SXSW: World Domination Via Collaboration

    March 12, 2007

"Many companies are so focused on the goal of building a community in order to exploit it that they skip a crucial step that ultimately hurts their business plan: Collaborating with users/customers to build a product or experience that can dominate the market because it’s great. It is possible to strike that balance: Building community, maintaining credibility, meeting organizational objectives.Meet company leaders whose models are steeped in user collaboration — and who have been working on the ground level themselves."

Panelists are;

Jory: "Community was "nice to have" in web 1.0, is required today."

Question: "What kills community?"

Jessica: "lack of participation. need to ensure users own the community."

Jenna: "Community is a social thing. you need to think of it in terms of culture. who are going to be the leaders…us? the people in the community? how do we set up the conditions so that happens? Withough that, you just have a message board."

Betsy: "Community needs to have a defense mechanism against trolls. Fortunately there aren’t many of them, and if you don’t have moderation tools, it can take the tone of your community down."

Lisa: "Ask, don’t tell. If you want an authentic community, lecturing people is a challenge. You need to ask the community what they want, and they’ll tell you."

Question: "How do you establish community in a corporation

Jenna: "It’s not the technology … AJAX, etc. It’s the people, stupid. The Dove (Campaign for Real Beauty) campaign asked ‘What is real beauty?’ They built a place, asked the question, and women came. The linkage shows respect for the customer. They don’t talk about Dove there, though…but they are there. You’ve got to think about these communities and how you get the golden fleece, which is ‘engagement.’"

Jessica: "Forgiveness is almost infinite if you get the users involved in the dialgoue, and get them involved in solving the problem.

Audience: "Can you give some examples of when the community helped to solve a problem?"

Jessica: "We had a huge debate on our site about users wanting to know if they could swap animals, both in farm situation and in purebred situtation.

Lisa: "For Blogher, the biggest challenge we had was in how to improve our community hub. For literally one year, we’ve been playing with Drupal, asking the audience what they think, and have been as transparent as we could be. We narrowed the key community issue to ‘search and findability,’ and are now working on that. Also, being able to blog on the site has been something that the community wants to do, and so we’re going to do it."

Audience: "How did you find the users, the experts, to participate?"

Jessica: "We keep an open dialog through our blog and our newsletters. For example, with the animal issue noted above, we took it to phone and email as well."

Jenna: "’Whoever shows up’ is going to be you’re community. At the very beginning, you need to REALLY know your people. You need to establish rapport with people. If you do that early, when you do hit problems later, those same people with step forward."

Audience: "Is it worth setting up an ‘advisory board’ with select voices for the community?

Jenna: "A lot of people have had success with that. For example, eBay has a ‘Voices’ group that does that. Sometimes it’s good to rotate that — if you’re always getting just the voice of the old-timer, you don’t hear the newcomers. As the community grows, you need to manage it at different levels. It’s just like a party — you need to have somebody who is working the door."

Betsy: "Microsoft is doing that with it’s MVP program. We have a member of the community who is that advocate, who (interestingly) is actually an ex-cop. Yet, the community connects with him, because he’s less ‘the man’ than I am, since he’s not part of Microsoft."

Lisa: "We ask. We put up a little description of what we need, for example, for editors. People come forward, and they were brilliant. We never would have found them. These women have shown things that women are doing in corners of the web that I don’t think anyone else online is covering. We consistently post our community guidelines, ‘we support civic disagreement — attack the issue, not the person.’

Audience: "I work for another MegaCorp bent on world domination, so the title of this panel attracted me. (laughter) Three part question: 1) Many employees are not terribly incented to write. Getting first text into the system is a challenge, 2) A side effect – the social risk inside your company, exposing things that you know that you shouldn’t know, and 3) how does this get handled when employees outside are representing the brand?"

Betsy: "We started out with policies, but now, Microsoft’s policy is that we don’t have a policy. We have the employee handbook, and that’s it. The way get things going is with a ‘hello, world’ post — start small, and be true to yourself. This really is a wisdom of the crowds, some people will make mistakes…but blogging has shaped how Microsoft thinks about itself, and how it interacts with its customers. It’s been such a valuable thing for us to have that connection with its customers. People didn’t need to be dragged into the blogosphere, they saw the people next to them doing it."

Lisa: "Pre-Blogher, I spent a lot of time in traditional newsrooms bringing them online. Whether or not you have a blog, your customers do. They are blogging. Best way to start is to see what people are saying, and mix it up with them. "

Betsy: "We actually had external blogs before we had internal ones. We actually have an internal blog system now, too."

Audience: The primary thing I see is a fear — a fear to let go of control. In the UK, the National Trust was one of our clients. They set up a forum. That forum died for one very specific reason — that forum died because they insisted on moderating before it went live."

Jenna: "Times are changing. BMW Mini Owners Lounge invites owners to share their problems online. If you require everything to be previewed, you’ve cut down your volume drastically, and so no-one participates at all. People are talking about your brand ANYWAY, you should listen, respond, and be in conversation with our customers, not just broadcast. We do know that participants in community who return purchase 57% more than other people do. (ed – cite is from Jenna, re: eBay) "

Betsy: "Check the laws. There might be different levels of responsibilty, whether you say you are moderating beforehand or not."

Question: What do you do when there’s a misperception, or an insurrection in the community?

Lisa: "Never lie. The WalMart Jim & Laura travel blog is a great example of what happens when this goes wrong — it’s a fundamental missed opportunity for the company."

Betsy tells a great story about "Norbert, the Cod of Conduct."

Audience question: There are more people who read than post. How do you engage the lurkers?

Jenna: "I think lurkers are just as important as posters. How are newcomers treated? That’s a great example for the lurkers. If a newcomer comes in and the old-timers jump on them, I as a lurker think ‘Oh…it’s dangerous to go here.’ On the other hand, if the newcomers are greeted, it totally changes the dynamic."

Jenna: "Another thing you can do is feature pull quotes from the site, and feature them on the site. It helps people find ‘people like me,’ and reduces the feeling of walking into a room where everyone knows each other, and I don’t know anyone so I’m on the outs."

Jessica: "We do all sorts of things to pull in, especially involving without writing. Mini-polls and the like."

Jenna: "Don’t make people feel like they’re going into a room of strangers, instead, ask people their opinion."

Audience question: What is the role of anonymity? Is anonymity Kryptonite for community?

Lisa: "No, I don’t think anonymity is Kryptonite."

Betsy: "I allow anonymous commenting on my blog. I thought the Slashdot ability of having the ‘anonymous coward’ login is an interesting one. We like to have some kind of fixed identity, to build up reputation over time."