How to position communities to your CMO / VP Marketing so it resonates with their key initiatives?

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I had a phone conversation after CMO 2007 with a VP Marketing at a medium sized company based in Florida. His top of mind item (as a takeaway) from the conference was creating a series of dashboards for giving him “visibility into the next trends within his industry”. So in my attempt to try and discuss Online communities, I asked him why communities did not make it on his top 5 “strategic intents” list.

There is a very good summary of CMO 2007 by Foghound and the key point I took away was:

“CMOs Lauren Flaherty of Nortel and Dan Henson of GE stressed the need
for more predictive insights and analytics. “It’s about the headlights
not the taillights,” said Flaherty.
You’ve got to measure real time,
looking at the future not historical data. That’s why Tracking studies
don’t provide value.

I can understand if your CMO or Marketing head attended this show that they are looking forward to being “more aligned with sales and the business” and hence are not exactly willing to listen to the best ideas around building a customer community.

The one takeway: My suggestion to you is to position communities within the context of learning from your existing customers sooner, hence its a leading indicator which is better than focus groups, sales forums and other means to learn trends within your industry.

There is really no better source of good information about your customer base than fostering an ongoing with customers in an open, candid and open dialog about their issues, trends affecting them and challenges they face.

The next conversation you should have with your team is putting together a business case for how this will be justified and aligned to the CMO’s goals.

Best Practice: Should you build / buy /add social networking community to your brand?

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The key takeaway: If you are really going to build an online social (customer, user, partner) community take a look at some providers instead
of building one from scratch. Second, keep it focused. Third and most
important, make it easy for people to contribute, collect only as much
profile information as needed
and focus on keeping the community
aligned to a single or two goals max
. That’s the best recipe to success.

Since Om Malik called Social Networks a feature, there has been a lot of debate about whether companies and individuals want to be a part of many social networks. Clearly the average person has a ton of choices.

For instance if you look at my day (morning) in the life:
1. Wake up: There is a Toothpaste community and also one from P&G.
2. Go to my Gym: they have an online community.
3. Watch CNBC while running – community there too
4. Take a shower – Are you an Old Spice man?
5. My daughter and son both go to a private school that has online communities to interact with other parents, setup play dates, email the teachers.
6. Eating some breakfast. – community of cereal eaters!
7. Catch up with the morning new – CNN, MSNBC, Blogs – all have online communities
8. Listen to the radio while dropping the kids – KQED has a community.

All this just between 445 AM and 745 AM. After all how many communities do I actively participate in and feel a part of? Two – the kids (that’s because my wife forces me to) and my old school online community.

There is an interesting and very relevant post by Alan Patrick who has some observations:
1. “There is a limit to the number of social networks a person will
(willingly) join, and the bad news is that this obeys power laws”
2. “Registering with a social network, setting up the user profile etc adds
friction to a website, as much (if not more) as the old “Web 1.0″
approach of requiring a subscription.”
3. “A social net is not the answer to all services, and in fact may be outplayed by database oriented services.”

Build your Social Community: Providers

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Since Five Across got acquired by Cisco, there has been good interest in building social communities.

There are several vendors that will offer build your own community hosted services.  Here are a few providers.

1. Going On: “Organizations of all sizes can use GoingOn to build interactive
communities around their most important initiatives and benefit from
the open and compatible “network of networks” environment.”

2. iUpload: “iUpload is a leading content management and corporate blogging software
company whose solutions help organizations optimize the marketing
potential of their content. Whether you’re an individual, a corporation
or a community, iUpload provides a powerful one-stop solution for
creating, managing and distributing all of your content, while giving
you a new social marketing platform that extends your corporate voice
and strengthens your brand across multiple communities.”

3. Pluck: Pluck provides Social Media solutions for publishers, broadcasters and major brands.

4. CrowdFactory: To help companies leverage the new medium, we have developed a social
media platform and toolset to power white-label social network
communities.

5. KickApps: KickApps is a hosted platform that allows webmasters to quickly
and easily deploy user-generated content and social networking
functionality directly on their websites
.

