Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Course Leader MSc Digital Marketing Communications at MMU Business School
14 January 2009 11:15am
Katie would very much appreciate your opinions on any of the following questions. All questions refer to businesses or brands which have created a community for their consumers, on or around their website. (for example. Lonely Planet, Dell)
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What factors make a company hosted community successful - do you have any examples to support these factors?
What benefits or problems could arise for an organisation from hosting an online community?
Do you think there is a particular industry/type of company which is best suited to creating its own online community?
Naming a community which you like and use (whether professionally or not); describe its ‘atmosphere’.
Social Media & PR manager at webuyanycar.com
15 January 2009 10:08am
Director of Research and Education at Econsultancy
15 January 2009 15:04pm
A complex issue, but a few ideas that might help:
Negative feedback can be instrumental is developing consumer confidence, providing it is managed in the right way. Transparency is very important as it can be construed that a brand may be trying to underestimate their community/users. Companies are increasingly recognising the importance of engaging users. Social communities – social networks, etc. - are arguably the best for this, as brands can see how consumers interact with their products/services.
A survey by Nielsen showed that despite the increasing number of channels available to marketers for advertising, consumers still place their highest levels of trust in their peers, with 78% saying that “they trusted - either completely or somewhat - the recommendation of other consumers.”
You will always have the issue of creating a community from scratch – ie. with social networks, using tools such as Ning or CollectiveX, where you can moderate users and run administration yourself – or creating a model on the back of established brands, such as Facebook or MySpace, where your control is limited.
Additionally, you need to question as to whether an organisation will benefit from being associated with other brands like this. That’s not to say it won’t work, but examples of brands using ready-made online communities are more likely to be single campaigns for products (sometimes in association with offline), rather than the brands themselves. Eg. Cadburys on Facebook, 157,500 friends; Cadburys Wispa, 219,500.
In line with this, communities are also becoming increasingly niche: although the growth-rate of social networks is still increasing, this is now in competition with smaller, specialist sites. Some of these are brand-led, but user-orientated, highlighting to the point that companies need to understand that users are choosing to interact with their products in an online environment. By offering the best possible way for this to happen, ensure that they will have a greater chance of brand loyalty and a positive association, which will likely be passed around the internet between consumers.
A couple of examples of this lie with Starbucks (MyStarbucksidea) and Reebok (GoRunEasy)
Hope this is of some help. Jake
Strategy Director at Seren (formerly Foviance)
15 January 2009 16:12pm
Hi David & Katie
There is an excellent chapter in the book Groundswell on these questions you raise. Particularly useful is the book's emphasis on the type of user/customer rather than the type of business/product that is suitable for a community. It's also good on recognising what type of community is good for what kind of business requirement, i.e. research, creating buzz, customer support etc.
I'm going to give a plug to a community that I was involved in setting up in 2003 for members of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. (Described by Cranfield School of Management as the Golden Benchmark of professional communities) http://www.cipd.co.uk/community/
This is an excellent example of how a community can mature, change and focus to meet it's audiences' needs while playing a valuable role for the business.
If I were to pick out a couple of key success/failure factors from our various communites (we're mostly in the B2B space) I'd say:
1. The amount of ego in a community. Too little and there is not enough active participation, too much and it just becomes self promotion.
2. The level of ownership and control a brand wants to have. In my opinion the best communities again balance things. There is a tendency to swing to either too much control which can kill things or to abdicate responsibility for leadership and guidance.
As an aside it might be worth checking out a book called Design for Community by Derek Powazek. It's pretty old now but it had a great chapter on how to kill a community when it has exceeded it's sell by date. It might be a useful take on some of the questions you asked.
Director at Practicology
19 January 2009 20:26pm
Hi David & Katie,
Avis are doing some good things with their blog: wetryharder.co.uk. 10 Downing Street on Twitter is also worth exploring.My personal favourites:
Check out tripadvisor.co.uk : for many years one of the most unwieldy (as in, unusable) sites out there, but many customers, including myself, persisted with it because of the strength of the content in there. They also aggregate user reviews (humble members of the public) with published reviews (the journos and experts) and give a balanced, authoritative view of the destination or accommodation you are interested in.
Also see metacritic.com. Same principle, different subject matter.
Notably, the community IS the service for both of these. Do they count?
For brands to try and harness online communities there has to be some honesty and openness in the relationship. All parties have to feel there is "something in it for me" - particularly consumers who are very quick to sniff out a bandwagon campaign. Reaching out to a community means more than developing a facebook app or setting up a blog etc. If you are going to open your brand up to your consumers they will tell you what they think - of you, your policies, your product, your service. And many consumers believe they have the right to expect you to listen to them and change if necessary or lose their customer and goodwill. Consumers are very quick to sniff out bandwagonning and lip service.
Another aside - more books to check out I'm afraid: Net Gain and Net Worth by John Hegel and Arthur G Armstrong. A bit old skool but still enormously relevant today - what vision.
