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When people-powered MVNO Giffgaff launched in beta, reactions from the mobile industry were mixed. But is its focus on community quite as fluffy as it sounds?

At the time, some watched with interest while many more said its ‘down with the traditional mobile network’ message was just spin from parent company O2.

However, at Reputation Online Live on Friday – which looked at building communities online – Heather Taylor, head of social media for Giffgaff, and community manager Vincent Boon showed some figures that have the potential to silence even its harshest critics.

One of the recurring themes throughout the event was the need to ensure a brand gives something back to its users, such as encouraging them to get involved by picking out positive behaviours and rewarding them (like Foursquare’s badges).

Giffgaff was created with a payback system in place. While its gimmicky attempt to create user-generated marketing by loaning out gimp costumes and other bizarre characters didn’t quite hit the mark, giving users free calls, texts and even cash in return for helping the community has.

One the most interesting ways this has been made possible is its partnership with Lithium Technologies, which creates seamless integration between the brand’s social presences. For instance, if a question is posed on Giffgaff’s Facebook page, it’s also fed into the brand’s forum. If an appropriate answer is posted via the forum, the response still shows up on Facebook and the credit is logged accordingly. Users earn credit for the help they provide across multiple sites.

Not only does this enhance the power of the community’s collective mind, but it reflects users’ behaviour in a way every brand could learn from. Your customers aren’t just interacting with you in one place, they’re being influenced by several things, people and experiences at once.

You can’t argue with the figures. The extreme is that Giffgaff’s top ten users spend on average 9.5 hours a day helping others, while 40% of users earn cashback rewards. They’re getting smarter at posting the right questions and answering in the right way, as 30% of organic search lands at the community pages. Giffgaff’s users provide an answer to a question within three minutes on average, no matter what time of day, and because of this people ask the community instead of calling an agent 50% of the time.

This reduces resource spent on call centres, improves customer care and strengthens the community all in one. When supported by constant communication from Taylor and Boon to ensure an official contact is always available, plus the fact that 30% of ideas about improvement are put into process, the future looks promising.

I’d be interested to see some figures that point to the success of the company financially, not just in terms of engagement, but maybe dismissing Giffgaff’s community-powered model isn’t as obvious as originally thought.

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Published 11 October, 2010 by NMA Staff

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