Best practice: Blackberry communities; Pushing User Delight

There are several independent communities around Blackberry: Blackberry forums has about 16,000 users, PinStack has about 100,000 users. One is focused on the IT community supporting blackberry and another supporting the user community. Besides this Blackberry has their own developer community, Blackberry Connection and an Owners Lounge. Owners lounge has the fewest users – approximately 12,000 I am told* (not verified).

There are a total of approximately 4.2 Million blackberry users, worldwide and about 3+ million in US.
So less than 0.3% of users have signed up for their “communities”.  According to Travel Insider, 59% of users considered themselves satisfied and 7% dissatisfied.

So why such low numbers for community participation and if these are the numbers for a product that is so well liked and universally considered a HIT, what does it say about participation levels for your own company’s communities?

The one takeway: Supporting independent communities around your company’s products and services has justified ROI.

Here are some major findings about how to justify ROI for supporting independent communities:

1. No cost of community software, hardware, telecom, support personnel etc. – This cost is typically the highest when you are starting a new community. With independent communities this cost is borne by the community participants. Most of these communities are user funded or ad supported. Your company obtains great value with limited investment in supporting the community with oversight and direction.

2. Lower cost of supporting users: Every user that goes to pinstack for questions is NOT going to Blackberry site or calling their support – this is a huge cost savings.

3. Lower cost of research and trend identification: Independent communities tend to be more innovative around cost management, since they are driven by users. They are more likely to give you information about new trends, since there is a perception of being “objective” and “independent”. Instead of paying a consulting firm for focus groups and private communities, you can obtain the same level and possibly quality of information at much lower cost.

There are some downsides of course, but we will discuss that in a future post.

Quickly putting a best practice into action itself is a best practice

Giovanni Rodriguez at hubbub has a very good piece on “The Meming of Life”. Worth a quick read. He talks about 3 kinds of “best practice” ways that people are known to get ranked up in blogs. Posting comments on other blogs – Tailgaiting, Creating lists (like I have been guilty of) Aggregating and Baiting people to discussion. To net it out the one point that I could really relate to was “The experience led me to believe that we were entering an age of
disbelief that anyone can come up with anything that’s truly original.”

I do agree with his basic premise that doing something original is fulfilling in its own way. But, here are 2 questions:

1. In this age of instant copy and paste, how much value is there to original thought? I remember at Mercury we would come up with new positioning, demos, etc. each month only to see the same thing at competitors website within 4 weeks of our new message.

2. Is there anything necessarily wrong with seeing what works and repeating its success? The best companies in most industries (Microsoft for e.g.) are fast followers. Google itself did not invent search (only did it better) and nor did they come up with their business model – You have to thank Bill Gross of Idealab (Goto.com renamed Overture, sold to Yahoo) for that. There are also several studies that point to the fact that a good idea in one industry is worth taking to another and trying to do it better.


The one takeaway
: I think best practices yield results. If significant investment in taking an original idea and making it work is made for the benefit of one company, then the collective also-rans benefit and so does productivity. The key I believe is how quickly and fast does someone execute and make a best practice “even better”. Each best practice in the community world that are discussed is something you need to implement (even in a small way) to see how it betters your community. Afterall not everything that works for one community will work for another – even if it is in the same category, same industry with the same objective.

Software Vendors that provide Community Software

There are over 100+ software vendors providing products and applications to help companies. Here is a partial list by focus and type of community. The list is compiled based on the assumption that they provide more than just forums since Wikipedia has a large list of discussion board providers. This is primarily a list of Business community providers. We will focus on Social Networking providers later. A detailed analysis of capabilities, vision and direction on each is being compiled after detailed interviews with each of the companies.

#

Company Name

Website

1

Communico Site Server

http://www.communicoserver.com

2

Communispace

http://www.communispace.com/

3

Convio (GetActive)

http://www.convio.com

4

iCohere

http://www.icohere.com/

5

Jive Software

http://www.jivesoftware.com

6

Kavi

http://www.kavi.com

7

Leverage Software

http://www.leveragesoftware.com

8

Onesite

http://www.onesite.com/

9

Pix Pulse

http://platform.pixpulse.com/

10

Q2 Learning

http://www.q2learning.com/xpert-comm.html

11

Ramius Software

http://www.ramius.net/

12

Red Dog Software

http://www.reddogsoftware.com

13

Small World Labs

http://www.smallworldlabs.com

14

Social Platform

http://socialplatform.com/

15

Sparta Social Networks

http://www.spartasocialnetworks.com/

16

Telligent Community

http://communityserver.org

17

Tomoye

http://www.tomoye.com

18

vBulletin

http://www.vbulletin.com

19

Wow BB

http://www.wowbb.com/

20

Rareface

http://www.rareface.com/

21

Connect Beam

http://www.connectbeam.com/

Email is the new snail mail: Best practice for faster response in customer suppport communities

USA Today had a piece on the younger (18-30 demographic) spending more time with Instant messaging than with email.  “But when immediacy is a factor — as it often is
— most young people much prefer the telephone or instant messaging for
everything from casual to heart-to-heart conversations, according to
research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “And there is a very strong sense that the migration away from e-mail continues,” says Lee Rainie, the director at Pew. For many young people, it’s about choosing the best communication tool for the situation. You might use text messaging during a meeting
that requires quiet, Rainie says, or make a phone call to discuss
sensitive subjects so there’s no written record.”

