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The right balance between protecting and annoying your community champions

August 22nd, 2008 francois Posted in communities, customer service, social networking 2 Comments »

When you have a vibrant community, you need to protect your members from other members who might not have the best interest of the community at heart – like spammers or bullies. Sometimes it becomes hard to do that, especially when you have the wrong tools – like Facebook, which does not allow you to communicate with your members if you have a large group, or does not allow you to manage the membership easily, as I described here.

Sometimes, companies go to far – as is the case with LinkedIn. Now I have been a longtime fan of LinkedIn, spending a fair amount of time brainstorming and advising the early management team and acting as a press spokesperson when there were few of us on the system. I have over 700 connections and unlike with some other systems I am religious about only accepting and inviting connections that I have actually met. Ok, there might be a few exceptions in there where I accepted invites from a few people that I never met because they were well crafted. The last time I synched my contact list with LinkedIn there were three people who said they did not know me – even though two of them had had gigs with my clients through me. That instantly made me a pariah on LinkedIn. I can no longer invite people who used to work with me at previous companies, and every time I try inviting somebody I am reminded that “You are now required to enter an email address to send invitations from this page because several recipients of your invitations indicated they don’t know you,” and asked to contact customer service.

When I did that they did not even bother responding – what was I expecting?

That, I believe, is going too far – what do you think? What is the right balance and how do you maintain it without making your strongest champions feel like they are no longer welcome, even the ones who may have made a mistake?

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Why online communities fail – and how many succeed…

July 21st, 2008 francois Posted in communities, marketing, social networking, Strategy, technology enablement, worst practices 4 Comments »

Trablaization of BusinessThe 2008 Tribalization of Business Study that was released last week led a lot of people to conclude that online communities do not work and that companies are spending too much money on making them happen.

Well – there is some of that and then there is a whole other side to the story that we uncovered as part of the study.

Let me use this post to clarify some of the misunderstandings in the interpretations of the business community study results.

Do most online communities indeed fail?

In fact we found many very successful community examples in the companies that participated in the study – many of them well known and well documented case studies, some less so. We should also point out that most communities that were part of the study are less than 1 year old – so we do not really know whether they are successes or failures.

It is true that many communities fail, and will continue to do so. When they do, however, they do so for very similar reasons – so you’d think it should be fairly easy to avoid the pitfalls.

The first reason is that many companies who embark on community initiatives are putting their company or product at the center of the effort. As many pointed out, that is obviously WRONG – you need to put the community member at the center and make sure that there is some passion around the initiative.

Do companies spend too much on Technology?

The second main reason for community failures, and one that got misinterpreted by many, is that companies are starting community initiatives by focusing on the technology first. It’s not that they are spending too much on technology, it’s that the technology platform is not what is going to result in the dynamics of increasing return that characterize successful communities.

Should all companies have community initiatives?

If you can create a place for your customers and prospects to come and share their passion, and that place does not yet exist, then you should absolutely try to have a community initiative. But don’t be blinded by “the not invented here” syndrome – maybe the best way for your company to leverage communities is to go on Facebook, MySpace or some other community that is user controlled, like the Tivo community used to be.

As some pointed out, there is another big reason why companies should always think about affiliating with other communities – and that is that people will only participate in a limited number of communities. I won’t participate in a Bank of America small business community and a Microsoft small business community and maybe a few others – I only have so much bandwidth.

When is $1M too much to spend on a community?

Many jumped on the bandwagon that it is unbelievable for companies to spend $1M on customer communities…[update 07/21 @7:45pm ET - only 6% of the companies who participated in the study spent more than $1M on their communities]

Maybe yes, maybe no…

If you are small startup, then $1M is definitely way too much. If you are a bigger company and spend $1M on designing a slick community with worthless technology bells and whistles, then that is too much to. But as I wrote by using the example of Bank Of America, in some cases companies are not spending enough to make a difference with their online community. If you are a Fortune 50 company with billions of dollars in revenues, and routinely spend multiple millions of dollars on advertising media, then only spending a few hundred thousand dollars or even a million dollars on your community will just not move the needle. And if the goal of everything you do is to create new customers in a way that will make a difference for your company, then you need to invest appropriately.

Now if you are going to spend $1M – you have to make sure that the investments need to be made in content creation, moderation and awareness development (no, I did not say advertising or direct mail :) ) to support large numbers of users.

Do CMOs get it?

Talk about a loaded question…but since many were quick to dismiss the capabilities of marketers it is one that I thought should be addressed.

And the answer again is – some do, some don’t, and many are trying to figure things out.

Some are indeed looking at communities as another channel through which to interrupt their customers and prospects with product messages – and most of them fail fast and miserably.

Some don’t quite get what they inherited and keep it small and contained so that it does not make it on their radar screen.

And some know that it is transforming their role and giving them a renewed chance to be the key market strategist at the executive table and the representative of the voice of the customer within their company – and those are the ones who are reaping all the gains.

