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Web2.0 for marketers: It's the community stupid

iStock_000000334544XSmall.jpgToday's topic, in my opinion, is the most important in this entire series of posts. If you are new to the series you can catch up here with part 1, part 2 and part 3. Web2.0 is, in the end, about leveraging communities around your brand to add value to your customers. Hear that? Value for your customers. Creating a MySpace profile to say that you're engaged in social marketing isn't going to do it. If, however, your target audience is on MySpace and you can create a campaign there that reaches them in a personal way and allows them to connect to you in a way not possible before, then you've succeeded. There are a lot of ways that community comes into play in Web2.0.

Technology has been simplified, designers are creating better experiences and people are engaging your brand with or without you. They're posting photos of your products and store experiences, blogging about them, creating videos about their love/hate affair with you, commenting on posts from other bloggers, tagging information about you on, voting stories about you to Digg and Reddit. They're finding all of this information on Google and Yahoo alongside your primary website. It all appears with the same importance in the search results. So what is the community saying about you? Are you behind the wheel or asleep at it?

Are you behind the wheel or asleep at it?

Here are some ways that companies are getting into the fold. Baby steps today can lead to big gains tomorrow as the community will propel itself if you give it some love and lots of attention.

    Listen: One of the top priorities for every company should be to create a social listening program. This involves keeping pulse of what is being said, digesting it and responding through the appropriate channels. There are quite a few services that make this easier, but setting up Google Alerts for your keywords along with monitoring Technorati will go a long way to catching your mentions. From here, you can determine which of the following you will tackle next.

    helga.jpgPersonify: This is often the stereotype of Web2.0 marketing. Creating a physical presence for your brand in a community has worked for some and crashed for others. Companies saw successful, early adopters of this strategy see gains and get a lot of press, so they gave it a try. Volkswagen used MySpace profiles to promote their GTI campaign with profiles for Helga the dominatrix as well as the Fast. Both were on-brand, their target audience was using the community and they were honest about it. Copycats jumped onboard creating fictitious people who promoted their brand. Once found (and they almost always are) the PR backlash raged.

    Personification has powerful potential if done right. Allowing people to connect to you as a "friend" allows for a bond that is often not possible in the real world. But as in the real world, fights and disagreements can happen and relationships can end. Those battles become public domain.

    Extend: A good way to put yourself out there for your community is enabling your customers to extend you into social media networks. Links to submit your content to, Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, Netscape, etc. can be added to any web page. Think about adding these links to your home page and to dynamic content like press releases and other stories. Uploading images to Flickr and then linking them in on your site and doing the same with videos on YouTube will extend your content into new communities. Be on the lookout for other logical extensions.

    Another consideration for publishing should be using blogging software to create your website. There are a couple of benefits here. First, it's a pretty cheap content management solution and you can tailor the look and feel to match your identity. Second, blogging software has all of this built in. Each story (or post) is submitted to search engines, Technorati and pushed to other major news aggregators. You can use the software for the entire site or just for your news. Eventually you could really turn it on and start blogging, at that point you're all set, you just need to add the time.

    Connect: Connecting can be done in a number of ways. Through the listening stage you should be finding who is talking about you. Engage them! Get to know people, they'll love that you take the time to speak with them. Gauge their level of commitment to your brand and enable them to spread your message through your community as well as their other communities.

    Connect with people through traditional means, feedback forms, emails to web-masters, calls to customer service. Take time with them, connect to what drives them to use your product or service. Keep notes on where they go, what they like, what you can do to make them happier. You will build your community through the input of the individuals. Comment on blogs and reach out through email to customers. They'll appreciate the time and effort you are showing.

    Collaborate: Here is where the power of technology can really be powerful to marketers. It's hard to listen to everyone that is talking to you. It's almost impossible to listen to what everyone is saying to each other. The idea of collaboration is a major advantage if implemented and used effectively. Wiki technology, like that on which Wikipedia is built, allows groups of users to edit information in real time. Let's say you are creating product documentation or research for your users. Why not ask them to help you out. Nobody knows your products better than the people who use them.

    dell_logo.pngTaking collaboration to the extreme is the idea of crowdsourcing. This is a system that enables your customers to sign up, suggest ideas to the community, vote which ideas are best, work together to flush those ideas out and finally help implement the final product. Companies pay thousands upon thousands of dollars in focus group testing each year. Why not use the web, go straight to the customer and get their buy-in for new innovations. Dell's IdeaStorm is a great example of crowdsourcing done right.

    Create: Some of the previous strategies involved creation, but what I am talking about here is creating an organization that is focused on delivering value to the community. The more you can personally connect to each customer the more profitable you will be. Creating a blog lets people know your thoughts, proves you know what you're talking about and acts as a great resource. It shows you walk the walk. Extending into social media networks allows people to find you in their own environments. When you collaborate with your customers you get their buy-in, loyalty and respect. All of this starts with listening. Everybody from the receptionist to customer service to the CEO needs to be on the same page. If somebody calls with a question it should be handled promptly and shared with the team and the community. Communities that address issues and problems in this manner show they care about their customers and engender loyalty.

Here are my takeaways for the community area:

  • Listening to what is happening is the first step and everybody should be on their way to taking it
  • Each company is different. What works for a T-shirt startup will not work for an auto parts manufacturer.
  • Look deep inside your company and make sure you're set up to deliver to the customer on and offline.
  • User experience is key. You can have the most robust community software on Earth, but if it's hard to use or too technical it will fail.
  • Don't recreate the wheel. Go to where your customers are. If they're on a magazine site or MySpace, reach them there, don't try to create a new community and expect them to switch.
  • What are you doing to facilitate your community now?
  • Where are your customers spending their time when they're not with you?
  • What are they saying about you right this minute?

Please let me know if you have comments or questions. Is there anything else you would like me to address? Anything you want me to clear up? I am here for you, just let me know. Tomorrow is the conclusion...don't miss it!

Related Post: New search engines are indexing ONLY content that has been tagged or voted in social media sites.

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