6. People Aggregator: PeopleAggregator is a social network and blogging system in a box.
You can create a hosted network or download and run it yourself. You
can control who is in your network, what content it displays and what
its rules are.

How do you put an ROI on Customer Loyalty?

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I had a great discussion with a Fortune 50 Consumer products company Sr. Manager of Online Community. She is responsible for 17 of their 50+ communities. She is part of a “shared services” team, which supports 11 of their consumer brands.

Each of their brands has put a toe into online communities, (some more than just a toe) with some private communities, others visibile public ones. The brand managers of each of these communities are typically looking for customer feedback, brand innovation requirements, product specific data analysis, allowing customers to share information among each other etc.

The discussion was around justification of her online communities. I have heard this from many customers but in different formats:
1. How does one justify online communities to senior management?
2. Where is the ROI in customer loyalty?
3. How do you put a business case together for an online customer community?
4. What metrics can I point to to show that our online community is making us money or cutting costs?
5. What metrics should I be tracking to ensure that I can correctly report back the tangible benefits of communities?

Now when it comes to function specific communities – e.g. Customer Support communities; there are very relevant metrics – # of support calls, cost of phone based calls, # of calls handled in self service, reduction in support personnel even though there was an increase in # of customers etc.
Even when it comes to developer communities, there are similar metrics such as queries answered, new problems resolved, etc.

But when it comes to online social communities the ROI is a lot fuzzier. # of users, Most active users, Page views per user, Amount of time spent on community, are all good metrics; but useless for most part to address the main challenge – how to justify in real $ terms the value of the social network community.

We will start to address this in the future posts, but this is meant to be food for thought.

The First serious acquisition of a social community provider: Cisco acquires Five Across

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Venture Beat reports that Five Across a provider of social community software has been acquired by Cisco for an undisclosed sum.

“Based on conversations with three or four different Cisco executives in
recent months, it is clear Cisco sees social networking and the wider
Web 2.0 phenomenon as ways to drive Internet traffic, and thus traffic
over their routers and other networking gear — and, it follows, more
revenue for Cisco.”

“Five Across offers the features you expect in a social networking
company: Individual profiles, chat, video and photo uploading, RSS and
more.”

Five Across end user features closely parallel other Social Networking community sites like Onesite, Sparta Social Networks.

InfoWorld says Cisco doesn’t plan to set up its own
social-networking site to compete against News Corp.’s MySpace or
Facebook. Instead, it will use Five Across technology to create
software that will help enterprises better connect with their
customers. In addition, service providers may be able to build services
with the technology and sell them to their business customers, Cisco
said.”

The acquisition is the first by Cisco’s recently
formed Media Solutions Group and part of Cisco’s expansion into both
the consumer and media categories. One target market for the Five
Across technology will be entertainment and broadcasting companies such
as The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast.”

The really next wave in Online communities, Mobile Social Communities

I have a customer that sells primarily to retail clients ask me about Mobile Social communities. Now, this customer does not have an online (web) community) let alone going fancy with mobile communities, but she wanted to know if she should skip this whole “web community” thing to go direct to mobile, since most of her clients (influencers and buyers) were C level executives or on the road a lot and tended to access most information via blackberry and / or phone.

There was an ABI research article conducted about 2 months ago. “A new ABI Research Brief has found that “mobile social communities”
currently count nearly 50 million members worldwide, a number that is
expected to reach 174 million in 2011.”

Mobile Crunch also has a comment from the hoff… Very interesting.

“I’m curious not only to see what MySpace and FaceBook do in mobile
but what new innovations come from mobile-centric companies. There are
a number of startups launching social networks specifically designed
for handsets. These will provide the true breakthroughs in terms of
functionality and communication on the phone.

My recommendation to anyone considering mobile community networks: Its still not enough time for Business communities. It may be in Asia, some parts of Europe, but in the US the online communities for customers are still more web driven.

What’s the real reason you dont get so much participation in your community?

