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In the midst of the race to get into social media and be seen to be keeping up with the times, more traditional forms of online communication are often forgotten, but they still provide valuable lessons that shouldn’t be ignored.

Social media is the obvious focus for many companies attempting to improve their online reputation at the moment. Success stories like Dell’s use of Twitter or Nike’s Chalkbot are placed on a pedestal, and the hype surrounding brands using Facebook is at boiling point. One of the trends we’ve seen developing over the past year is the notion of targeting evangelists over influencers. Marmite’s Marmarati is a great example of engaging with a smaller group of passionate fans, instead of going after high-profile influencers was vast networks at their disposal.

The theory is that those with real interest in the product or service you’re trying to promote are far more likely to spread the word to those with a similar mindset. Though smart PRs have been playing by a version of this rule for years (targeting those with interest in the right subject, but also with a large reach), tying social media into this to spread the word online is still a relatively underused concept. Blogger relations should be treated in the same way, but is quite often marred by a scattergun approach.

Lithium Technologies has been building communities based on game theory (rewarding interaction with points or badges for instance) for almost ten years. Born out of the minds of two professional gamers who created Gamer.com for hardcore players, the pair succeeded in building a vibrant community and were then approached by a member (and Dell executive no less) who wondered if the same techniques could be used to grow a customer community instead. Since then, the company has been at the heart of some of the web’s most well-established forums – from Sony Playstation to Virgin Media – largely by targeting the ‘superfan’ minority.

Lithum’s VP and general manager for EMEA, Bruno Teuber, told me last week that on average 90% of a community is passive, 9% are contributors and just 1% make up the highly-engaged superfans. For close to a decade the team has targeted the most active within forums to help them grow. I asked Teuber if he’d noticed any major changes in the business over the past few years due to the explosion of social media. Though forums are inherently social in their design, has this ‘new’ channel affected the way brands relate to Lithium’s services?

His response was that due to increased visibility in terms of looking at what’s being said online, clients are truly waking up to the fact that people might be passionate about their brand. This means that marketing managers and customer service straff are more aware of the potential to build communities online than ever. It’s strange that the trend for brands to target evangelists with smaller – but tightly-packed networks – is considered to be emerging at the moment. After all, companies like Lithium have been doing it with forums for years and smart agencies are the ones that realise that there’s much to learn from these social environments that have existed for a very long time.

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Published 12 July, 2010 by NMA Staff

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