Separation of Products and Communities (part 2)

October 22, 2008

This is a follow up to my previous post on companies using web 2.0 technologies to add value to their brands.

The question to ask yourself when developing your online communities, how much do you separate the product from the “society“?  Do you have to be a customer to join the group?  Do you have to pay a subscription to join the conversation?  And how much control do you take to manage the way the network works?

The answer will be different for everyone.  There are multiple ways to do it right.  But at the same time, there are multiple ways to do it wrong.

Rule #1 – Too much control is always a bad thing.  Control, for certain companies, may be important.  But it will almost always kill a social network or community.  The great thing about the major networks is the freedom that people have to do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want.  They find people with things in common, and they network.  Now with your company, the common bond may be the fact that they love your products, but you have to let them do what they want with it, or you will chase some users away.

Rule #2 – Whenever possible, separate participation from spending money.  Make the community free, an add-on to your services.  Maybe they have to be a member of your website, but let them do it at no cost.  And do not try to sell them on anything as part of the network.  Give them stuff to talk about, reward them with options.  But if you push them, they will run.

Rule #3 – Listen.  Instead of controlling what they say and what they talk about, just pay attention to it.  You can learn a lot about your customers by just letting them interact with each other.  Use the information to better structure your marketing and your product offerings.  It will make a difference.

Rule #4– Let them spread the word.  Seth Godin talks about ideas the spread.  Give them great products and services, let them talk about it, and give them the microphone and the power to spread your message.  Soon you will find that you have created a free marketing tool.

Innovating the way your customers interact with other customers as well as your company is a natural path to growth and development.

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Separation of Products and Communities (part 1)

October 20, 2008

The Web 2.0 world that we live in has made it popular and fashionable to create communities online.  The onset of social networking platforms like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook have made connecting people online easier than ever.  And now, companies that sell products, either online or off, have found that it may make sense to create their own communities of people online.

Now, the process can be done in multiple ways.  You can create a group within a larger, established community.  You can create your own community using a platform like Ning.com.  Or you can build something from scratch and put it right on your own website.  There are positives and negatives that come with all of these options, but they will all lead you down the right path.

The question then becomes how to use them, and whether or not to control them.  Seth Godin points out that many times, when companies try to have “the best of both worlds”, most often they end up with nothing.  It is important that you have a clear focus for what this community will be all about.  Will it be a place for your customers to discuss products?  Will you use a Facebook group to promote new products?  Will you host online services through this network?  What is the goal, and what value is it adding for your customers?  Sometimes too much control can take away from the value that a community will have for both you and your users.

In my opinion, any company can make use of Web 2.0 technologies to add value to your brand.  The most popular companies have used them to generate feedback through direct and indirect conversations with customers.  Blogs, wikis, even discussion boards (though ancient) have all given users a voice.  And social networks make their voices even louder, as they interact with each other and the company at the same time.

This is a real strategy that can help your company grow and develop.  But don’t take it lightly.  Put in the time and effort (and money) to do it right.  A well executed networking strategy will help you create better products, deliver a clear message to the public, generate online buzz and word of mouth marketing, and so on and so forth.

More on this to come…