Today’s companies are facing widening choices for developing a social media presence.
Much has been written about social communities – I noted a few books on the subject in my first All Analytics post, Social Media and Web Analytics Needs Your Dollars. What interests me about the topic now is the intensity and speed community development is becoming a consideration among marketers.
So is it best for a business to join an established community or to create one branded by the company itself?
Creating a community has some advantages. The prospect of starting anew, particular with so many open source tools to manage a platform available, certainly aids companies looking to strengthened brand image weaknesses. Klout, for example, has established a twitterchat format, Kloutchat, to get the word out on its activities, even as people weighed in the merits of Klout (for an inkling of thoughts, see the All Analytics discussion on Keeping Our Reliance on Klout & Other Social Media Tools in Check). Further along the community building curve, FICO, featured in the book The Social Organization by Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald, created a community where people can share their credit building tips and insights. This leads to another point – a community, when engineered from a clean slate, can solve engagement issues. FICO could not offer credit management advice since it monitors credit reports.
Creating a community can also be a way to consolidate company culture among employees and to send a solid message to customers that ultimately builds value for all. This can be particular helpful if the purpose for the community has multiple topics associated with it.
Participating in a social platform enhances different strengths than creating one. Joining an established platform can position the group to be more readily discoverable. Collective intelligence can be pooled from an audience who is an occasional customer, leading to creative ideas and unique shares that can win over fence-sitting customers. Ford, for examples, has leverage its Facebook pages for specific models. Ford owners have sent in pictures of their favorite locations arrived in their Ford Explorers. All of this energized attention to updated models. In the end sales for the newly redesigned Explorer were 290% higher than the previous year, a victory in a vehicle segment that has seen significant overall sales decline (learn more on this Autoblog post)
Participating in a social platform also means selecting a partner well. Facebook is extremely popular, but what if its popularity declined due to its policies being scrutinized (see the post How Facebook-FTC Settlement Reflects Privacy & Analytics Challenges for details) or simply gradually becoming unpopular. Communities that had relied on Facebook could equally experience a downward trend in activity. For now Facebook has shown resilience, but there are other communities and platforms springing up which are not as resilient. Thus your community strategy becomes linked with the fortunes of the platform being selected.
The ultimate influence for a community selection is the engagement measurement capability. The tools vary, so care must be taken into how the tool results can be integrated into standard reporting. Much of the web analytics solutions treat websites from their first application as an online document. Communities set as a site subdirectory can be segmented, so development measurement on a page is a given. But with companies creating communities on a platform, managers must vet tools that would measure the engagement metrics of interest or develop a means to represent objectives.
With growing interest in communities, analytic solution providers have been making moves to adjust their products. Adobe Site Catalyst introduced real time segmentation features to better determine visitor groups on the fly, while Google added a social plug-in that now links an activity button – features such as Facebook shares, Tweets, and Linked In shares.
These changes are arriving at a time when many marketers face increasing pressure to justify their budgets through results. The growing adoption of marketing along the entire sales cycle in many instances requires new analytics skillsets and buy cycle segment that may not have been previously defined. But with care in selecting an analytic solution and deciding how a community fits within a buying cycle, managed steps for valuing community activity becomes possible.