The secret sauce of a successful online community isn’t a big mystery waiting to be revealed. For the last four years, we have been digging into the nitty-gritty detail of hundreds of branded communities across multiple industries. Our goal has always been to understand the EXPERIENCE from the MEMBER’S perspective.
If you are planning or already managing an online community, here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind. Remember to put yourself in your members’ shoes and ask some hard questions.
Who does community well?
On April 24th WOMMA and ComBlu will be hosting a webinar that explores some great community tactics employed by brands such as Axe, AT&T and Marriot. Plus, we’ll delve deeper and highlight some hero brands—Whole Foods, Mountain Dew, SAP and ESPN. You will also learn how the Telecomm industry is becoming a game changer with cross-channel integration and why Healthcare is (finally) starting to embrace community building.
See you on April 24th!
Remember the Heinz Ketchup commercial with Carly Simon touting the virtues of anticipation along with images of ketchup with the taste that’s worth the wait?
I’m reminded of that right now as I wait in a virtual line for the ultimate ioS app that promises to tame my inbox. The app is Mailbox—an app that helps you achieve “Mailbox Zero.” The service checks your email from the cloud and delivers it at super-fast speed to your phone. From there, you can decide whether to act on it now, later or never, all with the swipe of a finger. As of writing this blog, there are 105,619 nerds in front of me in a virtual line to get the app. (On the bright side, there are 193,917 people behind me.)
The buzz began back in December when Techfluentials got early Beta access and shortly proclaimed it “the next big thing.” Said TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler, “Every now and then, I get my hands on an application or piece of technology that I can’t wait to tell the rest of the world about. Something that is a joy to use, tackles a major problem in a totally intuitive way and makes otherwise difficult tasks unfathomably easy. Something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do things.”
I wasn’t as lucky as Lawler. I never received early access. Or, perhaps, the invite got lost in my inbox.
In the months that followed, word of mouth continued to spread as the scrappy start-up did everything right to sustain the buzz:
· Provide early access to the media and other influencers. Check.
· Embrace social media to relentlessly tell your story. (The start-up’s trailer video alone generated more than 1.2 million views and more than 250,000 sign-ups). Check.
· Spur conversations at buzz-worthy events like SXSW. Check.
It also helps to have a killer Day Two story: the Cinderella start-up with just 13 employees had been acquired by Dropbox.
Just three weeks after launch, Mailbox revealed it was already delivering 50 million messages a day. (By comparison, it took Twitter three years before it had the infrastructure to process the same amount of messages). What’s more, the waiting list was more than 1.5 million people strong.
There was just one problem: the company didn’t have the infrastructure in place to keep up with demand and scale accordingly. To best serve customers with a good user experience, Mailbox introduced a waiting list. To get on the list, you download the Apple app to reserve your spot in line. Reservations are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. At any moment, you can tap on the app to see your progress. And, with just one touch, you can stay current on the latest developments and discussions.
At SXSW, Mailbox CEO Gentry Underwood explained that the waiting list is an honest and transparent solution. But I think it’s also brilliant in its simplicity: the ritualization of checking daily where you are in the queue keeps customers engaged and excited while the company does what it needs to do to ensure that when it’s your turn to partake, the experience is a good one.
The waiting game enables Mailbox.com to effectively sustain word of mouth as it rolls out the service to new customers. Think of all the attention Apple receives when its new iProduct finally hits the shelves and loyal consumers wait patiently—often for days—to be the first to get in.
I’m guessing I have at least a few weeks before I’ll be able to experience Mailbox firsthand. In the meantime, the company has orchestrated a brilliant campaign to keep me –wait for it — wa-a-aitin’.
While attending WOMMfest in Chicago last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on Hugh MacLeod’s session on Social Objects. Hugh is a really interesting guy and compelling speaker. He is a cartoonist (who wouldn’t love to have that claim to fame?) and has been the driving force behind the popularization of the term “Social Objects.” In his opinion, “Social Objects are the future of marketing.”
So, what is a social object? And why do they matter? McLeod defines social objects as “the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.” He notes that people are social animals and like to socialize—but there has to be a compelling reason to spark socialization. The social object is essentially the “node” in the social network that facilitates meaningful interaction among people.
