The Wall Street Journal claims that most online communities fail:
Ed Moran, a Deloitte consultant who just completed a study of more than 100 businesses with online communities. Not surprisingly, these sites failed to gain traction with customers. Thirty-five percent of the online communities studied have less than 100 members; less than 25% have more than 1,000 members – despite the fact that close to 6% of these businesses have spent over $1 million on their community projects “A disturbingly high number of these sites fail,” Moran tells us.
I suspect no-one wants to do the hard work. The hard work is reaching out and talking to people one at a time. It’s talking to 10 – 20 people every day for a year or two, selling them in on the community and keeping them involved as it grows (trying delegating some responsibility!).
Gradually, it gets easier. Friends recruit friends, the community gains prominence, and then maybe you can ramp up some budget from advertising or PR to reach the masses.
But that first year…it’s hard, slow, work. But somebody has to do it.
Like sports teams, businesses should have talent scouts and online youth academies.
How hard would it be to find ten ambitious kids in high-school? Track their progress through school and college. Spend 30 minutes a week sending out copies of good books and highlighting great blog posts. As they get older bring them in for part-time work and internships.
By the time they graduate, the loyal few still in the program will be prepared and ready to join the business.
Just sounds like a great investment to me.
Global warming and rising oil prices means less people travel and meet in person. Developing technology and internet penetration means more people meet online. What does this mean for online marketing and engagement? I suspect it means three things.
1) Real life meetings become the goal. Getting people in your strategy to meet with you and each other in person is the holy grail. It cements the relationship.
2) Soft contacts are useful. We will interact with more people in less meaningful ways. These softer online contacts might be our future employers, employees, friends and lovers. It’s a sales funnel. Having lots of measurable soft contacts might be valuable (e.g. a PR account exec with lots of journalists as Facebook friends).
3) Learning culture differences to the internet. Skype, webcam meetings and e-mail chat changes things. Everyone has different culture, and some of these cultures might be less inclined towards these technologies. Who is less comfortable talking online? Is their less trust in online meetings? Is making a deal online as acceptable to all as making one in person?
It’s exciting, many concepts old and stale (International Marketing 101) become new again. Less talk about the rise of mighty China and more talk about how they are using the internet, how they communicate online, what are the similarities and difference?
Orange is going to spend £30m to reposition themselves as a company focusing on relationships.
Orange is an old marketing business doing old marketing. Old marketing does grandiose repositioning statements, big ad budgets and gets the message in front of people.
New marketing isn’t really new, it’s about the basics. It’s about having conversations with customers. It’s about facilitating these conversations, and empowering customers.
New marketing would’ve taken this £30m budget and handed it to customer service. New marketing would have demanded that Orange had an individual conversation with every customer (this makes it’s own ad campaign – “So have you received your Orange call yet?”).
New marketing would have trained the customer service people to ask about any problems the customer might have, and fixed those problems. New marketing would ask if the customer had any friends with the same problem they could help.
Maybe customer service might even enjoy a spot of proactive problem-fixing enjoy being proactive for a change.
In Online Community Management, online is just a location. Community Management can happen on the street, in coffee shops or at mac-world expos. But we love online, we talk and spend far more time discovering everything we can about ‘online’ than Community Management.
This is because ‘community’ is boring.
Would you rather play around with a new tool that links photo-tagging with Twitter, or would you rather read the latest research on how groups form? Or read a book about how people become isolated and estranged from groups? Or how culture is changing?
How about Management? Some people take a great crack at it, but we’re still well behind on the management frontier. What’s new about management and leadership of communities? How is leadership changing? What styles work best with different sorts of groups? How do you handle trouble-makers or splinters in the group? What age should you consider becoming a manager?
This is really important stuff, it will replace online as the sizzle that sells the steak.
By focusing on technology we’re reducing our value. Technology is always becoming easier to use and understand. So it shouldn’t be our selling point. Instead, we need to be sociology and leadership geniuses. By becoming experts at creating communities (online or offline), evangelizing and managing them, then we’re embracing change for the better.
In 1960 an American professor named Jerome McCarthy created the 4Ps (Place, Price, Product Promotion) to dissect marketing into chunks that marketers could easily understand and tackle separately. McCarthy did this around the same time Elvis topping the charts. Music has (sadly) moved on since then, but marketing lecturers still drill the 4Ps of marketing into their students. The problem, as any marketer will tell you, is they don’t use the 4Ps for their marketing efforts, they probably never did. At best, it’s purely a theoretical concept, at worst, it’s entirely irrelevant.
Luckily, a great thing happened in 1960, Seth Godin was born. Almost 48 years later, redefined the framework of marketing. It’s an important post for graduates. Forget what the last three years have taught you, and use this to plan your marketing.
Really, the best way to learn marketing isn’t to start your own eBay shop, it’s to learn to market yourself (thanks Matt). So apply Seth’s framework of marketing as a self-marketing tool, we can begin to understand how marketing really works. Seth suggests the goal of marketing is connections. Connections based upon Interactions, Products, Stories and Data. Here is how any graduate can apply this.
