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Buffer – The Science of Building a Strong, Lasting Community on Social Media

November 24, 2014

By Kevan Lee


How do your interactions differ between the online world and the offline?

Away from the computer, we may have a better feeling on how to interact with one another and build relationships. Online? It’s a bit of a different world.

As a distributed team at Buffer—meaning we all work from wherever we’re happiest—our interactions together and our relationships with one another take place online. The same goes for many of the connections we make on social media.

So it seems worthwhile to have a better understanding of how these relationships are built and how to create stronger bonds with your social media community.

I ran through the research on the topic and am happy to share what I found about the science of building social media relationships and how it can help bring you closer to your community. Read ahead to see the neat explanations and takeaways on the topic, and do share your thoughts and experience in the comments!

How organizations build community online

Lessons in dialogue, and examples from the American Red Cross

Researchers Michael Kent and Maureen Taylor were the first to come up with the concept of dialogue theory, a method that organizations use to connect with audiences and build relationships online. At the crux of dialog theory is this idea:

Input by and communication to the public

In other words, for companies and brands to build strong relationships online, communication must be a two-way street.

Kent and Taylor, whose research came out in 1998 before the rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, found that the basic principles for building this dialogue online are:

  1. Include useful information on the sites
  2. Frequently update the sites and generate new content to engage the public and encourage return visits
  3. Make the sites easy to use and navigate
  4. Strive to keep the public on the site

What might these dialogue principles look like on the social media profiles we use and manage?

  1. Share updates that are useful for your community
  2. Publish updates often—both new content as well as responses to your community
  3. Make information easy to find for your community—fill out your bio, add links to your website, etc.
  4. Do your best to keep your community engaged on your profile by responding to comments, holding chats, building groups, etc.

To highlight a use case for dialogue theory, University of Maryland researchers conducted a case study of how the American Red Cross uses social media to engage with its many different audiences. In in-depth interviews with 40 staff members, the researchers found several key insights into the way that the Red Cross builds strong, lasting relationships online.

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