So here’s the thing: I love American Idol. Maybe because when I was a kid I loved all the different amateur hours that were on TV…Ted Mack, Star Search, the Gong Show. I also love America’s Got Talent, mostly because it’s a two-fer: “American Idol meets The Gong Show”. Idol’s Season Eight is rapidly coming to a close, which means I’ll get a few hours of my life back. So, what does this all have to do with the price of beans? Simple. American Idol is a great microcosm for some community best practices.

Community is a place where people connect around a common purpose. American Idol brings together a huge group of people wanting to be the next big thing in music. The season takes us through try-outs, which eventually winnows down to the final 12. The community members can participate and interact with the show in a variety of ways. This process gives us a peek into community building, scaling and measurement. Here’s how:

· Great communities have an advocate base at their core. These are the people who create content, are highly productive and typically are highly rated for their efforts. Smart brands use a specific methodology to find and activate their advocate base. In our American Idol model, the contestants are akin to the group a brand would look at to find their advocates. The 100,000 that tried out this year were systematically filtered according to specific criteria. The judges, who represent the brand,  ultimately only see a few thousand of these contestants, who have already been screened by producers. This is exactly the role of an identification algorithm. It screens a large group and gets it down to a smaller group. Ultimately, the behaviors of this smaller group determine those who are truly advocates and which of those are the top tier or high performers.

· In our American Idol example, the top tier advocates are the top twelve that make it through to the 12 week elimination round. These advocates get special recognition, engage in a distinct way from the rest of the membership base and are constantly ranked and rated by both the judges (the brand) and the show’s viewers (the community membership). This is exactly how a reputation management system should work in a community.

· As the season progresses, the community members can engage with the show in a variety of ways. They can view the show, vote for their favorite contestants, download songs and videos from the show, engage through a variety of social media tools, and even see favorites from previous season’s perform on the results show. After the season is over they can see a live show of the top ten and they contribute to a charitable cause, Idol Gives Back. We call this an engagement strategy. Unfortunately, many communities that we study offer very limited ways for members to engage. The community manager fails to recognize that a membership divides into distinct personas who all engage differently inside a community and throughout the social eco-system. Without multiple ways to participate, the community can quickly become a ghost town.

· Our final node of this analogy is measurement. American Idol has a huge metric: their weekly vote count which is typically in the tens of millions. They can monitor if this count trends up or down and compare it to comparable periods from previous seasons. This is an engagement metric that goes way beyond viewership or page views, which is a typical metric that many online communities use. But Idol can also have a dashboard that shows contributions to its charity, impact on advertising revenue, sale of merchandise and records, tour revenue, etc. They can actually measure the impact of community on sales drivers or KPIs. Every community manager should be able to create correlations between community actions and KPIs or they will not have what we call a “dashboard with teeth”.

Idol is the original engagement –based TV show. Its producers devised the concept to change their music business. They had interests in finding talent, producing recordings, selling the most records they could, producing concerts, and managing the talent they have under contract. They used TV in an entirely new way: to build audiences for their new artists before ever producing a record. That’s what community should do for brands. It should be a game changer.

So anyway, I’m rooting for Adam ; let’s see if the community agrees

 

Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.