Thursday, January 8, 2009

Managing Your Branded Community

As noted yesterday, I’ve been writing a lot about community lately; I think it’s a (the?) pillar of Web 2.0. I’ve done posts on aspects including best practices and monitoring. It was the monitoring post that connected me with Brian Person when he made a thoughtful comment.

Bryan works for LiveWorld, a supplier of community-related services. I’m breaking from usual practice in writing about it, because they don’t offer free services. Their target market is large corporations who are willing to pay for services that smaller businesses can provide for themselves. That gives them a special perspective.
LiveWorld offers a platform, but their value added seems to be in the services they offer to assist their customers. They manage branded communities and provide a monitoring service that is available to even to communities that do not run on their platform. That says something about what corporations are finding difficult or onorous. Why? I suspect its because of the necessity to set management and monitoring guidelines and train a group of people to implement them. In some cases it may also simply be that the corporations do not think they have employees with the necessary time or expertise.

They have an interesting new addition to their product line called LiveBar, which allows customers to add social functionality to their own websites by offering conversations and something they call “soapboxes” that have blog-like functionality. LiveWorld CEO Peter Friedman demoed the new offering at the Web 2.0 expo in late fall.

Earlier in the week I had an opportunity to talk to Brian Person, who’s written some interesting posts on the corporate blog lately. I asked him what made their services worthwhile when there are free counterparts available. He said that it’s partly their experience with social networks and communities. It takes 3 to 6 months of serious effort to build a sustainable community. It’s not a silver bullet and good consultants help managers understand that and have patience. Monitoring does seem to be a real issue. He says they usually monitor communities for their customers. They require the customer to invest at least 10 hours each week in community management. This is not an activity to just be outsourced and then wash your (corporate) hands of the operations. It’s your brand; continuous involvement is necessary even if you hire management services.

Both those are useful lessons for the small firm. “Community development,” if you will takes ongoing effort. Monitoring, with careful guidelines especially if done by more than one person, is essential.

So community may be the common theme of Web 2.0 and branded communities may be seen as desirable. However, they are neither resource-free nor quick nor necessarily easy to establish. The smaller business may find it wise to participate in established communities of interest rather than trying to start a branded community. What do you think?

1 comment:

Bryan Person said...

Mary Lou:

Thank you for the nice writeup on LiveWorld.

Your point about community building, management, and monitoring taking TIME is a good one. Communities aren't built in a day; they take ongoing commitment and attention to grow and thrive.

David Armano has a somewhat-related post on BusinessWeek this week, where he discusses the importance of listening and learning constantly, and then adapting to what community members/customers are saying. Here's the link http://budurl.com/ArmanoROIBW

As a note of correction: LiveWorld actually requires a minimum commitment of 10 hours per month, rather than per week, from our clients. There are some who want the former, though. Either way, we want clients who are dedicated to the communities we help them to launch and grow. Throwing up the doors to a community and expecting it to grow entirely on its own is not a sound approach!

Bryan Person
LiveWorld