The challenges & opportunities in fostering a community online

2 September, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the big benefits social media offers organisations is the ability to grow an engaged community around their brand. I’ve spoken about this on Twitter many times and it is something I feel pretty passionate about.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed recently by the very lovely Michelle Roger for last weekend’s Scotland on Sunday on the topic of online communities. Below is a copy of that article.

Why it’s a whole new ballpark in an online community

Published Date: 29 August 2010

By Michelle Rodger

There’s a wonderful quote from a mediocre film; “If we build it, they will come…”

Field Of Dreams wasn’t one of Kevin Costner’s best, but the quote is, and it should be forever inscribed on the tombstones of the dotcom failures of the 1990s.

Building online communities is the latest “Field Of Dreams” accident-waiting-to-happen. What started as disparate and diverse individuals logging in to communicate with strangers in chatrooms has developed into an online marketing phenomenon; creating and growing “communities” around a brand is the new way to build brand awareness and loyalty.

But while the mantle has been grasped by big corporate brands, smaller businesses have been slow on the uptake. Whether it’s because of confusion around the terminology – community doesn’t instantly shout customer – or because they simply don’t yet understand the powerful opportunities loyal communities can bring is still being debated.

Other arguments suggest that the time taken to build a community is a factor, as is the lack of evidence that community = £££s. The bottom line, however fuzzy, is that, according to experts, online communities are “the next big thing”.

Allan Barr, head of digital and social media for The BIG Partnership, says there can be no doubt that the potential benefits for businesses using social media are huge. But he still sees far too many companies jumping on the bandwagon and using tools like Facebook and Twitter purely as broadcast channels.

“Bombarding your potential customers with sales messages is a surefire way to turn them off,” warns Barr. “If organisations are ever going to realise the potential benefits social media can offer they need to stop using the same approach as they would with advertising or direct marketing and instead engage their audience in genuine two-way conversations.”

Consider the way Comparethemarket.com has approached its social media strategy. Aleksandr Orlov, founder of Compare the Meerkat, has 757,640 fans on Facebook who are really engaged with the meerkat character. Not once is there any mention of the real company on that site – but you can bet three quarters of a million people will remember it when they come to renew their insurance.

According to Kim McAllister, there are also some great Scottish examples, aiming to capitalise on the community approach; Vodka Wodka’s Facebook page and Vroni’s Twitter presence are just two.

While both will tell their fans about any special offers or events, the majority of the conversation is general chat, photos from nights out and declarations of love – one Vodka Wodka Facebook fan said she loved the Kamikaze cocktail so much it should have its own page. The bar has reacted by planning a special Kamikaze weekend.

Vroni’s has found that Twitter followers prefer to just send a message to book the bar’s mezzanine level rather than phone.

Afterwards they tweet about what a wonderful night they had and compliment the level of service – public feedback which gives the bar’s reputation a powerful boost.

McAllister, founder of Impact Online, says online communities are important in the same way real world communities are important – they bring people with common interests together but make communication between them much easier.

And the business benefits of online communities are endless, whether it’s about tapping into a really savvy demographic, building loyalty around a brand or testing a product before it goes to market.

McAllister has three tips for businesses hoping to build a community: Firstly, think about what the business wants to get out of it, think about what the customers will get out of it and then try to put the customers’ needs slightly above those of the business.

Be prepared to provide great content, the more varied the better.

And finally, listen. Customers just want to feel valued – a simple “thank you”, “sorry” or “great point well made” will mean a lot and will go a long way to creating lasting loyalty.

If you want your very own field of dreams, you need to build it, but then nurture it relentlessly, or it will wither and die.

Categories: Social Media

#themeet140: When Twitter goes social!

20 August, 2010 5 comments

Well, the empty beer and wine bottles have finally been cleared away on our wee Glasgow social media gathering. Actually, when I say wee, I really mean huge as turned out we had about 120 people come together for our second Glasgow tweetup.

For those Scottish social media -folk who are still living on Bebo (or actually getting on with some proper work) themeet140 Glasgow is an informal gathering of folk with an interest in social media – mostly Twitter actually, hence the 140 ‘tweet-up’.

Following the first Glasgow tweetup back in May where we had about 25 folks along to the Lansdowne Bar, we were blown away by the turnout. Just like last time, it was a really mixed crowd – which was exactly what @markofrespect and I were hoping for.

It was funny to see the various little huddles all blethering away. Think my favourite was a Designer, PA, Journalist, Student and Osteopath all debating the merits of Foursquare – that made me smile!

I’m sure, like me, you’ve all been to numerous networking events where the business cards are flying about faster than seagulls at a Millport chippie. But this was an altogether different affair. If I had a pound for every time someone came up to me last night saying they’d just had a great conversation with someone they’d only ever spoken to on Twitter, I could’ve made a good dent in my bar bill – and I was driving!

