More Community Management Best Practices

Following up on my recent post on community management best practices, I thought I would share some additional tips and advice – based on my own personal experiences.

Building an online community for your company and brand isn’t rocket science. That being said, there are some simple steps you can take that will facilitate growth and foster engagement with your burgeoning band of advocates (otherwise known as community members).

The five key points from my previous post:

  1. Participate where the conversations are happening
  2. Be timely with your responses
  3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
  4. Be careful what you say
  5. Don’t ignore negative comments

Five more I’d like to add:

1. Give new members a warm welcome

It’s important to make new people feel welcome in your community, to set the stage for engagement – particularly when a community is young and growing. If possible, take the time to send a personalized welcome message to new members. Imagine how a new member will feel, receiving a message from a community host or moderator that is uniquely customized and tailored.

If you see a new member contributing to the first time, give that person some recognition. Thank them for their contribution, and try to elicit further discussion or comments if possible – perhaps that member has more to say. Showing a little gratitude will go a long way!

2. Study your community

Yes, study your community! Do your homework! Learn the make-up of your of your community – read member profiles and gain a better sense of just who has joined, and the different types of interests your members have. The more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to interact and converse with your community.

3. Monitor community activity and health

Be sure to stay tuned in to your community, from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Track key data that is most relevant, whether related to new member joins, commenting activity, voting activity or another metric that you value, and develop reports as deemed appropriate. Keep an eye out for trends! If your community had higher or lower levels of participation that expected during a specific period, dig in and find out why.

4. Communicate with your members

It’s important to keep members appraised of activity in the community. A regular email, if you’re hosting the community on an internal platform, can go a long way.  If you’re using Facebook, Twitter or another network, make use of status updates. Just don’t overdo it, however – you’ll need to find the communication mix that is right for your brand.

5. Keep members engaged

Provide community members with incentives for contributing. At Genius Crowds, a product innovation community I used to moderate, we provided community member with gift cards related to different types of community activity – such as posting product ideas, commenting and voting. There’s plenty more you can do. For example, if a new hot topic is posted in the community, send a personal email to members who might be interested, to let them know (this is where your homework on knowing member interests will come in handy!).

Nike+ – A Great Example of What Collaboration Can Accomplish

Today, I completed my longest run in about a year. Actually, it was my longest run since April 3rd, 2010 – when I ran 18.96km in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds, at an average pace of 6 minutes and 37 seconds per kilometer.

How the heck do I know that? Well, I record my runs using the Nike+iPod sports kit, the ingenious collaboration between Nike and Apple that has benefited runners worldwide since its launch in 2006.

There are two main reasons why I marvel at Nike+:

1. An innovative product from a unique collaboration

I believe that over the coming years we are going to see more instances of companies – sometimes even competitors – joining forces in unique collaborations.  There are many potential benefits to be gained, including shared knowledge and data, shared resources, and opportunity to develop new and innovative products and services by leveraging and combining strengths.

2. It’s social and community-driven

The Nike+ experience extends well beyond the runs, thanks to a fantastic website and online community that has been cultivated. Not only can Nike+ users record and track runs using the website, they can share their experiences with runners worldwide while also benefiting from some rich content – including a training tips blog.

Recently, Nike+ also added a “Challenges” section, through which individual users can create running challenges and invite community members to participate. Sample challenges include “365 miles in 2011”, in which all participants are challenged to run 365 miles, and “Fastest 5km in 2011”. Each challenge includes a leader board, adding some incentive for participants to compete against one another.

Community Management Best Practices

With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.

Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).

1. Participate where the conversations are happening

This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality).  Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.

2. Be timely with your responses

Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.

3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric

It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services.  Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!

4. Be careful what you say

Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.

5. Don’t ignore negative comments

In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them.  Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.

There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!

To Brand or Not to Brand?

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend whose company, a business to business distributor of industrial products, is considering creating a brand for an already existing non-branded product line. Needless to say, there are many factors that need to be evaluated when deciding whether creating a brand is a worthwhile endeavor. I would like to share a few of them here, with respect to branding a non-branded business to business product line.

