Thursday, May 8, 2008

How To Create Community

Since the theme of this blog is marketer DIY it’s not surprising that I was attracted to Cathy Taylor’s post today on DIY social networks. She used the Brooklyn Art Project as an example, so I decided to check it out. This is its profile on the Ning site.

It’s interesting to navigate around the site. You can create your own page; over 1,300 members have done so. I was attracted by the beautiful imagery on this one. It has a blog, a comment wall and news posts. The owners has friends. So, yes, this is a social network.

It’s more, though. The Brooklyn Art Project has created a community of people who care about art and want to interact with others who do also. They create groups, upload their photos and videos, and discuss items posted on the forum page. There is also an exhibitions page that’s currently promoting a collaborative exhibition.

On every page you are encouraged to “become a member,” or “create a group” and so forth. They have share apps so you can send items to your friends. They have an embed app that lets you put items on, say, your Facebook page. They’ve reserved the top right nav bar of each site or member page for what are essentially two banner ads of their own. One is a site feed; the other is an art contest. Wow!

Marketers keep wondering how they can create a community around their brands. Non-profits are, at the same time, excellent examples and hard ones to follow. Art or music or the environment—whatever the cause, it has passionate adherents. Brands may be harder, but some best practices rules are emerging.

Patty Seybold had a good post in January that gives a comprehensive approach to evaluating a community effort. Hers focuses on capabilities and participation (primarily from the perspective of the target audience but also from that of the business), moderation, platform architecture, and the ability of both the product and the firm to support community activity. Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester recently posted a presentation on community best practices. His approach sets forth a clear strategy and is well worth reviewing. He focuses on people, objectives, strategy and technology.

Communities can be built, but the focus has to be something people care about. I keep remembering the Heinz TakeTwo contests, probably because I’ve been asking students for years, “Do you really want to have a (customer) relationship with your ketchup?” They look at me like I’m nuts; they may eat a lot of ketchup but they aren’t engaged enough to interact. Heinz realized that customers are engaged by videos and music. Hence, interactivity at least—the start of real community, I don’t know.

It gives marketers something to think about, though!
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