I've been jumping around a bit but HTHNupur
Owner at Digital Juggler
28 January 2009 16:01pm
and highly topical question. Wish my research options when at Uni where that
communities rely on nature and nurture. Nature because your community must grow
organically and on its own terms, nurture to provide the tools, advice and
support to enable that community to grow positively such that negative factors
are effectively moderated and people feel that their interests are being
protected. From a corporate perspective, there is a fine line between nurture and
brand control, between dialogue and monologue. A community thrives on dialogue,
both between owner and user and interaction between individual users and
groups. Monologue is just another dry corporate marketing tactic.
biggest danger is that the brand guardian or central marketing function view a
community as just another route to market. This leads to a silo approach and
content being pushed at members rather than people being engaged. If you do this,
people tune out and go find something more relevant. And with so many people
creating billions of pages of content online, there is no shortage of other
parties wanting that attention.
risk is the community owner not actually loving the community. That may sound
rather Woodstock but if you want your community to breathe, you need to live it
yourself and really embrace what people are doing with it. I’ve seen too many
examples of poor social marketing, best example is Facebook where companies create
a profile, then sit back and expect others to do the work for them. It just
doesn’t work like that, you have to give people a reason to trust your brand.
If you do it properly, the brand advocacy is incredible. Great example on
Facebook is Wiggly Wigglers http://snipr.com/wigglyfacebook (award winning); bad example is ebuyer.com http://snipr.com/ebuyerfacebook, feels
like the tumble weed has set in.
successful community needs to encourage people to share content how they want, when
they want and where they want. A few ideas:
Don’t just see a community as a single access location where
people can access and share information – a community online needs to reflect
community behaviour in general
Allow people to share information across their personal networks –
social bookmarking is really helpful [allowing people to post your pages to
facebook, dig, furl, strumbleupon etc]
Use buzz techniques to extend the reach of your community –
Twitter is great for this. Use this link for a list of companies who ‘tweet’ http://snipr.com/tweetingbrands [yes, you have to love the
industry speak!]. Starbucks use Twitter very well, I follow them just to see
what they say even though I don’t personally like the brand http://twitter.com/Starbucks [I will
post your request on my Twitter feed to see if I can get others to respond to
it and help out]
Integrate the social techniques: if you have a blog, link it to
your social network, Twitter account, YouTube video channel etc – make it easy
for a member to interact with all content.
Does this suit particular industries?
question about industry/company type being suited to communities is also very
subjective. I was discussing the role of social media for carpet/flooring companies
this week with colleagues (yes I should go out more) who thought I was insane.
However, if you break it down to the basics, how many time have you had a
conversation with someone about flooring in your home? I know I’ve bought
carpet and talked about it with mates. It may not be the most thrilling of
subjects but if you are spending £hundreds to make your place look good, you
want to know the choice you are making is spot on. A community can generate
huge amounts of information and recommendations (I’m throwing customer reviews
into the concept of a community) and this can really influence prospects. Artigiano,
one of our Clients, has introduced reviews & ratings to its website to
increase customer engagement – check the homepage http://www.artigiano.co.uk/
I think that as long as the tools you offer within the community are relevant
to the needs of the audience, social media can suit almost any company/industry.
Barrack Obama is a great example of how politics is embracing community elements
to engage people online – check out his site @ http://www.barackobama.com/index.php. The Myobama.com page is
interesting, you can interact with other voters and can bookmark pages. Then
you can link through to the Obama Youtube channel. It is well thought through
and well integrated. Yes, a presidential election has widespread publicity and
interest. However, with voter numbers low, it shows how social media can be
used to drive powerful connections and increase engagement. I think Team Obama
has done an excellent job, even with the flag waving! An excellent example of
forum/community boards is Carphone Warehouse with the What Mobile forum – everything
you could possible imagine for mob phone and then some more, check it out @ http://forum.whatmobile.net/. I’m
impressed and mobile phones bore me senseless, that’s quite a brand
A community I like
for naming a community I like, it would be Chinwag. This is a community for
eCommerce/Internet professionals that enables you to interact with and get information
from other people in the industry who can help share knowledge and answer your
questions. It is easy to use, a very simple objective (and I mean that as a
compliment – life should be simple) that is very well met. I like the fact the
culture is self-regulating. If people are annoyed they address the list and the
list responds. Sam Michel who is the CEO only steps in when necessary to
moderate and bring any issues/concerns to a conclusion. I think he manages the
is a bit of a download so hope it is useful.
you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
Chief Tease at Triptease
13 April 2009 13:00pm
Hi David,The reasons for success with an online community can vary widely. Sometimes it's novelty, sometimes it's a clever widget, and for some of the most successful social networks the secret to get off the ground was paying a few super-connected people to migrate thousands of their followers from other networks. Perhaps more telling are the requirements for success.
And some of those are above. I'd say it's:
- strategy - incl. community acquisition plan and objectives/metrics- excellent community management- good content and programming- suitable technology
NB tech is last for a reason - people wrongly assume it's the most important factor and spend most time/money here when they shoudl do the opposite.
CharlieFreshNetworks Online Communities
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