Thinking outside the box

26 03 2010

Most online communities are shaped around passionate subjects – sport, food, art, babies, travel… and the list goes on.

But what about the communities that have a less interesting and engaging subject matter? Can an online community successfully exist?

While not everyone may be passionate about topics like insurance, utilities, and other seemingly ‘dry’ topics – these can be important subjects to us – especially when our house has just been broken into and are in the midst of the claiming process. Brands who fall into the latter category shouldn’t shy away from creating a presence online, or creating an online community.

Communities formed around passionate subjects tend to organically grow online without much difficulty – but the normal rules of engagement, interaction and content should not be forgotten.

Communities with a seemingly less interesting subject matter may have to work harder for recruitment and engagement, but they can form useful tools for brands such as customer service or provide interesting information on other topics that are related to your company.

World Nomads, a travel insurance provider provides a fantastic example of how an insurance brand can engage their customers around a subject they are passionate in – travel. World Nomads Adventures includes travel tips, photos, videos and stories from other members.

Insurance companies shouldn’t want to  be remembered or engaged with the customers only when they are claiming – building a positive relationship this way is extremely difficult (even with fantastic customer service) as this is undoubtably a stressful and upsetting time for most.

Any brand setting up an online community should be prepared to think out of the box, extend their subject matter and be committed to building a sustainable relationship with their customers. Talk about things that are happening within the company but also find other topics which are a natural fit for the brand and your members – there has to be a reason for them to come back for more, and engaging content should be one of them.

10 Tips for Engaging Your Community

23 10 2009


Online communities take time and energy at all levels to ensure their success.

The community manager must nurture the community, while the marketing team needs to actively promote the community to drive recruitment, and at a corporate level suggestions and ideas have to be taken on board and acted on where possible.

The following are tips that I like to follow, to ensure that I have a healthy community!

  1. Listen – Golden rule number for engaging your community – you have to listen. Don’t ignore the important things your members have to say to you.
  2. Respond – Don’t ignore your members, especially when they care enough to take the time and energy to tell you what they think. This needs to be done in a timely manner as well.
  3. Follow up – When a member asks you a question or leaves a fantastic comment, don’t just leave them hanging. Tell them that you’ll get back to them shortly – and then do. If your members get no response from you or the rest of the community, then why would they come back?
  4. Update content – When people first arrive at your site, they want to see that the community is active and that the content is fresh. If you haven’t updated your content since January 09, it makes the community feel abandoned and unlived in.
  5. Nurture your advocates and top contributors – One of the most important rules of creating an engaged online community is to ensure that you nurture and reward the top contributors on your site. You need to know these people by name, and these are the select few in your community who will welcome new members, answer your questions before you can get to it, and defend your brand. These are biggest advocates and need to be treated as such.
  6. Show action – You should be regularly reporting back to the community with updates on what’s happening, which of their suggestions have been acted on, which ideas are the most popular etc. Why give their ideas and thoughts if nothing’s going to happen with them.
  7. Become personable – The editor of the community should be a person, not a corporate front. That means no corporate talk and no responses written by legal. A community is a two-way street – to expect your members to give information, you have to as well. By relating to your members, with personal experiences, members will feel more comfortable to do the same.
  8. Re-engage – It’s very common for members to become busy, forget to visit your community, and become disengaged. By sending out a monthly newsletter or an email, you can let members know what’s happening on the site and is a great way to gently remind people that you’re still there!
  9. Engage other social networking sites – If you’re running a branded community, a great way to recruit and engage is by having a presence on other popular networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Depending on your member base, it’s likely that they regularly visit sites such as these, and shouldn’t be ignored or expected that people will always remember to come to you.
  10. Be open and authentic – Customers understand when they’ve made an unreasonable request, and by openly explaining why you are unable to act on some ideas builds respect and loyalty among your member base. If there is a problem, or a reason why your member is upset – be honest. Apologise for your mistake, offer to listen to their grievances. Never delete negative comments from your community (unless they are rude or defamatory) – the conversation has to be authentic, including the good the bad and the ugly.

What tips do you have for engaging your customers or community members?


14 04 2009

90-9-190:9:1 is a concept that I come across a lot in my research on online communities.

Commonly used in the US, this theory refers to how people participate in online communities:

–     90 % of people are classified as “lurkers”

–     9% of people are “reactors”, who will comment on others people’s interactions

–     1% of people will create their own content

This rule couldn’t be more accurate when looking at one of the communities that I am managing at the moment.

The 1% of avid contributors, I can now recognise instantly as they enthusiastically jump in with their ideas, aren’t afraid to start their own conversations on the site and are happy to give other members advice.

The 9%, I have also become familiar with their screen names as they constantly come back to answer people’s questions, and express their opinions on other member’s ideas. They also love to correct grammar and spelling, but essentially will always be prompted before they respond.

The 90% refers to the majority of people who like to observe and read, but will rarely participate.

It can be an intimidating prospect to participate in the community arena, by putting your idea or opinion out into the on-line space to then be judged and commented on – it’s easy to see why this definition describes the majority of the members.

While the groups do tend to overlap – how do you convert/encourage the 90% to participate and to become part of the 9% or 1%?

Which percentage best describes your on-line interaction?

For more information on 90:9:1:

Community Guy Jake McKee’s  The 90-9-1 Principle

Jakob Nielson’s “Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute”

Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell post “Reconciling Social Technographics and 90-9-1”

Money can’t buy me love…

7 04 2009

australian-moneyA little while ago a community that I am managing decided to run a competition on the site.

The basic premise was that the best idea of the week would receive a gift card, with one winner being chosen each week, for several weeks.

The response was significant, hundreds of ideas poured through the site – while many were similar to each other, other were original and insightful.

It can be a difficult task engaging your audience and encouraging them to participate in this site, whether it be by leaving a comment or idea, taking a survey or simply voting.

Are competitions the best way to rally up your audience?

Does a competition encourage quantity rather than quality, and while a prize can persuade participation, how can you ensure that your members will remain after the contest has finished?

Should I meet you here or there?

6 04 2009

communityI have had a lot of discussions of late about the validity of “destination” communities. In Australia, most social media campaigns utilise pre-existing social networking platforms like Facebook, to engage with their audience.

My line of work deals predominantly with destination communities, that is online-communites which are built specifically for a brand or a topic. These sites will typically include functions ranging from a blog, a discussion board, surveys, member profiles, to an idea exchange, and voting.

At the recent Ad:Tech several speakers talked about social media being all about “going to where your consumers are”. So if your target market is 16 – 21 year old males, then setting up shop in youtube, Facebook and Myspace is where you need to consider.

But I don’t think that this is necessarily the case. How many brands have arrived at Facebook just to set up an unseen and unvisited group/profile, or created an application that quickly became hidden amongst the other millions of applications that exist on Facebook?

The US has numerous (hundreds and hundreds) examples of successful destination communities, that engage a large audience, have a high percentage of return visitors, and exist completely removed from any of the well established social networking platforms.

For most in agency land I can imagine that setting up a campaign in a pre-populated network makes a lot of sense, takes less time/money/effort to set up, and when the campaign finishes, users are left to communicate on the site.

Destination communities are set up for the long term – used to establish relationships and loyalty with their customers.

Which do you think works better in today’s digital age?

Is it a good idea for companies to be entering people’s social networking space to try and involve them in a brand – or do consumers feel like these sites should be left solely for interaction with their friends and family?

Should they be used to complement each other?

Examples of these destination online-communities:

And the list goes on…