Saturday, October 2, 2010

Building Online Communities in a Tribal Universe

There's been a lot of demand lately for community building in all categories. This is for a reason, the thought of having a community that rallies around your product or service is very attractive. Heck, it's like shooting fish in a barrel from a CRM stand point.

But I think we're kidding ourselves to think that we can continue to lure consumers into "community environments" without getting financially soaked and forever struggling to retain the..well...retention platform.

Community implies a wrapper and a place. The thought of creating "sticky" environments and sending media to see what sticks is no longer the game. We've evolved...

Some important observations on communities online:
  • Communities are fleeting. They assemble and disband sometimes within a few minutes.
  • Communities are pull-based and non-committal. Needs based on search queries. With so much information available for free, your proposition needs to be attractive, achievable (in the case of a contest) and without strings attached.
  • Consumers want instant gratification. If your community proposition means they need to sign up for something, then the value proposition needs to represent an instant value exchange.

It's our job to work within this transient behavior. It's also important to seriously consider what you are trying to achieve and whether the cost involved in building a potential ghost town is worth the risk. In many cases we're smarter to leverage existing communities, the ones that live and die by the principals of community - not product.

Applying the concept of editorial calendars to your media strategy is one way to succeed in this newer "tribal" marketing game.

Re-thinking the role of community in retention strategies is necessary to stay on top of the moving herds.


Rex Williams said...

Interesting observation, Sonia.

It's true that the dynamics of some online communities follow your description, so people should be wise in their strategy as you suggest. But instead of deciding whether to build or not build a community, the decision should be whether to take the time and effort to build a community in the right way or not. Because if you build slowly, and focus on the relationships first, you can have a thriving, effective community that can accomplish anything they want. But if you're in a rush to get customers (like most are) then your efforts will be mirrored by your members - in a rush to get something and then get out.

Sonia Carreno said...

Hi Rex,

Totally agree with your comment on taking the time to invest. It's our job as marketers/consultants to drive that point home with clients.

The demand I was referring to was the pop-up variety. With all the buzz about the attractiveness of communities as retention platforms lately, companies want on the bandwagon immediately. It's my resposibility to lead them down the strategic path towards the end goal.

Clients also need a long term view on the return on their investment (phase by phase). In my experience, a lot of the time, the amount of investment required is simply not sustainable.

In those circumstances, it's wise to re-think the end goal and go back to the drawing board.

At the end of the day, if you are continuously delivering value to any audience base, the "wrapper" becomes irrelevant.