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SXSW: Community Ecology

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SXSW Liveblogging: Community Ecology: Finding Balance When Working with Fan Groups

"How to best nurture your online community ecosystem in order to avoid fan burnout, maintain balance between community and company goals, and drive business success."

Audience: One of our customers is a large car company with a cult following, as well as new brands. They’re scared of getting in to social media. How can you create a consistent experience across different grassroots sites?

Rebecca: It’s the buyer, or the supporter, the community member who really controls the product now. In my opinion, they need to be paying attention to that feedback.

Terrence: We have a lot of fans on LJ, mySpace, etc. We created templates for mySpace, and we try to connect with those groups as well.

Jake: When there are multiple groups, you’re building relationships. If you think about how you would approach a "normal" relationship, things become more clear. If you’re on a first date and you start telling the other person how to think, you’re not going to have a second date.

Audience: How many people do you need to make a "micro-community?"

Betsy: We had a group of five teachers with a site we started. We said "Welcome! You’re the first five members of the community." Try to not start with the technology. Start with what the customer’s interest are. We have one group, that started with two people, they now connect millions of people in classrooms around the world.

Virginia: Size doesn’t matter. We created a community to fill the need. We have a small community, around 1200 registered users, and it’s a thriving part of Fiskars business.

Jake: You need to clearly define success. It might be five people. It might be a music festival that exists only for two months out of the year. "Let’s get as many people as possible" might be the wrong way to approach it.

Audience: The education component of community…how do you set expectations for the growth of the community?

Betsy: Be very clear, and have a clear vision at the outset. Then, once you launch, your community will decide what the community is for — you can’t predict where it’ll be in a year. Give some clear vision, some basic rules, then let the community discuss it.

Virginia: Developing some leaders within the community is a key part. For us, you can’t just "join" the community … you have to reach out to one of the four community leaders, who will then send a "secret" link to them. So, at the outset, the new person is connected to someone.

Betsy: Don’t feel that you can’t ask. People are willing to be invested in things they care about.

Audience: How do you engage community members engaged in a product design process?

Betsy: Again, just ask. We say "we want your feedback," people show up.

Terrence: Then again, we have waaaaay too much feedback. (laughter)

Jake: You may have some leaders just under the surface…encouraging them to get involved might push them over the edge to become true leaders in the community.

Rebecca: It also helps people get more connected to the product.

Terrence: Be aware, though, people will always focus on what they don’t like, vs. what they like. When we do a redesign, we get 25 pages of "hate it!" feedback, and two comments that say "hey, that’s cool."

Virginia: We have live chats every two weeks, and they are well-attended.

Audience: With ‘flagging,’ how do you get feedback without overpowering the community?

Terrence: We have a couple of steps. If someone in the community flags something, we will warn the member that was flagged. In other cases, we’ll just prevent the member from posting if the infraction of the terms of services was something like hate speech.

Betsy: It needs to be clear as to what it means. Some companies don’t want to see any bad things about the company. We had a "reduction in force" and some of the Discovery community members freaked out. We left the comments up, and let people vent, and in the end the community was stronger than before.

Audience: Sometimes there are conflicts between community members. How do you handle feuds?

Terrence: We have an ‘ignore’ feature. And sometimes you have to separate people into their corners, and remind them that they don’t need to talk to each other.

Final thought from Jake: "I’ve never seen an internal community that started ‘large’…they start small and grow."

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SXSW: Community Ecology
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About Christopher Carfi
Christopher Carfi, CEO and co-founder of Cerado, looks at sales, marketing, and the business experience from the customers point of view. He currently is focused on understanding how emerging social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking are enabling the creation of new types of customer-driven communities. He is the author of the Social Customer Manifesto weblog, and has been occasionally told that he drives and snowboards just a little too quickly. WebProNews Writer
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