So, again – do most communities fail?

Our study did not show that. But yes, many community initiatives do fail – either because nobody comes (or they come once and then never come again), or because they fail to move the needle for companies and do therefore not receive the executive attention that they deserve. As I said before, the reasons why they fail are very similar from one case to the next and should therefore be avoidable. But there are many case studies where companies delivered game changing results to their company’s bottom line – and the reason why they succeeded are very similar as well.

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The importance of naming stuff in social networks

June 23rd, 2008 francois Posted in communities, marketing, social networking 5 Comments »

In speaking with Victoria Axelrod a couple of weeks ago it dawned on me that the reason why I have over 9,000 people in the marketing 2.0 group in Facebook and already over 200 in the LinkedIn Marketing 2.0 group is not so much because those 9,000 people want to discuss the future of marketing but because they want to have the marketing 2.0 moniker associated with their profile. That would also explain why the Facebook group was overtaken by spammers and why far fewer people are joining the marketing 2.0 group which was set up as a companion discussion to the marketing 2.0 group blog.

Another great reminder about the fact that people do not care that much about what you do – they care about themselves in the context of what you do. In this case they care about their association with something 2.0…not the discussion itself.

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[upcoming webinar] Should your business be friends with Facebook

June 19th, 2008 francois Posted in social networking No Comments »

Next Wedensday I will be participating in a webinar where we will report back on new research about the business use of Facebook.

The research was led by Jenny Ambrozek; Victoria G. Axelrod; and William L. Anderson; and did include the marketing 2.0 group that I set up on Facebook (and have since tried to move to the Marketing 2.0 site.)

The webinar is hosted by The AppGap, which is sponsored by Intuit’s QuickBase group (disclosure: we manage the AppGap for Intuit Quickbase). You can get more information about the upcoming event and register for the webinar by following the links in The AppGap post about the event.

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Social Networking Sites Take Off

June 16th, 2008 francois Posted in social networking 1 Comment »

According to a recent study by the Conference Board and TNS, social networking sites are increasingly becoming part of people’s daily life.

Some interesting tidbits from the study include:

  • 57% of those age 12-17 log in on a daily basis
  • One out of eight 30 year old or older uses social networking to conduct business
  • At least one out of five uses it to find new friends – I would have thought that number to be higher based on my friend requests on Facebook

Somehow, and especially with older folks like me, I get a sense that people are getting tired of the spam and noise levels on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

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Why wrong measurements can be bad for your community’s health…

May 1st, 2008 francois Posted in best practices, communities, Interesting Links, social media, social networking, Strategy 4 Comments »

[photopress:successsm.jpg,full,alignright]In my update on the 2008 Tribalization of Business study on business communities that we are doing with Deloitte and The Society for New Communications Research last week – I pointed out how some companies are totally misaligning their measurements of community effectiveness with their goals.

As you will see from the slides, many companies measure effectiveness by looking at page views and time spent on the site. Yet not one company listed ad revenue as a goal for the community – which is what page views and time spent on the site would be good for. Let’s assume that your goal is to have a support community – one in which people can help one another or get help from some your employees. If you could deliver the support in a way that never required people to come to your site, you would still achieve your goals. In fact, if you build your community so that people do not have to come to it, chances are that you will have more people participating in it. There are only so many destinations that a person will visit on a regular basis, and chances that your business community becomes one of them are fairly slim.

Another interesting wrong-headed metric-related finding from the study is that a majority of respondents found that “getting people to engage” was one of the biggest obstacles to making a community work. Now if you have a small community, chances are that you could get a fairly high engagement rate. The larger your community becomes, however, the more its profile will resemble that of large public communities – 1% of hardcore contributors, 10% of active users and 80-90% of lurkers. Now does that mean that the lurkers do not get value from your community? In the case of the customer support community, lurkers who do not contribute could still find the help they need and feel better about you than if they had not found it and also save you the cost of a call into the call center. So measuring community effectiveness by measuring engagement is just not a representative metric of community success.

Now the real issue with all this is that if you have a community development team who is being measured by those wrong-headed metrics, they will invariably develop bad behaviors in order to maximize these metrics. They could in fact develop community features that will stand in the way of success for your communities, or close down communities that are in fact doing really well.

If you missed it, there is a dynamic conversation on managing communities going on right now…Chris Brogan kicked it off and Nancy White wrote some interesting musings and also kept track of many of the other interesting links.

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Community vs. content – AdAge and the OPA get it wrong.

March 13th, 2008 francois Posted in advertising, buying behaviour, Consumer generated media, Interesting Links, marketing, social media, social networking, word of mouth 1 Comment »

[photopress:No_comparison_sm.jpg,full,alignright]The Online Publisher Association announced that it added Community as a category to its Internet Activity Index (IAI). So they will now measure how much time consumers spend online with Content, Communications, Commerce, Search and Community.