In her book The Participatory Museum, Nina Simon describes social objects as “the engines of socially networked experiences, the content around which conversation happens.” She explains that “Social objects allow people to focus their attention on a third thing rather than on each other, making interpersonal engagement more comfortable.”
Given these descriptions, a social object could be almost anything! For example, my daughter is one of 15 players on a local hockey team. Her team plays two to three games a week and the families all gather together in excitement to cheer on the team. The social object in this case is hockey. Hockey is the object that fostered the social interaction among this group of people.
My colleague Peter’s most reliable social object is his beloved Shih Tzu-Maltese, Lucy. Her friendly look and cuteness garners lots of attention during walks, which results in him meeting more people in the city he just moved to than he would have otherwise. It is much easier to interact with Lucy, but that ultimately results in a connection with Peter. So the attention focused on the dog—or person to object—turns into socialization—or person to object to person.
A business example of a social object is WOMMfest itself. Marketing, branding and social engagement experts from three cities gathered to celebrate word-of-mouth marketing and learn more about a number of related topics, social objects among them. I am sure you get the idea.
So, why do they matter? According to McLeod, it is really quite simple. If people are not talking about or socializing around a company, its product or brand, then they are talking about someone else. And that’s bad.
He notes that “the hard currency of the Internet is not Facebook ‘Likes’ or Twitter retweets…by themselves, they’re worthless. The hard currency of the Internet is ‘Social Objects.’” Today, getting people to share in a meaningful manner with other people is far more important. McLeod states, “You’re either creating them [social objects] or you’re not. And if you’re not, you will fail, end of story.”
OK—so how do you create a social object? McLeod says it all lies in creating “…Social Gestures. And, lots of them.” During the WOMMfest session, he shared nine principles for creating social objects. Among them were: creating play; using new language; pushing the boundaries of design; and creating new context, unexpected experiences and places/reasons for people to meet in person.
Simon’s ideas for creating social objects are similar. She suggests that “design tweaks can make an object more personal, active, provocative or relational.” She noted that “Social platforms focus primarily on providing tools for visitors to engage with each other around objects. While attractive and functional presentation of objects is still important, it is secondary to promoting opportunities for visitors to discuss and share them.”
Feel free to disagree, but to me, this all points back to engagement and the sophistication of your engagement strategy. Social objects should be born from a compelling engagement strategy that essentially marries the virtual and physical worlds and provide the spark that fosters real socialization. It’s all about bringing it up a notch. Have social objects changed your engagement model? If so, I’d love to hear how!
A quick guide to social listening
If you haven’t been exercising your right to fast forward through commercials lately, you might have noticed a few IBM ads on TV about social analytics and how it will help ‘create a smarter planet’. Or you might have read Dell’s plans to expand their services offering with social listening for brands.
The adoption of social listening platforms has grown at a tremendous rate in the last three years, even though the technology has been around for a while. Dell didn’t unveil their famed listening command center until 2010. Why? Because it took early adopters like Dell, IBM and others to really understand how to use these platforms effectively and strategically.
When we started beta testing listening platforms back in 2006, our challenge was to cull out actionable information from a bunch of disparate data points. Key word mentions, share of voice and sentiment didn’t provide the level of granularity we needed to make actionable decisions. We knew that the human side could offer more insights than pure automation. Through trial and error, we developed a replicable process and approach to social listening that bridged technology and thought.
Today, brands have become much more sophisticated with social listening to drive engagement. A plethora of platforms are available to help with any number of the following programs:
If you are thinking about beginning a social listening program or recalibrating your current one, I offer a few tips to keep in mind.
Have a program goal in mind before you evaluate or adopt a platform.
Platforms have greatly improved their functionality and usability. However, they all have strengths, weaknesses and a breadth of offerings. Based on your goal(s), create a simple assessment tracker that allows you to look across and compare multiple platforms and evaluate them against your specific needs. I have included a sample below. Get your key questions answered along the way. Remember everything looks flashy and exciting in that first demo.
Don’t rely on data alone.
The output of social listening should be more qualitative than quantitative. Numbers give you a baseline, a cluster to investigate and a way to gauge if you are moving the proverbial needle. However, metrics in and of themselves are often interesting, but not always useful.
