« Citi Mobile Makes the Homepage | Main | ING Direct Launching in Seattle »

Key Success Factors for Social Media Projects (part 1)

By William Azaroff on August 7, 2007 5:17 PM | Comments (16)

Many companies are entering the world of social media but don't really know what success looks like. They want to dabble with this new toolkit, but don't know how to manage expectations.

I believe these projects can be of tremendous value to our industry, which is based heavily on trust. Social media, when executed well, engenders great trust among the users and participants. Somewhere I came across the quote "trust is the killer app," and I like it a lot (I'd like to know who coined that phrase; if you know, please comment).


One year ago, the company I work for, Vancity, launched a social networking website called ChangeEverything.ca. This project is an open online community "for people in Vancouver, Victoria and the Lower Mainland who want to change themselves, their communities or their world." I must admit, one year ago we were fairly naive about what to expect. Now, just past our one-year anniversary, we consider the project a success due to several factors:

  • The steady and impressive growth of the registered user base
  • Site traffic peaking during times when relevant local issues are being discussed
  • Tremendous media exposure in local print, radio and television
  • Excellent response to the site from the blogging community (we consider good blog reviews to be unsolicited third-party endorsements)
  • Real world impact (more on this in part 2 next week)

The site now acts as a community platform to explore issues of change in and around Vancity's market. It's a unique and wonderful position to be in, with this base of local changemakers associated with our brand.

Lessons from ChangeEverything 

Over the last year, we learned many lessons about what makes a good community project. They include:

  1. The first 500 members set the tone
  2. Create a set of Community Guidelines
  3. Focus more on encouraging good content than eliminating content you're afraid of
  4. Ensure you have good moderation capabilities
  5. Have patience and persistence
  6. Be genuine and authentic
  7. Make it part of a campaign to trial
  8. Identify your critical success metrics ahead of time
  9. Hire an excellent community moderator

Let me explain each point:

1. Typically, in online communities the first 500 members set the tone and mood. If the first 500 people who register and use your forum are yelling, being rude and creating havoc, then those people you do want to participate won't feel welcome. The good news is, the opposite is also true. Handpick the first few users, ask them to pass along the URL to their peers. Start slow and feed the community well, with people who get what you're trying to achieve. By the time the masses get hold of it, the tone will be set and it'll be far easier to monitor and moderate. In fact, you may find that you don't have to moderate comments much at all, which is what we've found with ChangeEverything.ca.

2. Set proper expectations and then link to those guidelines from every place on the site where users can add their own content. It helps to write your guidelines in a very readable way - here are the guidelines for ChangeEverything.ca. Make them humourous and fun, which will make them easier to enforce.

3. Add features and functions that make people want to collaborate. It's too easy to get caught up in being a security guard and forget that you need to be a concierge first. The primary objective is to get people to contribute positively, not to stop people from contributing negatively. Admittedly, this is a hard one to follow through on.

4. Whatever software platform you use, make sure you can moderate content on and off the site easily. The amount of spam blogs get make this doubly essential.

5. Rome wasn't built in a day and communities don't flourish overnight. Keep finding interesting ways to let your initiative take root.

6. One of my absolute favorite quotes is "all social media projects are inherently authentic." The more I think about it, the truer it is. If companies play with social media for the right reason, they will have a greater chance of success.

7. If companies need a safe way to try out social media, they should make it part of a bigger campaign. The ROI (or sometimes lack thereof) is easier to justify to try something different and more innovative.

8. Metrics are crucial and part two of this post will explore the changing world of metrics for social media more fully.

9. Hire someone who knows how to nurture and grow an online community. I'll go into more depth on this topic in part three of this post.

Now for the kicker: In the year of running an online community, where registered users can immediately add comments, with no moderation before those comments go live, we have not had to remove a single comment due to inappropriate behavior. We're extremely proud of this fact, that we were able to build a thriving community focused on positive change. We have removed spam and gibberish, but no one has gone against our community guidelines and posted anything hateful or obscene. Gives me renewed faith in humanity.