First, use data to find the opportunities in your industry. Find where jobs are opening up, what are people doing, what’s going on in technology? What will people want today and tomorrow? Whatever you decide to do should be routed in this data.
Now create your story. Be your own brand. A story isn’t fake, they’re what you do. How about the young graduate that can implement these new social media tools into client strategies? How about the 100% reliable graduate that always delivers everything on time, to spec, free of errors? Even better, why not both? Find a story that fits what you want to do, then be that story.
Your product (your services) is how you deliver your story. Be great, brilliant rather. The best is a good target to aim for. Remember, you’re not selling anything to anyone, you’re solving problems. If you can solve someone’s problem better than anyone else, you get the job. So use data to find that problem. Provoking a positive emotion helps. Learn skills that will solve people’s problems (CSS, design, sales etc…) and add a bonus unique to you.
Now you’re really flying. You still need to reach people who will pay you. You could build up your beloved CV, crank out the cover letters and begin calling recruitment agencies. Or you could begin blogging, attending conferences and finding people just like you. You could discuss tomorrow’s major trends with top industry experts. You can figure out where you fit in. You could build great relationships and have allies helping you find the right sort of work you want.
Now are you creating connections? Are employers, clients, friends and colleagues talking about you? Have you given them reason to? Are you surpassing their expectations? Have you found that place within the realm of marketing where you both belong and excel. You might just find it’s a really enjoyable place to be.
If you can do this, then you’ve learnt how to market yourself. And if you can market yourself, marketing products will be easy.
I used to write for UKTerrorist, a website about an online game called Counter-Strike. From 2000 to 2004 we built a community of around 12,000 people. Now looking back, i've been wondering how we did it.
I think early on we ticked a lot of the boxes. We were very much part of the community. We met the big names (games publishers, top players, tournament organizers in person..often), in fact, we recruited most of the major figures to contribute to our website. That really helped. Three things made us successful where other websites failed.
- Names, Names, Names! 90% of our content was about people. People, people, people. Strangers, friends and enemies. Or to quote the Heath Brothers “Names, Names, Names!”. We wrote about people in the community. We highlighted the major people in the community, and then reported on them (players moving teams, major events, latest news – it's a bigger topic than you might think). A community is about people, nothing else (see the bottom of this post).
- Community Competition: We introduced a lot of competition amongst our community. We titillated young egos and at times helped instigated (friendly) rivalries.We ran our own events, used top ten lists and even UKT Personality of the Year (that was an extremely contentious one). Be sure to give a community not only a reason to come together, but a reason not to leave. Keep giving the community something to talk about, encourage them to continually top each other. But make sure it stays fun, not personal.
- Light ModerationThird, we had a very weak approach to moderation. Perhaps too weak, we let anyone say almost anything they wanted….a principle many users took full advantage of.
It took years to build the community and months for that community to dissipate when the content dried up. In those years we learnt a lot. Fundamentally, we learnt a community isn't really about a company, a product or a cause. It's about the relationships with the people that work for the company, that use the product or will benefit from the cause. Anything else is incidental.
The Home Office's campaigns haven't been doing too badly recently. I thought their Batman vulnerability ad was fab. So it was great to meet some of the people involved last week at the launch of the Know Your Limits campaign. Know your Limits is a campaign targeting 18 – 24 year olds to reduce binge drinking.
The campaign includes a couple of radio adverts, three videos (also going up on YouTube), publicity, and a shop-front exhibition close to Covent Garden. I've included the videos at the end of this post.
Here's my biggest take on it. I think that the adverts are good, shocking and memorable. I think that on TV or radio they could well make people think twice the next time they go out. I'm not so sure that this will be a permanent attitude change. Memories tend to fade quickly.
I also don't think the videos will go viral. It's in the motivations of people. You pass on a video which you think another person will want to see, that has value to the recipient. No-one will pass on a video of someone else urinating, vomiting or getting in fights – largely because it's not appealing and also because it's not 'that' shocking (I mean, we see it every Saturday night, do we really want to see it during the week?).
I'm a big believer in online communities. I think bringing people together to create meaningful relationships is a great way to shape attitudes. I think there should be a budget towards developing communities of people that don't binge drink. Communities of people that still go out but then do something else afterwards. Maybe they watch the sun rise, or play some music together at home, or watch a film.
Finding people that are doing what you want, and then telling their story is a great way to affect attitude change. You can have people sharing their post-club pictures on flickr, discussing nights out they've just had, uploading their mobile video clips or even playing their PS3's against each other. All of which requires them to drink a little less. These are some of the stories that need telling, and the communities that need forming. Promote what can be done if you don't binge drink, and let interested people join together and recruit others (aside: anyone else ever had a morning bbq on a hill at sunrise?). Start small and grow big.