The real value lies in the interpretation of the results. Therefore assign a SME or partner to the project. Someone with deep knowledge and expertise on your products, services, target industries and audience personas will help make the leap from general observation à insight à opportunity.
Map out your approach.
I don’t know how many times I have heard, “Can I get a listening report?” Well, that could mean many things. Take the time upfront to figure out exactly what insights you’re looking for. Start by listing out your objectives for the program. It could be a simple list of questions you want answered so that you can:
Here is an example. Let’s say you want insights to drive your content marketing strategy for a particular product. Below are some key questions to ask:
Go beyond what is #trending now.
Mine content as far back as a year old. It may seem a little counterintuitive, but it is important to understand the development (or maturity level) of your topic areas so that your actions are relevant based on what your audience cares about. How has the social content on a particular topic or theme evolved over the course of the last year, compared to six months ago and compared to today? Have the conversations increased, stayed flat or dropped? This is where some of your metrics come in handy. Let’s look at an example below.
The goal of this particular project was to inform a content marketing roadmap in a specific industry. We wanted to create an effective content creation strategy relevant to specific points on the decision journey. We compared core topics by quarter over a year’s time. The numbers indicated greater traction for topics A and D, while B and C were emerging. By overlaying the context of the social conversation sample, we determined how they were talking in addition to how much. With aligned data points and context, we recommended that the content direction for A and D should be geared towards consideration and preference, while B and C would focus on promoting adoption and awareness. Below is a peek into what we found.
[Note: Some tools are limited in the amount of historical data they store so add this criteria to your evaluation checklist.]
Without question, social listening platforms are becoming business as usual. If you are currently struggling with your listening program ask yourself some key questions on your strategy and approach. If you are not currently listening, but know that you should have a plan in mind before you just dive in.
Have a question? I’m listening!
“Take me with you.” If I could fit my friends, family and colleagues in my suitcase, I would, but to avoid exorbitant fees for overweight luggage, I rely instead on my favorite social networks to share real-time star sightings, emerging new talent and film discoveries at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the next best thing to being there, right?
It’s this notion of inclusiveness that is the heart of what the folks at the Sundance Institute have strived to accomplish through social media — to provide everyone – whether you are in Park City or Paraguay – with an insider festival experience.
And, because the festival itself is only one moment in the journey of an independent film, Sundance’s social strategy effectively engages the film community and connoisseur well before, during and after the festival experience.
Before landing in Park City
Our journey began months before our flight to the mountain town of Park City when it was time to purchase tickets online during our allocated (by lottery) time slot. This can be a time-consuming endeavor as we sifted through 200 films in exhibition. What should we see? How do we get around? Will there be enough time to get from venue to venue?
Thankfully, the Sundance Film Festival 2013 mobile app offered a killer tool to help us effectively navigate, schedule and share the movies, parties and panels at this year’s event. With access to exclusive articles and blogs, GPS and maps, photo galleries, trailers and social networks for film geeks like us, we were able to select the films with the most buzz and coordinate with fellow friends our movie, party and dinner dates.
(By the way, Twitter was also a big help with the timely release of Sundance 2012 Filmmakers, its “hot list” of filmmakers, critics and industry voices to follow at this year’s extravaganza.)
Between movies, Twitter was our go-to source for updates on the films, Q&As, award winners and more. While major media and online news outlets contributed commentary on Twitter about the festival, the Institute did its best with two extremely active Twitter handles dedicated exclusively to all things Sundance. And, this year, they did something new and completely fresh: invited guest celebrities like Mariel Hemingway and Dave Grohl to interact with fans using the @SundanceFest account.
With @sundancefestnow, we were able to get 24/7 live, up-to-the-minute updates – something that proved quite helpful when it was time to “casually run into” James Franco.
Here’s a photo we posted on Instagram with Sundance fixture James Franco. That’s me on the right, along with my partner in movies Bradley Lincoln.
Since Sundance is the place to see and be seen, it’s not surprising that Sundance created, for the first time this year, pages on Pinterest and Instagram. After all, these are the perfect platforms to relay pictures taken at premieres, on the red carpet, backstage or during interviews.
