Author Archive for Rodney Koch

Data-Driven Community Startups and Market Segmentation

Start to Success Curve

Image courtesy of Pakorn

What is the best way to start a community? In “Buzzing Communities”, Richard Millington argues that creating a successful community begins with gathering the right data. Data needs to be collected on group demographics, habits, and psychographics by answering these key questions: 1) Who are they?, 2) What are they doing?, and 3) What are they thinking or feeling?

Demographics – Who are they?

Some typical identifying demographic characteristics are location, age, gender, and profession. According to Millington, a key success factor in creating communities is to create a community that is the only community of its kind (i.e. it does not compete directly with any other community). For example, even though Myspace already existed, Facebook was able to set up a community just for Harvard students, expand it to all students, and finally create a worldwide community open to everyone, which eventually surpassed Myspace.

Habits – What are they doing?

Besides understanding the demographics of your community, one must also understand the habits. One must understand how his/her community uses their time. What do they read? How much and when are they on-line versus offline? What tools or platforms do they use? What topics interest them? This is important data to collect and act upon, if your community is going to be successful.

Psychographics – What are they thinking and feeling?

Gathering Psychographic data is perhaps the most difficult task. Generally researchers look at interests, activities, and opinions, and then attempt to determine the audience’s underlying attitudes and values. Millington argues that community managers do not work at the values and attitude level because it is not their job to change these, but to pinpoint an interest and build a forum for it to be expressed. I would argue that even though it is not the community manager’s job to change values and attitudes, that it is important to understand the communities values, attitudes, and aspirations in order to serve that community in the best way possible.

Comparisons to Market Segmentation

I am finding that using Millington’s data-driven framework closely parallels the process of market segmentation. I am currently working on a market segmentation study which faces many of the same challenges as starting up a new community. If a generic demographic is chosen, say “pre-retirement age baby boomers”, is it really possible to create a single marketing campaign that will appeal to such a broad demographic? It might be better to break the broader market segment into key sub-segments (e.g. by sex, ethnicity, or aspiration) and develop a narrower, more targeted marketing campaign (or new community) aimed at a smaller group, with more specific needs. Once the more targeted campaigns were successful, new campaigns could be created for a wider audience in order to reach the broader market segment (and expand the community).

Can Small Unique Communities Still Grow up into Global Groups?

The Facebook example cited by Millington begs the question if it is still possible to do something like this today. We can see similarities with Google+, which began as community focused on “techies”, and has been expanding to become a stronger competitor in a larger arena. From a marketing perspective, global companies face similar challenges. They have a global brand they want to leverage, but in order to be successful in the local country markets, they have to effectively engage with the local culture and market to specific sub-segments within that culture. I think one of the keys to doing this may be through the use of “symbols”, as Millington called them. In today’s global environment there is a need to create a hierarchy of symbols that can be layered onto campaigns (or within communities) in order to create larger themes and eventually reinforce the global brand at the top of the pyramid (assuming that becoming bigger or “going global” is the goal of a corporation or community).

What do you think? Is it still possible to start with a very small, unique community and build it into a large global behemoth? Can the use of umbrella themes and symbols unify smaller communities and help them grow into a global community or brand?

Why Internal Corporate Social Media Initiatives Fail to Generate ROI: a chat with Olivier Blanchard

Business Success Collage

Image courtesy of Krom Krathog

This week our Social Media and Community Management class had the pleasure of “hanging out” (in the Google+ sense) with Olivier Blanchard, author of “Social Media ROI” as we discussed various topics related to his book. Here is a paraphrased summary of two of the questions related to internal corporate social media implementation challenges.

Question: A recent Gartner study predicts that by 2016, 80% of enterprise social software efforts will fail. Are there different factors that cause internal enterprise social media adoption to succeed or fail compared to external social media? If so, could you explain these factors?

Olivier: One of the primary challenges of introducing social media to a corporation is that the existing dysfunctions of the organization work against it. The existing departmental silos, the inability to “play nice” and communicate across the silos is not magically corrected by implementing social media software. The culture of the corporation is not going to change fast enough on its own to allow social media to succeed in the organization. Ideally, the corporation should appoint a C-level or SVP-level internal Social Media czar with authority and support from the CEO. The Social Media czar would take a holistic approach building support and structure at the top of the organization for social media and integrate it down into the departmental silos from there. He/she would build a team of people with skills that cross existing silos, drawing from IT, Corporate Communications, etc. to provide a training and support function for social media. Once the support structure exists, the czar can then focus on each individual department, working to train a “hub” of resources within the department and develop successful applications of social media there. It is best to start with “customer facing” departments and work inward. Also, be careful in choosing your success metrics. Remember that measuring Social Media success must go beyond counting the number of “likes” and other simplistic measures; you have to be able to measure and translate your success into terms the business can understand.

My personal experience has been that there are definitely many ways to fail at social media. Recently our IT department rolled out the tools with great fanfare, but little training. The Marketing and HR department C-level executives are the most visible executive users of the tools and have developed the most thriving communities; many other departments appear to have little support from the top and seem be struggling. While the corporation is working diligently to become more agile, the barriers of the departmental silos, built up over decades, work against the implementation of social media and are difficult to overcome. This is compounded by the less than user-friendliness of the social media tools themselves, and the lack of modern features, chief among them, the mobility option.

Question:What issues do internal communities face that external communities don’t?

Olivier: The primary challenge is that most people have “better” things to do with their time, and don’t have the time (or energy) to fight the system. A technique I’ve used to create successful communities (and this works for internal and external communities) is to create “scarcity” to make people want to belong to the group. Start with a small “by invitation only” group, get the core group active, and make sure you have a small, but thriving community. Next, allow the group to start inviting a few others. Pretty soon, more and more people want to belong to the group. By restricting the number of invites you have created scarcity and a certain cachet that makes others want to join.

