Special Report: E-Commerce & Catalog Technology: Take a Page From Facebook
Generally, online communities break into three categories. Most popular are open communities — simple social hangouts that attempt to attract as many members as possible by replicating MySpace and Facebook with as many community features as possible.
In the case of Hewlett-Packard, the computer products marketer has focused its social networking efforts on the digital photography community. The computer marketer’s “HP Community Wiki” (www.expressioncenter.wetpaint.com) features ongoing customer discussions on crafts, creative projects and ideas for printing at home. “It gives us a look into consumers’ lives and experiences through a series of snapshots over time,” says Tanya Maurer, HP’s customer experience program manager.
Other communities are solely dedicated to market research and often opt for an invitation-only model. Such private communities have smaller memberships that are, by design, more intimate. Users are typically the more valued customers who offer dependable insights. They tend to post more often and more regularly than those in purely social networks. Discussion threads often last for years.
The third type of community site is specifically designed to gather customer reviews on company products and/or services, and to publicize that feedback to future customers.
Going forward, expect at least a quarter of all Fortune 100 companies to announce online communities like these, “in which they learn about and create higher levels of engagement with their customers and markets,” predicts Brad Bortner, co-author of “Top Market Researcher Predictions for 2008,” from market research firm Forrester Research.
Open to All Means More Features
Online communities that allow anyone to join often have more community-building features than the smaller, more targeted sites. Sometimes they even have the overall look and feel of MySpace or Facebook. Hosting such sites usually requires slickly designed tools like discussion boards, chat rooms, instant messaging, blogging and photo posting.
Jump-start the community’s nerve center — namely, the discussion board — by posting commentary on a dozen or so industry topics. Then encourage visitors to offer their own reactions and opinions to the discussions you’ve started.