Still, they have tough competition. On Facebook there are groups called Binge Drinking Appreciation Society with over 1500 members, There's Nothing Wrong with Binge Drinking with nearly 1200 members and the Canadian Binge Drinking Team number just over 1000 members. I hope the adverts work, I think in the short-term the Home Office will get the results they want. But I worry if it's enough to make a real difference.
You can read what others are saying here and here.
Binge Drinking Girl
Binge Drinking Boy
Fashion Show Gone Wrong
I've been in love with the internet for over a decade, perhaps now more than ever. The beauty of this near-social paradise is that brilliant people rise to the top. People who might never have been discovered, never have seen the the spotlight are now receiving the attention they more than deserve.
So today Matt Harding, of Where The Hell Is Matt Fame, released his latest video. Matt Harding quit his job almost three years ago now to go dancing around the world. His first video was the stuff of pre-YouTube brilliance, his second one (not including outtakes) have also been great. I've embedded as many as I could find below, if you just want to see the latest release – scroll to the bottom.
Matt's First Video: Dancing – 2005 (wait for the Giraffe scene)
Matt's Second Video & brilliant outtakes
And, finally, the 3rd video just released.
Isn't it amazing how people like Matt Harding and Juan Mann are inspiring movements based upon nothing else than people eager to share a positive experience with each other. You have to wonder just how big these sorts of movements can grow? How much of a difference can giving free hugs or dancing with strangers (without alcohol) make when times seem especially tough?
When I really examine this blog's traffic I.e. who are visiting, who are commenting and who are linking, I find that i've had a unique interaction with nearly all of you.
Some of you i've worked with, some i've exchanged a few e-mails, some i've met in person, some I never seem to quiet meet. Then some of you i've commented on your blogs, some i've twittered and some are friends, families and students. I'm sure about half are my parents mind, always refreshing to make me feel good.
It's all these 1's and 2's which add up. That has to be true of most blogs, especially when starting out. The trick is just to interact with as many people as possible, through as many different networks as possible. This is why many blogs fail, they prioritize content over people. Sure there has been some nice search engine traffic over the past few months, but it's the worst sort of traffic. It's the traffic that visits one post, one time, for about one minute, and then leaves…never to return. Clients seem to love this volume traffic.
Wadds touched on this point a few months ago, social television is growing quite quickly. It's not entirely new. Radio stations have had call-in lines during games for decades. Sports shows have allowed some interaction. But nothing before has had the ease of interaction offered by social media tools.
It's not just social media that's prompted the rise of social television. It's the big switch from desktops to laptops, it's increasing broadband penetration and it's the growth of broadband television (watching telly over the internet).
We're really at the beginning of something here. A big fundamental change in what the entertainment drawn from television is. The examples are all around us. The Guardian has been live-blogging the Apprentice for ages now. It's an extremely popular column and gets as many at times it gets as many as five comments a minute. If anything, it's a victim of it's own success and would work better as a Twitter stream. Indeed, Twitter is buzzing during an apprentice night. is typically buzzing during an apprentice night (and Steve Jobs keynotes).
What's shocking is that it's the Guardian that benefits from that column. Nobody makes money when people talk about The Apprentice over Twitter. It's not the production company behind The Apprentice, nor ITV that are benefiting from their own show.
It's an example of two things. The first is the producers of The Apprentice and ITV mistaking exactly what they're offering, and the second is a misunderstanding of the benefits of being the beacon of conversation. If The Apprentice were clever they would be offering these facilities on their site. They would have former contestants in chat rooms live-blogging or twittering future shows. They would have quick straw-polls of who we all thought they will get fired. Maybe even organising pub-meetings or viewings of the finals?
Nor is it just The Apprentice, it's Big Brother (though this does a slightly better job), it's x-factor, it's even films. Even now I'm watching Greece play Sweden in the next window via ITV. So why is ITV not offering me the option to complain about Greece's performance? Or submit questions to experts? Or connect to like-minded members and form our own community?
Yes, if they were clever they would form an online community around their show and have the conversations taking place around the show. Then you can get more people, more involved with the show, more likely to watch the advertisements in the future and buy the DVD series, more likely to buy the books. Less likely to be watching other channels. There is money to be made here.
Friends Reunited, the popular site based upon the Classmates concept, is now free. From today the UK's first major social networking website has dropped it's subscription fees to increase it's audience.
This is important because Friends Reunited is one of the few social networking websites created with a business model in mind. Friends Reunited was launched in 2000 and purchased by ITV for £120m in 2005. Since then it's been overtaken by the free and more modern social networking websites of Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.
These websites are easier, with better customisation, and rely upon advertising for income. Though we know this doesn't always work too well.
So what does Friends Reunited dropping their subscription fees really mean? Not much. I'm going to make a prediction that we probably wont see another major social networking site competing with the likes of MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn. Instead we will see more niche interest networks, and the gradual convergence of all social networks as we see greater social network portability.