How to explain the value of online communities? Well, first let’s try to explain the hierarchy of online communities.
Yes, we understand how valuable information is to brands. Information obtained online leads to innovation, research and development insights, customer service adjustments – this is new marketing – nurturing a brand dialogue and gaining actionable information.
Let’s look at three levels of community conversation for General Motors. Level one is the all-purpose Facebook fan page
- Cost: Free staging; but $$ for custom integrated applications
- Creative: Custom cover images; custom timeline, tab applications
- Audience: Entry-level buyers, employees (415,000 fans, engagement 8,900 ‘people talking about this’)
- Administration: News feed, editorial calendar, moderated engagement, links references to other channels
- Advantages: Entry-level engagement, relatively low-cost, Facebook Insight metrics; access to Facebook ad network
Next, the GM conversation might jump to an enthusiast blog/community like Jalopnik, a weblog covering cars, car culture, and the automotive industry. Contributors to Gawker Media’s Jalopnik regularly attend media events and press conferences hosted by automotive manufacturers.
- Cost: Private, sign-in for commenting, accessing tips, delivering story tips to editors
- Audience: Car industry execs, industry insiders, car enthusiasts (1.6 million monthly readers; 78,000 Facebook fans)
- Administration: Blog feed, moderated comments, links to other channels, sources
- Advantages: More focused, relevant interest. Higher level of authority and credibility to combine with brand
Finally, the GM conversation might jump to a gated community like Liveworld, an invitation-only community for the automotive brand..
- Cost: $8-$10,000 monthly for hosted web experience
- Audience: Invited members of a brand’s leadership (CEOs) and expertise (top engineers, developers) with selected investors, division CEOs, industry influencers (with a mix of passionate consumers and potential consumers)
- Administration: Community thread, moderated comments, introductions via email (Less moderated more constructive dialogues supported by resourceful content and creative challenges)
- Advantages: Displays exclusivity (think golf country club). Heavily filtered, focused discussion points, (yes, but listening is a core priority within our space, natural concerns and connections spur organic growth and refocus discussion topics) with access to top decision-makers and leaders from most important customers. Connectedness is the reward and return for consumers to have invested their time. Being heard, taking part, co-creating my brand.
Summary: All of these communities have the same goal – to allow the customer to comment on and share the brand’s experience and in turn allow the brand actionable intelligence to refine its marketing goals. The goal is to listen and to respond to customers, learning and creating lasting connections through one-to-one interaction.
Each community has a dramatically different entry point and different levels of sophistication but all are part of the map of the brand’s space for consumers.