As we mention frequently in our book, the best “social” engaged brands go beyond the Facebook page and Twitter wall to encapsulate a much broader set of tools – some that are very controllable and some that are not. We call them the website, owned communities and external communities in our book, but we’ll simplify the concept here and suggest you need a Home, Away and Neutral Site game (with apologies to my Yankees fans, based on the jerseys above – go Red Sox nation!).

Untold advantages exist for participating on all key social platforms, but my personal opinion is that companies are losing perspective on a key value driver – their own home for community and collaboration where their best fans and customers can hang out. Being social really does start “in the family”. Let’s call this the home field advantage.

Just check out any major league sport and you will notice that a majority of home teams win over road teams. In professional baseball, the home team wins 54% of the time, in hockey it’s 56%, in football it’s 58%, in soccer it’s 61% and in basketball it’s 62%. Teams like home field cooking for many reasons – rules that are advantageous to the home team,  to the familiarity of surroundings, to the support and noise of your most zealous fans and perhaps the lack of travel involved. In the recent 2011 Stanley Cup final, not one team has won as the visiting team yet.

The inherent advantages of a home field advantage exists to a similar degree with entertaining guests, conducting business meetings and practicing political diplomacy.

So a call for balance again – the very best teams realize they have to win at home, on the road and sometimes even in neutral site games (think NFL’s Super Bowl, NHL’s outdoor classic and Manchester United’s touring friendlies).

And so it is with engaging customers and being a corporate player digitally. Great brands need to compete online in all three types of arenas and we’ve provided 15 platforms/tools that they should be present in, familar with and engaged to, all split evenly between home, away and somewhere in between. We also love how balances their approach to these three environments, have a look.

The Home Game – company-owned environments

Pluses – tailored, controllable, for your most zealous fans, customer experience driven, revenue stream accessible, trackable

Minuses – costs to host, limited capacity, company voice, competing interests, frequently design, frequently lacking dynamic changing environment

Five Platforms:

#1 – The Website – the official hub where all home activity resides and is promoted and all neutral and external sites are present and linked to

#2 – The Blog – the dynamic and and tagged update of company news, events, offers, profiles, stories and perspectives

#3 – The Community – the tailored environment where the most interested people/fans connect, commune, contribute, collaborate, compete and sometimes co-develop with the company

#4 – The Forum – the exchange where people rate, review, connect with and support each other and discuss the company’s products, services, missions, features, launches, lifestyles and interests

#5 – Enterprise 2.0 – for lack of a better word (because we hate the term intranet)  the internal employee and key stakeholder environment where companies operationalize learnings, experience and knowledge across departments, interests, geographies and other spheres

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The Neutral Site Game – company – built environments on other service provider’s spheres

Pluses – lower tech maintenance, bridge to bigger but less engaged audiences, elements of control, wide array of features, prospect generating, user generated content mixes with employee/expert content

Minuses – shifting platform rules, external costs, commodified look and feel, regulated by platform, concern over privacy and proprietary rights, full transparency required to be effective

#1 – Brand ‘Net Pages – brand developed pages and apps on key social networks and platforms – the most common being Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, LinkedIn Groups and Android and iPhone/iPad apps

#2 – Personal Profiles – the social network profiles and personal blogs of your executive, staff, partners and official ambassadors

#3 – Facebook Connect/Open Id – the components, identities and feeds of open social networks and technology that integrates within your Home environments

#4 – RSS Feed – the aggregratable, distributable and mash-up able feed of your content available to external readers, directories, bloggers and websites

#5 – Events – although some of these can be private, frequently most events give up an element of control to their attendees in real life (seminars, conferences, events) and in virtual life (tweetups, webinars, web conferencing)

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The Away Site Game – third party or people-owned or controlled environments, outreached and influenced by company interests

Pluses – credibility, large external audience/social circles/weak ties, external supporters do the heavy lifting, fresh perspectives, competitive/market intelligence, search engine influence

Minuses – lack of control, openness to criticism, competitive subterfuge, spamming/hacking, dialogue support, predictabilty, measurability, incentives, short term effects

Five platforms:

#1 – Social Networks – communities of interest/groups/pages that reside online specifically about your company/brand or more likely interested in the lifestyle that your brand supports/promotes -e.g. external Facebook pages, social network ads, Linkedin professional groups, Ning communities

#2 – Sharing Sites – redistributing spokes where the company proactively externalizes content or external people identify your content and flag as interesting – most popular being – YouTube video sharing, Flickr photo sharing, Digg/Stumble Upon social bookmarking, Scribd/Slideshare document sharing

#3 – Other Blogs/News Sites – external blogs and social news sites that provide social tagged platforms for sharing content in their own environments and also, thus influencing search engine rankings

#4 – Influencers – real life, media, digital and interest-specific trendsetters, tastemakers, opinion leaders, experts, social ringleaders and grassroots celebrities who may adopt your company/brand as their cause, source of ongoing content/inspiration, passing interest or temporary badge

#5 – Directories – ensuring your company/brand is prominent and mentioned on all key directories/wikis/lists/search engines/eCommerce selections – e.g. Alltop top sites, Klout lists, DMOz/Yahoo and Google directories, top iPhone apps, Twitter trending lists, Wikipedia entries, Technorati and Google Reader sites, Google/Bing/Yahoo/ search engines

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