An AOL survey also indicate something similar. “While adults and
seniors in 2005 showed more interest in IM, its gains on e-mail are
largely due the “teens and tweens” with spending power and trendsetting
tastes, according to survey data America Online released Thursday. For instance, the demographic has the highest percentage
(66%) of IM users to use it more than e-mail, America Online found.
That’s three times the percentage of other age groups.”



Matt at Jive Software also points to an informal report of IM usage inside Jive.  “It represents a staggering amount of email that we didn’t have to send,
as we’ve found that each IM conversation can represent several emails
(getting a question answered over email can take several messages back
and forth).”.

Kathy Sierra also talks about quick reponse to questions being a good reason communities thrive.

The one takeaway: If (like 45% of High tech and Telecom companies are) running a customer support oriented community OR if your primary demographic is Tweens and Teens Instant Messenger should be a crucial part of your enabling technology for quicker responses to help users communicate and get answers to their questions.

Increasing your Dominant vs. Subordinate participation in communities

I had an interesting conversation with a customer (who runs a technology user community). Most of his users in the community are lurkers as we know. In this case its closer to 99-0.95-0.05 (Only 0.05% of his users contribute).The one metric they wanted to have improve is the contribution % of his community to a representative 90-9-1. I cant say numbers but going from 0.05% to 1% would be HUGE for this community. We followed a 3 step approach towards understanding the community and ways to increase its participation.

The one takeaway
: Community incentive management (rewarding community members) is a motivating factor for increased participation.

1. Basic community site survey: Since my company does consulting in this area, we looked at usability, brand alignment, measurement metrics and demographic analysis. This 3 day effort gave us insights into the details around the 0.05 % of the people who contribute and why they were passionate enough to do so.

2. Detailed user forensics: This involved looking at users from the perspective of time (when they post), where they post from (work vs. home), access methods (WiFi vs LAN), Location (Which part of US), what threads they post on, community competition (what other sites vie for their communities attention) etc.

3. User surveys and interviews: Conducted over 2 weeks we had about 25 community members participate from a sample size we targetted of 150. Range of questions from what would get them to participate more, to what time is best for them to add tot he discussion.

There were a range of suggestions for improvement, but they key we found was most users did not feel they got anything out of participation. There will be about 10-15 members in your community that do it for “the greater good” and from the sense of giving something back. To get the next 20% increase in participation we highly recommend you manage a good incentive system for your community.

Best Practice from reviewing communities: Electronic Arts

Electronics Arts has a vibrant online community of games on their site. I spent 2 days “watching and viewing” their online community to get a feel for their community. My EA Community ID is TodCWait.

The one takeaway: Integrated Brand & Community experience

Most valuable brands unfortunately treat communities like a pet project of the support or community team or worse the ophan that the geeks down in customer service came up with. Not that way with EA. Their look and feel for the site is very well integrated with their brand experience (notice the colors, images and also the forum naming and discussion promotion.

Suggestion to make it better
The community only has forums and nothing else to get the community excited about – which is so 2001! I would recommend including relevant RSS feeds (e.g. Sports News from Sporting.com or ESPN) on gaming related sports titles. Also include blog feeds from game developers on what their thought process was when they designed it. Finally how about a Wiki for users to give them ability to create a “fake path” within the games to develop “unintended uses of the game” – let creativity flow among users.

<img src="/images/64360-56413/EA.png”>

How to measure community engagement and effectiveness?

The first thing (and in most cases the only thing) I tend to see on online communities is forums or discussion groups. Which has led me to really think about the question –

What are the key metrics to measure an engaged online community?
What do you really need to get a community to be vibrant,
thriving and engaged?

First lets draw some boundaries so this does not end up being a post about what a community is overall.

1. The question should not be to be looked at from the perspective of technology alone.
2. Discussing social needs or psychology of why people need to form communities or social networks is also not the subject of this discussion. Those are much deeper discussions.

So then what all do you need to ensure that your community is engaged? Here are some ideas:

1. An engaged community invites and encourages new members or converts to “get religion”. Measuring new members in a community will not tell you whether a community is engaged. There is a need to track referred community signups. The additional need is to figure a way to make sure offline (word of mouth mentions) referrals are also tracked.

2. Time to find information. I have seen metrics from several consulting organizations that talk in glowing terms about the “amount of time” spent in the community by its members. If the community’s objective is to find and support users quickly (for customer service communities) then the more time spent by members would indicate they are not getting what they want quickly?

3. Community Contribution Value: At the end of the day if one simply looks at revenue generated for a company or costs saved, then there is a need to track precisely how much in actual $ was generated or saved. This is the most tricky part that I have seen no company do so far. There is new research around this area that promises exciting ways and means to track it.