Hearing this reminded me of how badly I wanted to join Google+ and scrambling around trying to find someone who could get me an invite into the group. I certainly must say that this technique worked on me.

History and Evolution of Community Management

Quill Pen & Letter

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

Were there communities before Facebook?

The primary focus of our Google+ hangout and our theme for this week was the “History & Evolution of Community Management.” One of the questions discussed was what “platforms” we personally used in our earliest community participation. AOL Chat, ICQ chats, and LISTSERVs were mentioned. My personal earliest memory is of a private bulletin board service put up by a friend in 1992 that a group of us used to discuss the software we were developing for a non-profit group. This conversation also reminded me of a story that my mom told me about her early “community group”. When she was a teenager, she would write a paragraph about what was happening in her life and send it to one of her friends. The friend would add what she was doing onto the letter and send it on to another friend, and so on, until it completed the circle and came back to my mom, who would add onto it again and repeat the cycle. Consequently, I believe community groups have been in existence for a long time even though the underlying supporting technology might seem very primitive by today’s standards.

The State of Community Management Today

The proliferation of communities over the years has created a much more diverse set of communities. Today there is a group for almost every niche topic. It is much easier for “birds of a feather to flock together”; however, it is also more difficult for a single community to meet the needs of all of its constituents as it grows larger.

Outsource or Hire

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

Sourcing Strategies for Community Management

Building a strong Community Management team is not as easy as it may appear. A small sole-proprietor in a start-up company may need to do everything him/herself out of necessity. A large brand may find it easier to outsource community management duties to a company specializing in these tasks, but may risk losing the authentic “voice of the brand.” Steve shared examples from his internship with a community management company where he had to spend several weeks studying up on the businesses he was to represent. Early on, all of his posts were reviewed before they could be released. While the best way to learn about a community is to actively participate, there is a great deal of upfront work that goes into getting to that point. Reviewing the Social Media Maturity Model can also help a new community manager understand where his company or brand is in the life cycle and provide guidance as to how to best engage the community.

Communities for Brand Mascots

Brands with mascots bring their own challenges. The community manager must “become” the character for which he or she is speaking. Being “in character” as Captain Crunch or the Geico Gecko every day can be difficult, but creating a mascot with a strong persona can lead to audience growth and help build an energetic community for the brand. Customers tend to become more engaged and enjoy interacting with the mascot. Keeping the brand in the forefront of customers’ minds can lead to increased sales.

Community Management

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

Who should be a Community Manager?

Are Community Managers born or made? While community manager capability can be improved by the right training and on the job experiences, there are certain characteristics that good community managers are born with. Chiefly, a desire to interact and connect with people, not just via social media, but face-to-face as well. In this respect, my natural inclinations cause me to gravitate more toward that of social media manager than community manager. Social media managers are more likely to enjoy developing marketing strategies and measuring results with analytics than spending most of their day interfacing with people.

Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” using Social Media

Listening Ear

Image courtesy of Ambro

What does it take to Hear the Voice of the Customer?

When I was working on six sigma process improvement projects, one of our first steps was to gather the “voice of the customer” or VOC, as we called it, for short. This involved gathering documentation on the current process and interviewing the appropriate stakeholders (a.k.a., customers). From reams of paper and hours of testimony we would develop a short problem statement of what the “customer” wanted to improve about the process. Listening to the customer was not always easy. Some had personal axes to grind, others feared changing the process would complicate their lives, and still others found it difficult to articulate their issues with the process. Today, social media promises new ways to determine the VOC for true customers. Unfortunately, many of the same obstacles still remain and some are even amplified by the same social media that is promising to be our savior. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to overcome these obstacles and make social media work for us in our search for the authentic VOC.

Where does your customer “hangout”?

While I thought the volumes of data associated with developing the six sigma VOC were large, they are nothing compared to the universe of customer data available today via the internet and social media. Most companies have fairly well-defined target market segments. By knowing the demographics of the target market segment, we at least can develop a starting point. In “Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities”, Richard Millington states that the first step toward finding your audience is to determine what platforms they use. Based on some simple demographics, we can make some good guesses as to where our customers and potential customers will hang out. We know from the PEW Internet poll that the 65+ crowd has the smallest presence on social media, but that this is growing as the baby boomers age into this category.  From this Mashable infographic we know that students and engineers, especially males ones, are the primary users of Google+. While in the past Twitter has had a reputation of having a more early-thirties to mid-forties demographic, currently the 18 to 29 year segment has a larger representation. Simple Google searches can help you find where your target audience is most likely to reside.

What does your customer care about?

Once you know where your customer “hangs” the next step is to determine what they care about. Millington suggests asking these questions:

  • What issues does your customer care about?
  • What do they aspire to be and do?
  • What do they know and want to know?

There are many tools that can help you determine the issues that your customer cares about most. Packaged software by the likes of SAS, IBM, and (current owner of Radian6), can parse your customers words and phrases to determine which topics come up the most frequently. Digging deeper into what your customers aspire to be usually requires a more human touch. While tools my give some insight into the deeper workings of your customers minds, nothing can discern the aspirations of their hearts better than actually reading their thoughts and interacting with them. By taking the time to do this, you will gain insights into their needs and be able to develop content that can help them meet these needs.

Human Touch still Needed

While social media “listening” technology is evolving quickly, actually engaging customers in a conversation and listening for their answers is still the best way to determine their needs. Social media has opened up a larger window of public access on their conversations, but the technology still can’t “feel” and decipher the customers innermost needs and desires. It still takes the human touch.

What do you think? How much of customer listening can be delegated to software? What are some examples you’ve seen where it took a human to discern what wasn’t discernible by software?