Revenue Potential

First and foremost, will the move from a non-branded product line to a branded product line have generate opportunities to increase revenue? Revenue can be enhanced by increasing the product price, leveraging the brand to increase the market share, or a combination of both. Realistically, it may be difficult to increase the product price, particularly if the market segment is very price competitive. Further, existing customers, used to paying lower prices, may be sensitive to an increase.

It seems that the greatest potential to increase revenue is by leveraging the brand to expand the customer base and overall market share. Can the creation of a brand, supported by a significant investment in marketing, open doors to new customers and possibly new markets?  If a price increase is necessary to cover increased marketing costs, will new customer acquisition offset any loss of customers due to a price increase? Should a dual non-branded and branded product strategy be considered, perhaps augmenting the branded product with premium services to build value?

Competitive Landscape

What does the competitive landscape look like? Are there many competitors, with well-established brands? How are those brands positioned, and what key and valuable points of difference would your brand have? If your brand will be competing against a number of others that are firmly established, it may be difficult to gain a foothold. However, if your competitors are also unbranded, and do little or no marketing, then there may be an opportunity to attain a leadership position by being the first to launch a brand.

Should an opening exist to create a brand, then the potential reaction of your competitors must also be considered. How easy would it be for them to launch a brand? How assailable would your brand be? Do they have the resources to match or out-power you? Your ability to carve out a unique, own-able and profitable position in the market is key.

Resources and Commitment

Creating and building a brand takes resources and commitment. Are you willing and able to allocate sufficient resources, including talent and budget to build and execute a proper marketing strategy? Do you have full support and buy-in from senior management as well as the sales team, those who are on the frontline?

These are just a few considerations that come to mind. Do you have others you would like to add? I would love to receive your thoughts and feedback.

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Crowdsourcing: Vitamin Water Announces New Flavor

Following up on my earlier post about Vitamin Water’s crowdsourcing efforts to create and name a new flavor, a winner has now been selected. The new flavor, voted on by the brand’s Facebook fans, will be called “Connect” – with Facebook’s logo prominently displayed on the packaging.  All told, one million people participated in the initiative. That’s a lot of people who will no doubt be interested in buying the product.  What a great example of crowdsourcing!

Full details about the can be found here.

Crowdsourcing: An Overview

Crowdsourcing is a term that many people have heard of over the last couple of years, yet there still seems to be some unfamiliarity with what it is. I thought I would provide an overview, with some contextual examples as they apply to marketing.

Made possible by Web 2.0 technologies and social media, the term was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired magazine article. In essence, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving model in which particular issues are communicated to an audience of unknown participants, as an open call for solutions. The audience submits proposed solutions to the problem, and often times is tasked with sorting through the solutions, selecting the best one. For a full overview of crowdsourcing, Wikipedia has an excellent article.

From a marketing standpoint, executed properly, crowdsourcing can be an excellent method of engaging audiences with a brand. By providing a mechanism for feedback and interaction, brands can foster greater loyalty and sense of ownership. The caveat, however, is that for crowdsourcing to work, companies must show that they are willing to embrace and enact on the solutions that audiences propose. Companies can also go further by rewarding those who submit solutions that are implemented.

Several companies have successfully leveraged crowdsourcing as part of their marketing efforts.

Dell, some time after having suffered an online PR disaster, created a forum for participants to contribute and vote on ideas – The website currently attracts 15,000 users a month. So far, they have implemented over 350 of 13,000 ideas submitted. Here is a promotional video for the website.

Venerable consumer giant Procter and Gamble has also made a foray into crowdsourcing. They host contests on online research and development communities, inviting the public to submit solutions related to product design or new ideas on it’sconnect + develop website. So far, more than 30% of problems posted on InnoCentive, one of the community sites P&G uses, have been solved. The Swiffer, a major revenue generating product, came from P&G’s crowdsourcing initiatives.

Have you implemented or contemplated implementing a crowdsourcing strategy for your brand? Do you have any crowdsourcing examples that you’d like to share?

I would love to hear from you.

Special thanks to Chaordix for providing crowdsourcing case studies. They have more available on their website.