John Thomson talked about “Despite the fears that kids are leaving permanent digital footprints when they post personal information online, college students think it would be even weirder if someone didn’t exist on the Web.”

There is an alternative theory on why 95% of your community members or blog readers dont participate.

I dont have a great survey or detailed research to back it up – BLAME IT ON TELEVISION.

When I and most others watch TV it tends to be uni dimensional, and not very interactive – I am learning (when watching Discovery Channel), being entertained (Comedy Central) and being made to think (at times) – when watching History Channel.

Same with Blogs – I am learning from Seeking Alpha entertained by Seth Godin, and Indexed makes me think.

I think the average user likes to still spend more time reading than writing because TV has made them look more and react less.

Which leads me to think, the new generation will use less and less of TV (my daughter, 5 years cannot sit in front of it for more than 30-45 minutes).

Online communities are “real”.

The Editors Weblog reports that We Media Forum organized by iFocos and hosted by the University of Miami with special support from the Knight Foundation and Reuters, the first session, Community Forum, got under way.

The purpose of Community Forum was to discuss “How communities real and
virtual are changing through media,” and asked “What are the new ways
for people to use information, news and journalism to imaging their
collective possibilities as communities, and to set and reach common
community goals?”

I am trying to explain to customers that online communities are not something to be afraid of since there is a persistent objection of “loss of message control, lack of brand control and overall disenchantment with community as a new marketing medium”.

I cant say people are lame and have their “heads in the sand” but some of their concerns are real. I will try and address the question of lack of brand and message control later, but her is what was interesting about this blog post.

“Israel is writing a book called “Global Neighborhoods” which explores
online communities. He talked about how the communities being created
on the Internet are not virtual as some would imagine, but real: real
people are being connected with others around the world, in ways never
before imaginable that defy all geographic boundaries. They are
creating lasting freindships and most of the communities are composed
of young people. What happens when they grow up and replace the Boomer
generation?”

I would agree with this a lot. Customer communities built at Mercury allowed customers to talk to one another, which gave them an opportunity to complain to each other, but they were more specific and collectively clear on what needed to be done to fix things.

Best Practice for Customer Communities: Facilitate Social Networking with Leverage Software

I reviewed a very good demonstration of Leverage Software and its social networking on-demand offering version 5.5. Kate Swanson, Senior Sales Executive of Leverage Software, who has been with the company since Aug 2005 showed their customers’ implementation of the system; InfoWorld IT Exec-Connect .
First some facts about the company:

1. Founded in 2003, by Mike Walsh and Joe Kleinschmidt.

2. Privately held, venture backed (June 2005, was their series A; Investors include Halsey Minor and his OnDemand Venture Capital Fund
and John Stanton, a financial services entrepreneur and executive)

3. Based in San Francisco the company has over 150 customers – their primary target verticals are High Tech – Salesforce.com, Microsoft, etc. and Media Companies– InfoWorld, CMP etc. They used to target events (seminars, user conferences, etc.) for social networking before, but now more companies are looking to build communities around their customers.

InfoWorld Exec-Connect (about 10,000 members) is a good example of a social networking
business community. Its objective is to help IT professionals (its
readers primarily) connect with others. Here is why – they believe
communities will keep their readers loyal, allow them to create
evangelists and increase ad revenue because of their focused user
community.

 

Top Takeaways & Key Capabilities:
1. Its very simple to use and get up and running as a community member. Once a user enters their profile information there is a very cool people-map capability that will match your interests and your profile with others that are the closest fit to yours. Makes it easy to find users “who have the same wavelength” – see below. So, my image is the center and the people that match my interests close are nearer to my image and others are further away. Very nice.

<img src="/images/64360-56413/Infoworld1.gif”>

2. They have a suite of capabilities once you are setup: Advertising support, Polls, Blogs (users can blog for other members), Discussion boards, Online Events and Meetings, Group Chat, etc. Pretty comprehensive and well thought through.

