Community Watch: Leveraging the Power of Networks
By Rahaf Harfoush
About the Panel:
What does community really mean in the context of audience users and open source? THis panel will discuss different views of community enabling and creation. Moderated by Eli Singer (Director of Social Media, Segal Communications), the panelists are Mark Relph (VP devleopment, Mircosoft), Amber MacArthur (New Media Strategist), and Kris Krug (President, Rain City Studios)
Eli Singer: Community is a huge buzz word these days, it’s really difficult to understand what it’s all about. Everyone seems to want community but no one knows what that is. Who owns them? Manages them? What do they do?
Kris Krug: Rent City builds community websites for all sorts of people, mainly bands and records labels. These guys are looking for all the features of social networking sites, but bring it back to the label. For the last 10 years I’ve been consulting with independent artists on how to use the web.
Amber MacArthur: We are working on a social network for Tony Robbins, which is all about leveraging social networks. I also do podcasts, videocasts etc. For me it’s been all about leveraging and building community. Every thing I’ve done is about reaching out to people and working with people who really believe in that.
Mark Relph: I have a team of 30 people that think all about reaching out to our Eco System and to audiences aroudn the country.
Eli Singer: What is community?
Kris Krug: I see it a group of people who are interacting, sharing knowledge.
Mark Relph: I agree with that, i would add the concept of an ecosystem, particularly for us. We are helping people using our stuff to do their stuff. It’s about a dialogue.
Eli Singer: Where does your brand fit into this Ecosystem? How do you connect the dot?
Mark Relph: That group of people who self organize, don’t need our help. That group of people have a set of expectations, and the first step is to attempt to meet those expectations in a way that earns our right to be a member of that community. They have their own ways of doing things, and they still expect us to earn our citizenship.
Eli Singer: So you’re identifying a community that you want to be a part of.
Mark Relph: Sometimes it’s what other communities want to be involved in.
Eli Singer: How do you consult with your clients when people want to actually bring that brand into their lives? (ie: Celebrity)
Kris Krug: Communities are forming out there on their own, but it makes a lot of sense for labels to own their communities. The other communities that I’m involved in are all about exchange.
Amber MacArthur: The most important thing is to nurture any community you create. You have to connect people, you need to actively massage the relationships. It takes a lot of TLC, and a lot of people forget that. They don’t realize you have to go there and check in and be there and communicate with people.
Kris Krug: When figuring out where to spend client budget, there is the tendency to throw up a whole lot of money up front without thinking about the maintenance. We also tell them to hire someone full time to manage and nurture.
Mark Relph: You have to do this on an ongoing basis as well. Once you head down this road you have to keep these people on.
Kris Krug: It’s not a side job for a marketing manager, it requires full attention.
Amber Mac: You have to embrace the openness because closed down community doesn’t work.
Eli Singer: So we need new titles, people who aren’t PR, talking to the public? I forsee friction. How can we bridge that gap?
Kris Krug: There is a conversation taking place out there, you can be a part of it or not. [to Mark] How do you guys deal with haters?
Mark Relph: you ahve to have a thick skin and you have to be able to take feedback. It’s a part of the dialogue and you have to be willing to listen to that. The way you overcome it is that when you are honest and transparent, then the community will return that respect by listening to your point in return instead of seeing it as a PR knee jerk reaction. People are passionate about your product and that’s a good problem to have.
Kris Krug: Does it keep you honest?
Mark Relph: Yes, it keeps us honest.
Eli Singer: If you want to go into community and you want to be successful you have to prepared to use these platforms, you have to be prepared for openness. As a brand manager, should I build a community or do targeting on FaceBook?
Kris Krug: It’s really easy and fun to experiment with Facebook’s ad.
Eli Singer: As a brand manager, dangerous mindfield territory of community, or safe path of extending by ad buy into social media?
Kris Krug: You don’t really mean it do you?
Eli Singer: If there is no buy in at meetings, then it’s a hard sell. So what is it about communities?
Mark Relph: We view it as, if you do communities really well, then you get more permission to do targeted advertising because they are open to it. We don’t do it as an advertising vehicle, we look at it as a community exercises.
Amber Mac: It’s also about building loyalty. When I heard through my network that they hired David Crow, I thought it was great that they were reaching out.
Eli Singer: what are 2 or three things that you’ve gotten from your community?
Amber Mac: we get content and feedback from our community. We actively go in there and listen to ideas and criticism. We have truly listened to our audience form day one and it’s made our show better. Our users promote the show, and we try to understand that. We give back, if they have something cool to promote, we give back by promoting it. It’s pay back all the time.
