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Online Communities and where they fit in a brand strategy

October 26, 2010

I was reading a great paper about online communities published by Brent Leary, who is a recognised expert in CRM systems. The document included a discussion with Mark Yolton from the SAP Community Network about the way in which they view and use their online communities in conjunction with other social media. Here’s a couple of key things I got from it:

  • The online community is a place where rich content can be published that may not be placed on 3rd party platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.
  • The overarching view (from SAP) is that the corporate online community is a place that cannot be controlled, but where the brand can have more influence.
  • A hosted online community gives the brand more influence (because you own the community and can view all data associated with it) than a 3rd party platform can for example (Facebook communities and conversations can be made private or can drown out the brand’s influence).

Importantly, Yolton goes on to say that “What you get in exchange for giving up control is a lot of engagement, feedback and interaction”. It’s so true. For this reason, he also confirmed that having both – hosted communities and 3rd party social media – was crucial to the online brand presence. Those who chose to engage deeper with the brand (normally the same ones you want to interact with) were those who would migrate from 3rd party, popular platforms to the hosted online community itself.

I’ve thrown together a quick little diagram to illustrate the contrasting effects he refers to below – You increase the brand’s reach as you move towards external platforms, but you lose influence over the conversation, and vice versa.

Most brands today are still trying to find their comfort zone in terms of how much control of the conversation they are willing to relinquish. In the words of a notable Sales Director I worked closely with over the last couple of years (and I think I still owe him lunch)

“the conversation about your business is going to happen whether you like it or not….you can choose to bury your head in the sand, or you can choose to get involved in the conversation. The choice is yours.”

So this guy from SAP has a good point and I tend to agree – corporate social networking communities are essential to establishing long term relationships with your customers as opposed to a ‘fleeting transactional one’.

You can find Brent Leary’s original post here, which includes a link to download the white paper itself. It’s a good read.

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