already take place in spaces online where you don’t have a presence, a fan page, or a profile. That people talk about your services or programs, issues or sector wherever they are and you may never know about it, know them, or be part of the conversation.

Giving permission to the community to have conversations without you requires trust. You have to trust that the community will take your communications or mission forward. You have to trust that the community will monitor or respond to comments or issues in a way that matches the way you would (that you’ve modeled the behavior the way you want it repeated).

The conversations and connections that are taking place elsewhere, whether it’s on or offline, don’t have to remain a mystery to you, though.  Give permission for your community to report back – and provide the mechanisms to do so.  Create places for or explicitly ask for feedback, not just about what you do and how you do it (which you probably already do) but also what your community is doing, learning, hearing, seeing, interested in and so on. This way you can build active two-way communications that help you stay informed but also empower the community members to be part of team.

Now, what about peer influence?

I’ve talked before about how to map your community and the messages within it.  What’s so great about the chart from Forrester at the top of this post is that it shows you a great way to view segments of your database in an influential way. You don’t simply have to say there are people that respond to action alerts and those that don’t… I may not sign your petition, but what if I’m forwarding it on? What if you could send powerful invitations to spread the word or rally behind a cause or action to a select group of people instead of creating mass mailings to everyone you know?  Think of the difference: your communications become more strategic, more streamlined, and more efficient by recognizing those in your list that fall into the different peer influence categories!

Giving permission to peer influence

All of this is really to say: you can create a multiple win for your organization and your community by giving permission to broadcast and influence on your behalf.  It sounds simple, but there are always infastructre requirements behind everything.  In order to give permission and leverage the peer influencers in your community, you need:

  • to create a dashboard, toolbox, or any other catchy name where influencers can grab images, videos, files or messages that are ready to be broadcast
  • to create opportunities for influencers to be unique or valuable with their participation
  • to monitor how your influence tools are used (“share with a friend” or RT or so on) to see what content is best or most successfully shared and if there are new influencers emerging
  • to provide recognition or spotlight for those that are taking your message into their networks and creating impact
  • to help your staff, team or organization to understand the value in distributing the communications and influence of your work, and help them leverage the network  in similar ways across all departments and campaigns

What do you think?

How has your organization seen peer influence or community leaders emerge in social media? How have you created ways to give value back to those driving your message to their own communities? (Think about all of this in terms of campaigns, fundraising, events and more!)

Join the conversation on the SSIR blog or share your ideas in the comments below.

New on SSIR: Give Permission to Peer Influence
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