While Pinterest may be the social network du jour, we regularly checked Sundance’s Facebook page to make sure we didn’t miss a beat. From a content perspective, the Facebook page effectively curates what’s happening in all of Sundance’s social networks – effectively serving as a “one-stop shop” to all things Sundance. What’s more, it’s truly engaging (perhaps explaining why they have more than 277K followers): every post is linked to the people, movies and groups being discussed with an average of two to three other tagged pages.
Even with very little sleep, it’s just impossible to be everywhere at once. Or, so we thought. Sundance made it possible, in part, with an afternoon series of eight live Google+ Hangouts with artists and special guests. (For those that weren’t comfortable with Google+, you could also participate via Google chat or Twitter using the hashtag #SundanceHangouts).
And, even though we weren’t able to snag tickets for the Award Ceremony, we were able to get up-close-and-personal with host Joseph Gordon-Levitt and other celebrities in attendance by checking out Sundance’s Livestream, a robust collection of original content, including Q&As, panels and events. So, when people asked us if we saw Spike Lee, I can honestly say we did (just not in person).
The fest may be done, but the party isn’t over
For film lovers like me, the Sundance experience is far from over. We didn’t have the opportunity to check out this year’s selected shorts, but can view them in the comfort of our home by checking out The Screening Room, a new YouTube channel featuring a selection of short films that premiered at the festival. As we debate the true meaning of the movie “Concussion,” we can check out director Stacie Passon’s perspective at “Meet the Artists,” a video series created by Sundance. And, of course, we can keep tabs of the films we saw and those that we sadly missed by following their journey to a big or small screen near you on Sundance’s social networks.
By embracing social, Sundance has effectively created powerful, year-round connections with film afficianados who are hungry for independent film, new voices and untold stories. Don’t take my word for it; check out the social side of Sundance for yourself. If you like what you see, join me next year for the Fest (and, no, you cannot fit inside my luggage – I’m going carry-on next year).
With holiday shopping in full swing, it’s all about the great find – that hidden gem that speaks to you and more importantly, to the lucky ones on the receiving end. And that was my mission in scouring the pages and pages of research in Comblu’s 2012 study – to look for those nuggets of great online community engagement in not-so-expected places. Here are some of my favorites:
New in 2012, a beta online community by Wells Fargo focuses on “engaging parents, students, guidance counselors and financial advisors to discuss and share information about college planning.” What’s cool about it? First, it’s got great bones – clear and easy navigation, mission appropriate engagement and active discussions, faceted search to help you find the answers you’re looking for, consistent community management, and good return motivators (reputation management and member recognition).
Second, it’s a bright spot in the fairly lackluster banking and financial services sector. Not a whole lot of high performing communities in this highly regulated industry. And third, we’re speculating that if the beta takes off, it’ll likely serve as a “hub” for additional ‘life event’ centered communities, like retirement planning and first time home buying, for example. As with any new community, it’s all about acquisition upfront – building a base of members to fuel those discussions. It’ll be interesting to see if it lives up to its potential.
Room to Grow
The debate continues about the relative merits of Facebook vs. online communities. While we’re strong proponents of a ‘better together” integrated approach, there are some brands who make great use of Facebook as the backbone of its community strategy. Beyond the usual timeline posts, Westin Hotels, part of the Starwood Group, engages fans on its Discover tab. In addition to showcasing select highly rated destination properties with guest feedback and access to reviews, consumers can shop for Westin’s Home Collection bedding and spa products, book their stay, share their feedback and experiences, and engage with its ‘resident’ fitness expert about staying fit on the road.
Sounds simple but you’d be surprised by how few brands do more than the standard “blocking and tackling” on the social network, even when it’s their primary community engagement hub. Westin integrates its Facebook community well with the main website and also extends the Discover experience to mobile – another rarity in our study.
With the exception of Starbucks, the beverage industry has not been tearing it up in the study historically. But this year, the sector made major leaps in engagement. With Coca-Cola joining Starbucks among the ‘bright lights’ in 2012 and four of five brands demonstrating cohesive strategies, there are some great lessons to pick up here. One element that stands out to me is the close integration of online and offline engagement.
Take Bacardi and its ‘community without walls’ approach. The brand crowd sourced two live events – in New York and Las Vegas – based entirely on its Facebook fans’ preferences in music, food, leisure activities, forms of entertainment and, of course, cocktails. Consumers could win an invite to one of the “Like it Live, Like it Together” events by sharing their best experiences with friends.