3. Since they are an on Demand service, once you sign up, you pay per user per month. Setup for a new account takes approximately weeks (4-5) – with colors, brand, logos, etc. A project manager will work with your team to get his up and running.

4. Then you start to recruit users and collect reports and administration. One very cool report tells you if there is a disconnect between who your users are and who they are looking to meet. Which will give you trends and information about what type and kinds of people to recruit to the network.

The things that I thought still needed work:

1. They dont have user incentives & rewards system, which is a key measure of how to get users motivated to contribute. Which is okay for now, but I can see as they branch into creating communities for things beyond social networking, will be a challenge. I would not recommend building a support community or a product innovation community on this as it is.

2. Marketing teams tended to be the primary target user at the companies was the impression Kate gave me. Which is nice, but I dont think they have done a great job of convincing me that there is great ROI (Tangible, Measurable and Documented) with social networking communities.

3. The profile information (what I am looking for and my preferences) seemed still very naive and nascent. At the InfoWorld community for example, the results for me were matched with arcane people from Indonesia and SOA, even though I did not check the SOA box. Its a start, but that capability will be huge to help people connect with people in their same wavelength and if your first experience is poor, you tend to discredit it going forward is my experience.

Top Bloggers on Communities

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Here is a list of bloggers that focus on community development, management and engagement:

Check out the new photo book on these bloggers (at least the ones that have photos on the web)

1. Shel Holtz   RSS Feed
2. Jake McKee RSS Feed
3. David C. Churbuck RSS Feed
4. Francois Gossieaux RSS Feed
5. Neville Hobson RSS Feed
6. Tara Hunt RSS Feed
7. Deborah Schultz RSS Feed
8. Chris Carfi RSS Feed
9. Isabel Walcott Hilborn RSS Feed
10.
Giovanni Rodriguez RSS Feed
11. Kathleen Gilroy RSS Feed
12. John Winsor RSS Feed
13. Chris Heuer RSS Feed
14. Karim Lakhani RSS Feed
15. Alan Moore RSS Feed
16. Bill Johnston RSS Feed
17. Community Centric RSS Feed
18. Damon Billian RSS Feed
19. Danah Boyd RSS Feed
20. David Crow RSS Feed
21. David Lazer RSS Feed
22. Ken Thompson RSS Feed
23. Mario Sundar RSS Feed
24. Online Community Report RSS Feed
25. Corante Many 2 Many RSS Feed
26. Sebastien Paquet RSS Feed
27. Howard Rheingold RSS Feed
28. Network Weaving RSS Feed
29. Social Media Club RSS Feed
30. Larry Wilson (Managed Collaboration) RSS Feed
31. Society for New Communications Research RSS Feed
32. Lisa Whelan RSS Feed
33. Nancy White (Full Circle Interaction) RSS Feed
34. Bob Troia (The Word is Out!) RSS Feed
35. Jim Storer RSS Feed
36.
Aaron Strout (Shared Insights) RSS Feed
37.
Barry Libert RSS Feed
38. Rawn Shah IBM RSS Feed
39. Phil Soffer and Joe Cothrel Lithium RSS Feed
40. Comuniteer RSS Feed
41. Johnnie Moore RSS Feed
42. Sean at Community Group Therapy   RSS Feed
43. Marc Canter RSS Feed
44. Lee LeFever Common Craft RSS Feed
45. Brian Balfour Social Degree RSS Feed
46. Mike Gotta Collaborative Thinking RSS Feed
47. Amy Jo Kim Social Architect RSS Feed
48. Mukund Mohan Best Engaging Communities RSS Feed
49. Christopher Allen Life with Alacrity RSS Feed
50. Shel Israel Global Neighbourhoods RSS Feed
51.
Jeremiah Owyang Web strategy RSS Feed
52. Noah Kagan Okdork RSS Feed
53. Jason Kolb RSS Feed
54. Mike Rowland Impact Interaction RSS Feed
55. Fast Wonder Blog RSS Feed
56. Community Matters
57. Ross Mayfield’s Weblog

The personal blog of Mukund Mohan