The OPA defines community as:

“Web sites and applications that combine user-generated content with communications in order to foster relationships between individual members and groups of members. Many Community sites are content driven, and they were previously accounted for in the Content category. However Community’s content is largely user-generated, and when merged with communication, creates a specific category of online activity.”

The IAI numbers for January show that consumers spent 42.7% of their online time interacting with content, 28.7% with communications, 16.1% with commerce, 7.5% with community and 5.0% with search.

AdAge picked up on the story, declaring “When It Comes to Time Spent Online, Content Trumps Community.”

But wait a minute here, adding community as a category at the same level as content, communications, search and commerce, is like comparing apples and oranges. Or better yet, comparing apples and oranges with air or water. Communities are combinations of content, commerce, communications and search. And communities affect the usage pattern of all the above categories and vice versa. So if I am spending time on, am I spending time with commerce, content, search or community? Obviously the end result is commerce if I buy something, but it could also be searching without buying or interacting with content (both user generated reviews and published content) without commerce. The fact that Amazon is a community which leverages my personal profile very well (another component of communities) is determining my interactions and time consumption on that site. The same can be said for many other sites that combine content with community. If I am spending time on the WSJ Health blog, I am spending time with content or community? If as a car buff I spend time on, I am spending time with commerce, content or community? Would I spend as much time conducting commerce, searching for stuff or interacting with the content on those sites if there were no community component to them?

Probably not…

Besides the fact something does not sit right with the categories, many conclusions drawn from the new numbers by AdAge and the IPA are equally flawed. Jim Nail at the Cymphony’s Influence 2.0 blog captures those flaws in detail in his post today (well worth the read). A couple of highlights include:

  • The fact that page views per person in content dropped 225 pages suggests that a number of content sites were just moved to community.
  • Content sites show 480 pages per month per user vs. 380 pages for community sites. So from an ad perspective, the reach may be just the same.
  • Another factor not reflected in the new numbers is influence. If a third of people below 30 don’t make buying decisions before checking with their social networks, the impact of communities on the commerce is obviously not reflected in those numbers.

We should of course remember the agendas that both organizations are representing – those of advertisers and publishers.

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The New Influencers

December 11th, 2007 francois Posted in marketing, social media, social networking, word of mouth 2 Comments »

The Society for New Communications Research released preliminary results of their New Influencer Study at the SNCR Research Symposium last week.

While there is no question that social media is rapidly gaining importance, it was interesting to see how they are (or not) measuring the effects of social media initiatives. Only 51% reported to be measuring the effects, and of those, the metrics they most value are enhancement of relationships with key audiences, enhancement of reputation, customer awareness of program and comments/posts relevant to organization/products.

As was brought up in the discussion following the presentation last week – it is interesting to see how soft most of those measurements are. First off, how many companies really measure “enhancement” of relationships or reputation? And how many measure customer awareness? Sure, large consumer-facing companies probably still do some of that – but aren’t those yesterday’s measurements cooked up by the advertising industry? Those that were meant to hide the fact that advertising cannot be effectively measured?

Surely we can come up with better metrics to measure the impact of social media initiatives – what about new customer acquisition, customer loyalty and customer lifecycle value, new product innovation success ratios, return on information, and customer referral ratios & values.

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Comparing Wal-Mart and Target on Facebook

October 1st, 2007 francois Posted in Consumer generated media, marketing, social networking, word of mouth 1 Comment »

Both Target and Wal-Mart have sponsored groups on Facebook – both of which are targeted at college kids.

Target has over 7,000 members and mostly positive comments in a vibrant set of discussions. The Wal-Mart group on the other hand has a little over 1,200 members, no discussions are allowed, and the wall postings are mostly negative.

What is the difference do you think, except for the fact that a large portion of the population believes that one of the two companies is truly evil?

The Wal-Mart home page looks like another interactive ad.. The Target home page is more inviting and enlists the help of users to co-create the experience. Any other differences that you can think of that would result in such a difference in membership and tone of conversation?

We can take the discussion to Facebook – in fact I started a thread on the subject in the Marketing 2.0 group, where we now have more members than the Wal-Mart Facebook group.

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What is the marketing potential of LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace

September 20th, 2007 francois Posted in Consumer generated media, marketing, social networking 1 Comment » conducted a survey on the potential of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Myspace as media for marketing activities (pdf download of survey summary results and analysis are here). The main finding seems to be that marketers are in the very early stages of truly understanding the potential of these new networks – with only 18% of the respondents calling the potential of online social networks as a medium for marketing “huge”.

Other interesting tidbits from the survey include the fact that marketers see “word of mouth” as the most promising aspect of social networking sites, and that many pointed out that marketers should participate in the conversations that take place on those sites without interrupting them.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many spammers have already invaded Facebook, Myspace and other similar sites. Go check the walls of the most popular interest groups in Facebook to see for yourself – many are littered with posts that are total sales pitches or with information that is totally irrelevant to the group’s conversation.

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