In synch with its brand POV of getting people together (over a great cocktail made with Bacardi), there’s the Bacardi Party Planner widget on Facebook. You tell it how many guests, how long the party will last, the theme, the meal and they provide you with drink recipes and a Spotify playlist that you can easily download right from Facebook.
So what do all of these ‘gems’ have in common? They’re:
· Consistent with who the brand is and wants to be;
· Relevant to the target consumers’ interests and needs;
· Not an ‘island’ – they play well with other social assets; and,
· Pretty easy to engage with ongoing.
We found countless examples of brands doing it right when it comes to creative, on-target engagement. I just cherry picked a few of my favorites – a few surprisingly from segments not cited for their community prowess. You never know where great inspiration will come from – when you find it, consider it a gift.
It is Tuesday, November 6, 2012 and I know the burning question on everyone’s minds today: How did the top US brands stack up in Year 4 of ComBlu’s State of Online Branded Communities study? Yes, folks, it is that time of year again when we uncover the top performing industries, brands and communities. I am happy to report that we have the best, the worst and everything in between.
Here’s a little refresher on the study. We joined and evaluated over two hundred communities of 92 major brands across fifteen different industries. Our goal was to understand the full end-to-end member experience each offered. Using a scorecard that captured both qualitative and quantitative information, we looked at the member journey from registration, to activation, to sustained engagement and beyond. You can find a copy of last year’s report here.
I can’t tell you much yet, but here is a little hint of what we found:
The study and all of the results and findings will be available next Monday, and you’ll be able to access it right here on our Web site.
Over the next few weeks we will continue to break down what we learned and the implications it has on community and social engagement. Stay tuned for upcoming webinars as well!
On October 18th, I-COM, The International Conference for Online Measurement held its 2012 Global Summit.
For the last year, I have had the great pleasure to represent WOMMA on I-COM’s board of directors and had the opportunity to collaborate with quite literally some of the best and brightest digital marketers and big data thought leaders that exist anywhere on the globe.
This group worked tirelessly to create a worthwhile conference framework, identify the right topics, build a structural framework for the conference, speaker presentations and breakout sessions, as well as, identify industry thought leaders that people would in some cases travel half way around the world to listen to, learn from and in some cases have a rousing debate with.
Here are some insights from the conference, in case your travel budget didn’t allow for a junket to Italy. There is a lot of content for you at this link, so surf through and pick out what you are most interested in.
Here are some high points and opinions that I’ve distilled from the preplanning work, the conference content and post conference discussions.
1. Don’t get overly enamored with Big Data. Yes, it will change how the best businesses plan their strategies but it isn’t a magic ball that will close all the knowledge gaps you have. Effective use of Big Data requires organizational alignment, special skills, tools and processes to utilize correctly. The old phrase junk in-junk out still applies, so be thoughtful in what and how you measure.
2. Dashboards aren’t the next killer app. Just like Big Data, dashboards are an efficiency tool that provide value when used effectively. Like one observer put it, “Dashboards are a lot like your highlighter in college. If you highlighted the wrong stuff in your text book, or everything in a chapter for that matter, you were sure to flunk your test. Be thoughtful in what you highlight” Just like Big Data, junk in, junk out.
3. Campaigns are transitory. Content is not. Marketers need to move their fixation from campaign optimization to content optimization.
4. Traditional activity metrics (impressions, likes, etc.) have a waning importance. With the growth and soon critical mass of ‘Do Not Track’ restrictions, marketers must move strategies and activities to ‘value metrics’, such as content and page value (and correlated KPI impact).
5. ‘ROI’ of social and in many cases, digital engagement is still very amorphous. Currently, the ‘R’ in ROI has no real, solid currency (as measured in business impact or Profit and Loss terms). Marketers need to apply more discipline to get to that before ‘The ROI of social’ has any real meaning or value.
6. Global, category standards are critical to ensuring acceptance. However, standards need not include a measure or a metric for the sake of applying one (there are a lot of measures out there that either make little sense or are impossible to track. Let’s not add to this clutter).
7. Continuing education is critical to adoption and value generation. Create, use, teach and enforce consistent, relevant vocabularies and approaches to the important general or universal categories.
