Lots of clients want an online community, and in some cases I’d agree that it’s a good idea (see previous posts here and here.) Makes sense. A good online community can be the focal point for an organisation’s fans, customers, employees and so on, allowing them to engage with the company/sector/issue in question and as a result grow even more passionate than before and give them a launch pad for bringing others onboard.
However, if you don’t already have a very big, active and passionate offline community, your online community won’t work. Sure, you might get 50 people, and if that’s OK with you, fine, but in most cases it won’t be, especially if you’re trying to prove ROI (hard with social media in any case – impossible with 50 people.)
So what do you do? You build momentum towards community. You first pinpoint stakeholders and potential supporters online and engage with them nice and slow, instead of trying to force a community on them. If your issue is important and you make yourself a well respected thought-leader on it, community may then eventually happen organically, but as the result of human interaction and not of a tool that’s been provided. And please note that community in this case might not even mean an online community, say a Ning. It could just be people connected via Twitter, who engage on one very popular blog, or a Facebook group. Remember, it’s not the tool that is going to make people suddenly want to be in a community, it’s the story around it.
How do you start though? How do you bring people together, engage, create this momentum that will eventually lead to a community of mobilisers for your cause?! Why, you follow the 4-pillar approach to online engagement.
April 27, 2009
I wrote a post a few months ago stating, in short, that a dedicated social network may be worthwhile if your candidate, cause, company, profession, sector etc. is fairly unique and has a very dedicated band of followers looking to engage and/or be mobilised: “If you’re interested in something that can really get lots of people fired up (politics, saving wildlife, football) or, say, represent a very active political group or faction, then your own social network could work, if executed and promoted well.” I cited Barack Obama supporters and US firefighters as good examples of groups that wanted and made use of their own networks.
This all still rings true, but a few posts on Beth’s Blog have given me food for thought (see here and here.) To the list of people who would most likely make use of a good social network of their own, I’d add people who are dealing with a personal or family issue of a sensitive nature, say a medical condition or tragedy of sorts. They are likely to be very eager to communicate and engage with others who are facing similar experiences, as I can imagine that it must provide people with some semblance of comfort to interact with others out there who know exactly what they are going through. And to do so on a dedicated platform is more appropriate than, say, a Facebook Group, as it allows users to have the sense of privacy they’d likely demand when dealing with issues of a sensitive nature.
Under no circumstances am I suggesting that marketers should try tap into this market, although pharmaceutical companies could perhaps have a say – as long as they don’t blatantly plug their products. It’s probably an area best left to government agencies and especially non-profits (again, I’d refer to Beth’s blog as a good source for further material on this.)
November 26, 2008
A little out of date perhaps, but a post about Barack Obama that I was reading earlier contained a reference to Mattel’s Playground community which I thought was interesting. The Playground, which was set up in 2007 but has since been shut, aimed to attract mothers of young children who could provide input on existing toys or recommend ideas that would help Mattel develop new products. That in itself is interesting. Dell did something similar with Ideastorm a few years back: by asking customers to recommend ideas, provide feedback and share information, they revitalised a dying brand which has since outdone HP et al to become the number one manufacturer of personal computers in the world.
Mattel’s Playground is interesting in another way too. Mattel had to recall a number of products in 2007, which ordinarily should have had disastrous effects. However, their profits actually grew, so they were not adversely affected by the recalls at all. Why? Because they respected the main rules of social media: listen, be humble, be patient, build relationships, and act in a way your community would approve of. As products were being recalled, Mattel communicated with the Playground community on a daily basis, asking for advice on how they should act and for feedback on every action they took. Result? Their reactions to the recalls reflected that which customers expected, and by listening to their community, they showed that they were genuinely sorry for their mistakes and wanted to make amends. A good lesson for all companies.
November 17, 2008
It’s often noted that replicating online tools that are mainstream and already perform the functions you need, just for the sake of having something with your own logo on it, is a mistake. In most cases, I’d agree. With social networks in particular, considering the number of existing tools with scores of users – LinkedIn, Facebook, Orkut, hi5, Bebo and so on – if you are looking to create a community, why would you want to create something new? Most networks fail, ROI is hard to measure (you have a load of members – so what?), and as mentioned, existing tools usually have all the functionalities you could ever want (and can even be used easily and cheaply).
All valid points. However, sometimes there’s a case for an organisation, movement, group, party etc. setting up a tailor-made social network:
- If you want your network to perform a specific function.
- Most pertinently, when the people who might use it – call it your fan-base or stakeholders or whatever – are numerous, enthusiastic and active, and actually would like a social network that caters for them and them alone.
The success of the US President-elect’s network – my.barackobama.com – confirms both points. The specific functions it performed were a) raising money for the candidate, and b) allowing supporters to mobilise great numbers of people in a very organised manner. And with regards to the second point, I think it goes without saying that Obama supporters were plentiful enough and fired up.
A less conspicuous case-study I’d cite, also from across the pond, is Firefighter Nation, the firefighters’ network, which has 26,000 very active members that are avidly using all the functionalities on the site (e.g. all thirteen forum topics had been active in the last 24 hours when I checked). So why is it working? Primarily because of a very strong dose of point 2 cited above: there are lots of firefighters in the US, they are very passionate about their profession, they have a very strong sense of camaraderie, and they want their own space where they can meet others like them and share their unique experiences. A Facebook group could probably do all the same things, but it just would not feel as special; it would not be a unique platform for them alone.
So the lesson is: if you’re thinking of setting up a network for philatelists or fans of tiddlywinks, use an existing platform (and don’t hold your breath). If you’re interested in something that can really get lots of people fired up (politics, saving wildlife, football) or, say, represent a very active political group or faction, then your own social network could work, if executed and promoted well. And if you really do fancy giving it a go, I’d recommend starting on Ning, which is the platform Firefighter Nation is built on – it’s brilliant, and what’s more, it’s free.