William Azaroff is the interactive marketing & channel manager at Vancity where he develops interactive marketing initiatives, and pioneered ChangeEverything.ca, the groundbreaking, change-themed online community. William also plans strategy for the online channel, with a view to its potential to help Vancity, its members and the community. William brings nine years of experience in Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles producing Web projects for such clients as Honda, Disney, Intuit Canada and Nike Jordan. He writes about the intersection of online branding, social media and the world of banking on his blog at azaroff.com/blog

Comments (16)

Most Recent Posts:


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us. I look forward to your upcoming posts.

I especially like the "permanent beta" phrase on Change Everything. I think to be successful(and for credit unions true to our calling) that our industry needs to have that mindset of being structured yet fluid at the same time.

It's so zen - to be in a permanent state of 'beta'. Thanks for the comment, Dan!

William, great post--right in line with my own experiences at Wells Fargo. The core value is "be a good host", which means letting go of some control, and be willing to go where your community leads you. That's something we learned with our first blog, Guided by History, when the community shifted the focus from disaster preparedness to history as the focus.

Thanks Ed. I don't know if I ever told you, but Guided by History was a big inspiration for us when planning ChangeEverything.ca. We were seeking a bank with a blog not directly about their company or services, but about their impact on the communities they serve. Thanks for that!

Thanks, William! Guided by History has grown and has a life of it's own now (the real measure of success!). We're happy to see the passionate community of readers there drive things forward.

ChangeEverything is a great effort too, and I use it often internally as an example of how FIs can integrate and serve their communities in new ways. Congratulations.

William, this is an awesome post, as is your ChangeEverything blog. Really good news to hear of the positive comments and non-existence of bad attitudes. That is inspiring. I am excited to see that you're an active part of NetBanker now. We don't know each other, of course, but i've been reading and observing in the FI space for a while. Kudos on this article. Thank you for sharing.
TJ McCue

Excellent post William. I'll be looking forward to the next installment(s). Can you share any insights or strategies for getting senior management to approve such a project?

@ TJ - Thanks so much! Please keep commenting.

@ Paul - I'll be honest with you, one of my personal KPIs from the start was ensuring that senior executives liked the project. I am lucky that Vancity is the kind of company where many execs "got it" pretty quickly . I was invited to present the project all the way up to our CEO. My main focus to anyone who'd listen was: I know you like this project, but let me explain why you like this project.

One of the major side benefits of ChangeEverything.ca is that it has raised social media literacy and interest among our execs. No mean feat.

As you know William driving the exploration into Web 2.0 at Vancity was a team effort and involved a lot of people, you were a big part of that as were a number of other people.

There was a lot of work that had to be done at the beginning to encourage buy in and general education on the subject, we must not forget that!

We woudln't want to leave the impression that driving change and creating a cultural shift within an organization doesn't take a lot of effort!

The overview of this experience was the topic of my discussion at Bar Camp Bank.


Pierre Burns
Manager, Digital Presence

Nice points William.

I've been a member of the changeeverything community since the early days, and I can personally attest to how quickly it has grown and evolved in a year. No small feat. Keep up the good work.


@ Pierre - Thanks for that. Absolutely, there are many great people working to make innovation happen. In fact, part three of this series will talk about the crucial role of moderators and their influence on the success of these projects.

@ Jeremy - Thanks a lot. Indeed you were a key early adopter of ChangeEverything.ca and have been a good regular contributor to the community. Much appreciated!

I think the most interesting transformation, from my perspective, has been the organic shift from a community largely engaged in dialogue to a community that is actively engaged in the community on numerous issues and for prolonged periods of time.

Many social media sites suffer from attention deficit disorder, a constant changing of topics, and a disconnection from real world activities. This is not the case at change everything, in my opinion.

Oops - by actively engaged in the community I mean the change everything community has taken their dialogue into real world projects in the greater Vancouver area.

Thanks Jeremy. It's an amazing thing, seeing the different posts people make and which ones inspire action. It is a true system of democracy where people vote with their feet, engaging with issues that resonate for them.

One of the great things I learned about ChangeEverything.ca was from a member of the community in a focus group we held to learn more about the site's users. A woman said "I go to Facebook to be with friends, but I go to ChangeEverything to meet new, like-minded people" Amazing thing for an online community to achieve.

Upcoming Events



RSS Subscribe via RSS
RSS Subscribe to Comments


@NetBanker Twitter Feed

See all @NetBanker tweets