Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best Practices for Community Building

I got another email from T. Boone Pickens on Saturday:

We did it!! Over 1 million members in the New Energy Army!

Not surprising. I featured the Pickens Plan efforts to build a community around alternative energy issues on Friday. It’s been an aggressive and successful program. It provides a good opportunity to follow up by talking about best practices. I’ve received two reports recently that are helpful in that regard. Both deal with internal-facing communities as well as external-facing communities. I’m going to concentrate on the external customer communities.

The report from Mzinga, a provider of social media and enterprise learning, points out--as I so often have—that the world is changing and that marketers have to get with the program. (“Introduction to Online Communities,” download the slideshow or view the archived webscast on this page.) We all know, however, that’s easier said than done. That’s the “challenges” box.

The report from Awareness Networks, a provider of enterprise software for building both internal- and external-facing communities, points out that businesses are using communities to build their brands, communicate with customers, and increase engagement. Communication was first in 2007 with brand building second—interesting. That says we are using communities more directly to meet marketing objectives. What specific techniques are we using? The top 4—video, social networking, blogs, and communities—could all be subsumed under community-building/engagement techniques. Does that mean that a lot of the Web 2.0 activities are beginning to coalesce around building community? I think so.

Mzinga gives recommendations for successfully building community:

Get leadership buy-in. Web 2.0 activities represent transformational changes in the way marketers deal with customers (and with their own employees, remember). Transformational change has to be managed and it has to have the active support of top management.
Think big, but start small. Listening is the best way to start. Then gradually move into communicating in relatively “safe” ways. Blogs are, indeed, a good way to start.
Build a well-defined pilot. This is no time to be saying that “we need a community because everybody else has one.” The first step is good marketing/business objectives. Then use Web 2.0 tools to achieve those objectives—over the intermediate to long term. There’s no quick fix here.
Building community is not an exercise in technology. We all need technology to play in the Web 2.0 world. But technology is not the issue. What our target audiences want and need—and how they are willing to participate—is key.
Invite a few, then grow. Unless you’re willing to match Boone Picken’s $58 million expenditure, be willing to let this evolve. It’s not only cheaper; it’s safer. You’ll learn along the way.
Keep it fresh and relevant. Marketer-supplied content may form the initial basis for the Web 2.0 activities. But they’re not going to be successful unless you engage your audience and get them to participate and contribute. You need user-generated content to do this.
Be prepared to share control. See the previous point. You cannot at the same time solicit user content and be in complete control of the conversation. Be prepared to take a few hits. Even more important, if the criticisms are warranted, deal with them—immediately and honestly.

No one says this is easy. But it is a new world—a new marketer playing field—are you prepared to play?

1 comment:

hjs000 said...

Mary Lou, as one of the 2 presenters of Mzinga's "Introduction to Online Communities", I wanted to say what a great job you've done of distilling down a 1 hour webinar into the key points we always try to get across. Thanks for the post. Heather Strout, Community Consultant, Mzinga, @hjstrout