I made my best attempt at getting round and speaking to as many people as I could, but invariably with the size of the turnout, that was always going to be a challenge. Sorry to those of you I missed, but I’m sure whoever you were chatting to was far more interesting than me, so it really is my loss, not yours!

Personally had so many great conversations last night – most of them far too brief from my perspective. Notable blethers included (but were far from exclusive to):

@dunningdesign, @skelptarse, @nmpMartin, @nmpMichelle and @blessedsister on the challenge of dealing with Cougars

@barrydewar on the ideal form for swimming breastroke in open water (whilst wearing arm bands?)

@madfootiebabe on how to convince people Twitter isn’t all about the ‘what I’ve had for my lunch’ tweets (btw, where was that dance you promised me?!)

@K1mca on juggling work and the difficulty in picking a Twitter handle (actually the second time I met Kim this week, I am a lucky man!)

@thirdsectorlab, @ange77h, @oxfamscotland, and @markofrespect’s wife on punching above your weight

@lylicswizzle on a whole host of great topics (she’s such a cool chick!)

@ladymiller and @mike_mcgrail on bad avatars and inappropriate beltching

@kevashcroft and @tartancat on plum jam and six inch heels

@craigmcgill, @glasgowdotcom, @polnoon and @alisyme on why we should all have been investing domain names 10 years ago (xxx.com = $7m!!!)

Honourable mentions also go out to:

The Edinburgh crew, who came on #colinsbus – the very cool @colingilchrist, @barrydewar, @danfrydman, @jon_melville (sorry I missed you for most of last night!) and @mike_mcgrail – thanks for making the effort to come through guys!

@ali_mcgill – who came down all the way from Aberdeen – for what turned out to be an all day drinking session, lucky bast…!😉

Emma and all the team at @lansdownespy for looking after us all

Our friendly photographer for the evening, @photomclean, is whose pictures from the evening can be found here. (Spot the man with the glowing antlers!)

And saving the best till last, the very talented and equally adorable @macfack – who turned up with a delicious box of cakes, which my kids demolished for their breakfast (more on that here)! That was too kind, but much appreciated!

Too many other names and cool folk to mention, but you know who you are!

For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’ll definitely be doing these again at some stage in the future. (Keep your eyes peeled for a #themeet140 hashtag that will inevitably be doing the rounds!)

I know I also speak for my partner in crime, Ernie, when I say how appreciative we are that everyone gave over a weekday evening to come out and make the evening what it was.

Catch you all on Twitterville.

A.

UPDATE 23/08/10 – Here are links to the other blogs posts that came on the back of the night (I’ll add others as they turn up):

@kirsty_joanSnook at #themeet140

@blessedsister140 Strangers … !

@dunningdesign#themeet140 Inspires

@alisymeWe agree too much!

So those Old Spice videos DID boost sales after all!

28 July, 2010 2 comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will no doubt have seen Old Spice’s “Smell Like a Man” viral video campaign.

Stats on the videos, which featured former NFL star turned actor Isaiah Mustafa, have shown it to be a huge viral success, achieving millions of video views far quicker than previous hit YouTube star Susan Boyle (please God, no more!). (My friend, Kelly Forbes, did a nice piece on the success of the campaign for the Social Media Penguin blog. And I’d also like to point out that this clever cookie actually spotted its viral potential as far back as March!)

But the question everyone was asking (well, certainly in social media circles) was did the campaign actually deliver an increase in sales? After all, brand awareness is nice, but it doesn’t really pay the bills!

Well the answer, according to The Nielsen Co. and new data from SymphonyIRI Group, is a resounding YES!

Nielsen have said that the sales of Old Spice Body Wash, as featured in the campaign, increased by 11% over the last year. More significantly however, over the last 3 months sales have risen by 55% and jumped an incredible 107% in the past month.

Now clearly it’s only been in the last few weeks that the campaign has really captured the public’s attention, but as people’s shower gel supplies begin to run low, I would expect to see that number increase further.

I’ve noticed some folks on twitter comment that it’s only the like-for-like yearly figures that paint a true picture, but why would that be the case? As far as I’m aware shower gel isn’t a seasonal purchase, unless you’re Hedgehog!

As someone who advises businesses on social media adoption, I can tell you that the ‘ROI question’ is probably one of the ones that comes up most.

Clearly it’s not the only measure, and for some organisations it will never be their primary driver, but there can be no doubt that being able to demonstrate that social media positively impacts the bottom line is increasingly going to become a key focus for businesses.

One thing is for sure, you can bet that Wieden & Kennedy (the US based advertising agency responsible for creating the Old Spice campaign) will now be building these latest sales figures into every client pitch they do from here on in.

For my part, I’m just glad that the whole ‘impact of social media’ debate seems to becoming increasingly popular.

Perhaps now we’ll start to see fewer businesses sucked in by social media gurus who tell them all they need to worry about is their number of followers, baby!

And just in case you’re in any doubt about the last point, have a look at this fantastic piece of research by Meeyoung Cha from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Her paper is called “The Million Follower Fallacy“.