8. Accept that evolution in this space is occurring so quickly that the focus should be on the process and best practices, not an end result.
Of course there was a lot more than this that occurred in Rome. Lots of detail and smart opinions were shared and discussed on topics such as mobile, attribution, multi-screen analytics, attribution and advertising effectiveness in a digital age just to name a few of the many meaty topics.
Spend some time with this information, you’ll be glad you did. Share it (or at least the eight points I’ve outlined above) with your peers and use it to continue to evolve and improve your own initiatives.
Admit it: Google+ is a ghost town. After the initial hoopla, how often did you log in? If you were like most of us, the answer is hardly ever. Clearly, the giant’s attempt to be part of our daily lives like Facebook hasn’t quite yet clicked as hoped.
But, a month ago at the company’s annual Google I/O developer event, the eager empire introduced a ton of new features, programs and hardware—not the least of which is the new Google+ Events, which promises to reinvent how we plan events online.
According to the Official Google Blog, the new service is “for all of the moments that matter – before, during and after the event.” Setting this apart from other party planning services, like Evite, is the ability to personalize invitations with video or customer themes and animations along with instant calendar integration.
How It Works
Creating an event is incredibly easy: just click Events in the left menu and then complete the options that you have available.
Simply add title, locations, details, time and who you want to invite. You can choose from a collection of animated themes or create a custom invite from one of your own photos. Once the event is created, it’s automatically added to the Google calendar of every person invited.
The invite includes Google+ Events greatest strength: it’s an online, invite-only party with instant-upload photos and chat, running on the desktop of anyone who’s invited, as well as any mobile users running the Google+ app in Party mode.
Similar to Facebook’s event curator, Google+ allows users to search for public events. The main difference between the two is that while Facebook only allows you to see events your friends created or were invited to, Google+ shows all public events in real time as they’re created or updated.
A critical component to this new event planning approach is the Party Mode feature of the mobile app—not only do your guests’ updates instantly appear in the stream for the event, but so do their photos and videos. As more guests participate, your event “gets a pulse.” What’s more: there’s a live slideshow option, meaning everyone can be part of the action.
As someone who uses online event planning tools, you can see the power of this tool: it’s not only fun, but truly enhances engagement leading up to and during an event. I’m eager to see how this new tool plays out for experiential marketers. Have you tried it out yet?
Each fall, ComBlu releases its annual “State of Online Branded Communities” report. Every summer, our researchers join about 250 communities and score them using a best practices scorecard. In addition, they make more qualitative judgments about member experience, engagement and how well the overall encounter matches the stated mission of the community. We usually analyze a sample across 15 different industries and to date have scored nine sectors for our 2012 study.
When teasing out some of our results, we typically focus on best practices and brands that are rock stars. But as the community and engagement disciplines mature, it is astounding how many bad practices stick around: worse than fly paper on a puddle of rubber cement.
Here are five of my “favorite” worst practices:
Worst Practice #1: Moderating comments, stories and photos before porting to the community site. Come on—aren’t we passed this? Best Buy leaves up toxic comments and lets the community organically defend or correct misinformation while Lowe’s requires all comments to be approved before they are posted. Sears requires all reviews to be vetted before they are posted. What decade are we in?
Worst Practice # 2: Asking for info at registration and promising to drive pertinent content based upon personal interests or needs and never delivering on the promise. P&Gs/Eukanuba community gets props for thinking about content customization but gets razzed for, in reality, sending everyone the same content.
Worst Practice #3: Related to the above egregious practice is leaving up hopelessly outdated content. When a brand doesn’t care enough to update a blog post or share some great new content with its members, it’s time to get out of the community business. American Express displayed this practice in a few of its community properties.
Worst practice #5: Asking the community members to submit their success stories with no criteria for selection or qualification minimizes engagement. While Unilever’s Slim Fast gets credit for thinking about using some great VOC integration, the execution falls short. The stories in this section of the community are highly edited and in corporate voice—not the natural, authentic voice of the customer you would expect in a customer community. The few stories presented rarely change and are formal case studies rather than VOC.
Unfortunately, the list of worst practices is long and more will be included in the full report, which should be published by early November. What worst practices have you noticed?