Eli Singer: Can we talk about the failures or mistakes?
Amber Mac: I don’t view things as failures, i see them as experimentation. We’re all in this new space and no one really knows what works or waht doesn’t work. So if we go in a direction that the audience that doesn’t like, they’ll tell us because they feel that they own it. As for mistakes you just have to move on.
Mark Relph: I would agree that we would try to do a few things that don’t pan out. We’ve had a few examples where it’s been on a shame on us. Where we’ve had a community that we didn’t use, and then the idea bombs and the community says “I told you so.” We’re doing a series about IT as a career, and that idea came from our network.
Kris Krug: Fake communities, or putting messages that aren’t authentic. Fake blogging is one as well.
Eli Singer: Any measurement tips? How do you value community?
Kris Krug: I dance around ROI, but I look at google results, if you’re on the top ten keywords on google is a good one. User base, how much your community has grown over time. User content contribution is another way.
Amber Mac: If people are going in direct ROI, it’s not going to come. You need to focus on other things like loyalty.
Mark Relph: It’s a gravity that takes place over such a long period of time. I get paid on satisfaction paid surveys. That’s a direct measure, which sometimes isn’t completely accurate. The other thing is how much money you spend on it. Not to say that everything is expensive, sometimes it’s just behaviour that matters, but if you’re going to do it in the long term it better be an independent line item in your budget. It’s an investment.
Kris Krug: You can also point to cost savings.
Eli Singer: Who do you look for inspiration?
Kris Krug: The flickr community. There have been huge blow ups as they’ve changed, and they’ve dealt with all of the issues in a really great way. Google Heather Champ. All the major flickr execs are highly participator and engage their community.
Amber Mac: Leo Laporte, who has a big community on Twit.tv. He’s done a fantastic job of building a community. Another community, although I hate them is the Digg community. You have to admire their huge power, it’s worth looking at even though they’re mean.
Mark Relph: We’ve looked at Ebay and Flickr. I would also add in the users of Craigslist as a great example of an organic community. For me, we have these user group leaders who have day jobs and there’s no glamour, they’re not podcasters, but they do it for the joy and support of a small group of people. They do it for the fun of doing it.
Eli Singer: Let’s get Dave Crow, who I think is the Godfather of the tech community in Toronto.
Dave Crow: I look other communities. I strongly believe in the mix, rip and burn approach. A lot of people are doing interesting things and a lot of that is the tech community. Richard Florida, folks who are looking at taking the tools of open creative space and moving them beyond a single point. Richard Florida is working at a city level.
Questions: How do you bridge the gap of being a small company who want to connect with community but not might have the resources?
Kris Krug: One thing is you shouldn’t outsource, it should be an internal thing. You can have people with invested interest to interaction with your vision. Another idea is if you can get your email support or product centered people to blog publicly and let other users contribute and trouble shoot. I would shift traditional dollars from PR over to these new mediums where you can have quicker returns or where a tangible reaction.
Amber Mac: A lot of it is passion. If someone is the most passionate on your team, involve them in building communities online.
Mark Relph: You can also look to the fan voice, because you’d be amazed when you talk to the community and provide those influential excited people with a chance to get closer to you, you’ll be amazed at how many people will volunteer to do that.
Eli Singer: you don’t have to create your own blog to participate. Look into your organization and identify what kind of content you’re producing.
David Crow: We talk about this community thing like we’re building something, when we’re really facilitating it. It’s about building your reputation inside an existing community.
Question: Ad revenues and building communities?
Kris Krug: There is a business model to monetize it. They make millions of dollars in google ads. It’s about pushing users and page uses. It’s not the most interesting model but it works. Everyone wants a social network these days. You can sustain a social network through advertising.
Question: What about building a community within the company?
Amber Mac: Use something like ning. Ning lets you build your own network, even brand it. You can add content, it’s easy and fast. For any time of corporation it’s a great way to build internally.
Eli Singer: Do you have sanctioned social networks within Network? How has usage of FB affected your culture?
Mark Relph: We may not be the right example depending on where you work in this crowd. The only restriction we have in our network, is on intellecutal property, and don’t run bit torrent on your machine, oh and porn. Everything else goes. Almost my entire team participates on Facebook and Twitter. Even IM. I’ve been struck by a few panel, where there is a desire to tap into these communities, but there are restrictions on using these. So you should ask yourself “If we can’t be that way, how are you going to participate.”