Brief rundown of the new features in Hootsuite

24 June, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, so I may have been critical about Hootsuite’s recent reliability issues, but I’ve never hidden my love for what my favourite Twitter-client can do (when it’s working).

Well today sees the introduction of yet more functionality, as well as significant improvements to layout and usability.

Hootsuite users who login today will be greeted by the following pop-up:

Hootsuite's New Features

Improvements include:

  • The ability to theme your dashboard – the Magnum (have to laugh at that name) is very akin to Tweetdeck’s Black colour scheme
  • A cleaner interface which gives you access to more tweets on your screen
  • Better stats which now include integration with Google Analytics
  • GeoSearch which allows you to find conversations and sources near your location
  • The ability to drag and drop images and other files easily using Chrome 5, Firefox 3.6 and Safari 5 browsers by simply dragging them from the desktop into the message box to upload with a pre-shortened link
  • Improved integration with Facebook for pictures and videos giving you better content in your stream

Hootsuite have also made a big play about improvements in speed and loading time by using HTML5 – I have to say it does seem a bit quicker.

All in all I’m really chuffed that Hootsuite seemed determined to keep improving their platform, and if they, and Twitter, get reliability cracked they could soon find themselves unseating Tweetdeck as the number 1 choice for computer-based Twitter-clients.

So what do you reckon about the new features?

Are they enough to convince you to give up your old Twitter-client?

Could reliability issues spell disaster for Hootsuite (or Twitter)?

14 June, 2010 1 comment

Following my post on Thursday about Twitter’s network outages, I’ve been noticing HootSuite playing up more than normal over the last few days.

Yesterday morning (Sunday 13th June, 10:30am GMT) all I was getting was the following message (which will be well known to fellow HootSuite users):

“Twitter API is busy, please try again later”

I spent quite a bit of time a few months back looking into Twitter clients that were suitable for business/professional use, both for our agency and also for us to recommend to our clients, and I quickly came to the conclusion that HootSuite was the best of the bunch.

Indeed HootSuite has been busy adding additional functionality in order to position itself at the front of the queue for companies looking for a corporate Twitter client. It now supports a wide range of networks, including: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Forsquare. Its ability to manage accounts across multiple team members is a particularly attractive feature for organisations. And the fact that it’s web-based means it can be managed from any computer.

It’s also had its fair share of awards, most notably Mashable’s 3rd annual Open Web Awards: Social Media Edition, which named HootSuite as the best Twitter client of the last 12 months.

So HootSuite is clearly doing something right.

Whilst I’m still of the opinion that HootSuite is the best corporate Twitter client available, it will have to get its act together if it is to cement its place as the de facto choice for companies.

As I pointed out last week, if organisations are to be convinced that Twitter as a viable communications channel, they will rightly expect it to be a robust and reliable platform. The same is equally true for third party applications such as HootSuite.

The API issue is clearly something HootSuite is aware of, as can be seen from their latest Tweet on the matter:

Twitter is currently experiencing issues with their site and API. HootSuite users may experience errors sending tweets/viewing streams. ^JS 4:22 PM Jun 9th via HootSuite

I’ve also seen a few messages from HootSuite developers on various forums which have talked about reconfiguring the way it interacts with Twitter in order to address this ongoing issue.

What is not clear is whether this is an issue with Twitter’s API, or whether the problem lies with HootSuite. Either way most users probably won’t care.

As more and more companies look to include social media in their overall marketing and communications plans, tools which allow them to manage their online channels will become increasingly important.

You can imagine the scenario whereby consumers are criticing your, or your client’s, brand on Twitter and you either don’t know about it or are unable to respond to it due to HootSuite (or Twitter) being down. It could quickly become an issue.

I’d like to think that HootSuite (and Twitter) are serious about creating a stable platform and will eventually get these reliability issues sorted out, but if they don’t organisations will inevitably run out of patience and it won’t be long before they focus their efforts elsewhere.

Keen to hear what others think.

Categories: Twitter Tags: , ,

What the ‘fail whale’ means for Twitter’s ambitions

10 June, 2010 2 comments

Captain Ahab would surely have been turning in his watery grave as Twitter’s own ‘Moby-Dick’ was popping up left, right and centre yesterday.

Those of us who spend any time on Twitter will be used to the glitches and outages that regularly pepper our user experience, but yesterday was a particularly frustrating day when the social network’s performance was way below its own questionable standards.

The problem was picked up by quite a few media outlets, and as Twitter pointed out on their own status blog:

“We are experiencing site availability issues additional latency and errors this morning. We’re working to address these issues.”

No shit, Sherlock!

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a big an of Twitter. I think the opportunities it affords individuals and organisations to improve the way communicate are considerable. However, on the back of Twitter’s recent moves to better promote itself as a viable tool for businesses, it really needs to sort its network problems out if wants to be taken seriously.

As one of my Twitter buddies pointed out, this is not what we should come to expect from one of the world’s largest social networking channels.

Photo credit to Paul Rj Muller

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