Categories of social communities

Talking with Scott Campbell of Jive Software (who BTW presented a very good overview of their new products via a webinar) got me thinking about categories of social communities.
Here are the various categories and types I have seen so far. More on the best within each category in a moment.

1. Communities by companies for their primary audiences:

  • Customer (Members, Users, Patients, Consumers, etc.) communities – E.g: Mother and Baby
  • Partner (Reseller, VAR, Supplier) communities E.g: Red Hat Partners
  • Employee (internal) communities – Multiple reside

2. Communities for a specific products or brands E.g: Pampers P&G

3. Communities by audience type

  • Developer communities E.g: Sony Ericsson Developer Site
  • User communities E.g: Autodesk
  • Internal audiences – HR , Engineering, Sales etc.

4. Communities by type of functional objective

5. Online social (consumer)

6. Blog communities: Not sure we can really call this a community but several people have been doing so. Especially highly rated blogs such as Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki tend to have communities of people following them.

7. Communities to achieve a specific goal or objective (these tend to have waxing and waning of interest) also exist to:

  • Research new offering community
  • Understand trends around communities

What do you think? Are there many other types of communities that we can categorize?

Blogging Communities: How valuable are they?

I have started to notice several blogging communities. These are essentially a blog with several contributing bloggers. Future of communities is one such blogging community. I have been following it for several weeks and here is my take on what’s good and not so good about this approach.

The Good:
1. Instant credibility: Since there are multiple and very respected bloggers (with their own blogging community), these blogs get immediate exposure to the blog readers of the individual readers themselves.

2. More frequent postings since there are several authors: One of the biggest issues with being a single blogger is getting the time to write something insightful and do it with some level of frequency. Since Future of communities has 20 bloggers, there are atleast 2-3 posts daily.

3. Single place for several (sometimes differing opinions): Tara Hunt had a good post on Where is my community, talking about the mis-alignment of the original objectives of the blog to its recent posting. I love this. The very essence of multiple bloggers in one place is the ability to get different opinions and read about both sides of the story.

The not so good:
1. Inherent conflict of individual versus group: The way this manifests itself is that the common objective of the blogging community is not always aligned with the individual bloggers interests. It becomes obvious when some of the bloggers promote their own agenda and adding really no value – they do add value in their own blogs, but that leads me to the next point.

2. Same blog posts on both their own blog and the group blog: Each of these bloggers on Future of communities has their own blog.
Some of them have been posting the same entry on their individual blog. What’s really the point of that? Well I understand that some of their own users dont visit the community blog, but still there is little value in saying the same thing multiple times in different places on the web. I can understand if it was a physical medium like a seminar or conference, but all you have to do is to link to your posting on the community blog. Done!

3. No value from the 1+1 is greater than 2: There are also no blog posts feeding of other blog posts, which creates (akin to a good movie) sub plots and bylines. Each blogger is off on their own route.

My suggestions on what do to to make it better:

1. Create a common blog manifesto – what should people write about, the main topics, the challenging questions ahead and the things that are worth talking about as group of bloggers.

2. Require “original” content of the blogging community. No cut and paste.

3. Get bloggers to build on story lines and blog posts instead of posting tangential and orthogonal information that leaves the user feeling like this is a news / blog aggregation site.

Building engaging communities: Key services vendors

In a discussion with a customer that I had around building engaging Business Communities, the obvious question came around who they could use to build communities. Here are some providers and our key take on their position in the market. The obvious alternative is to build your own community and hire the right people to grow and manage it, or use my company (Canvas Group) but here are some alternative options:

1. Solution Set is based in Palo Alto, CA and has built several communities for clients including Autodesk, Electronics for Imaging and TiVo
2. WebCrossing based in San Francisco, CA has built & managed communities for New York Times, Salon and Edmunds
3. Lithium, based in Emeryville, CA has customers communities with Nokia, Cingular & Dell
4. Communispace based in Waltertown, MA has managed communities for Bank of America, Avon and Charles Schwab
5. LiveWorld based in San Jose, CA has managed communities for Kraft, TV Guide and Land Rover
6. Informative, out of San Francisco has customer communities for Lego, Wegmans and Kodak
7. Big in Japan from Dallas, TX offers strategy and implementation services. Not sure of customers yet.
8. eModeration, based in London has moderated communites for GE, Nokia and Wetpaint.
9. Citizen Agency in San Francisco, provides strategy and design services for communities for Ma.gnolia and Scrapblog.
10. Full Circle Associates based in Seattle, WA has done work for AARP and University of Washington Human Services Policy Center.
11. Mzinga based in Woburn, MA has customers in Webex, Pearson Education and Sextant Search Partners.
12. Headshift based in London, has offices in New York, Australia and Switzerland.

I am sure there are lots more and we will add as we run into them.  We will look at the software options and the vendors in the space of community development and management.

The personal blog of Mukund Mohan

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