Archive for February 2009

Social media diary 27/2/2009 - UK National Museums


Nine museums in the UK launch Creative Spaces

This week in the UK saw the beta launch of Creative Spaces. An online community and federated search project across nine National Museums, part of the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP) and involving the Tate, V&A, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, Royal Armouries, Wallace Collection and Sir John Soanes’ Museum. The core idea is to provide a way for people to find, discuss and be inspired by the collections of all these museums.

Creative Spaces Promo from Creative Spaces on Vimeo.

The project really has two components:

  1. A federated search, allowing users to search and explore the collections across all nine museums in one place, online.
  2. An online community, allowing people to create notebooks (their own collections combining objects from the museums with their own content), create and join groups and review and add comments to objects that they like (or otherwise, of course).

It’s been an ambitious project, running for a number of years and the outcomes are exciting. The ability to search across and explore the collections is of huge value. But the social elements of the site allow individuals to essentially curate their own experience. Bringing objects from the different museums together with their own content, annotating them and making their own notebook - an exhibition for others to view and comment on.

So what can we learn from this?

This is a great example of using social media and online communities in a museums context. But it is also a great example of When thinking about how to use social media and online communities, it is important for brands and organisations to explore what it is they can uniquely offer. What do they have that they can share with people, and why would people come to a site that they were running to interact.

With Creative Spaces, I think these nine museums have got it right. They have not just launched an online community, asking people to talk about art - there are many places you can do that. What these organisations can offer that is different is access to their catalogues, and by coming together to make Creative Spaces they are offering something even more unique - the ability to search the collective catalogues of some of the leading museums in the UK. They have something unique and of value that they can offer to people with this search, and also with the online community they have built to support this.

One problem with some online communities is that they focus too much on forums and verbal communication. Other media can sometimes be a more effective way of communicating: video can be a great way to engage some people, others want to express themselves with images or objects. In a museums context this becomes even more important. I may not want to discuss my reaction to an object, but I might want to upload an image of my own as a reaction to it. Creative Spaces lets you do this, and indeed let’s you curate your own collection (they call it a notebook) with objects from the collections alongside your own content or content you’ve got from elsewhere. This is clever, allowing people to react and respond in whatever medium is most appropriate to them.

Creative Spaces is a great idea, it brings social media to a museums context and creates a social experience online that centres on the unique content these museums have - their own collections. It’s easy to set up a site and expect people to come and engage there, but this rarely happens. You need to build a site that meets a need and offers something new, leveraging your own position to give a real reason for people to come and engage on your site rather than elsewhere.

If you decide to join up, feel free to add me as a contact: Matt Rhodes.

(In interest of open disclosure, I should say that FreshNetworks has done some strategy work with the NMOLP to help them launch and grow Creative Spaces. But it would always have been a great example of social media!)

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Making online research better


Last month I was asked if I would speak at as new conference in the UK focused on online research. The MRS and Research Magazine were looking to bring together different practitioners (both clients and agencies) to share best practice and case studies in online research. The Online Methods conference will be held on the 3rd June in central London, and I’m speaking about online research communities, specifically about how to work with clients to grow and manage them.

For too long, the online research industry has been focused on one thing: quantitative research. There has been a significant shift from telephone (CATI) research to online research over the last few years. Both panel-based and more adhoc quantitative research is being successfully delivered online. The ability to build and reach a range of people with these surveys is helping both the quality and the cost-effectiveness of this kind of research. But in the last few years, online research methodologies have moved far beyond just quantitative research.

Qualitative and ethnographic research have typically been difficult and relatively expensive. They have involved recruiting and then spending time with specific individuals who meet our criteria, and getting a volume and range of responses has often been prohibitively expensive. Developments online have changed this. Online communities and social media have really changed the face of market research, allowing us to both do old things in new ways and to do completely new things. If done correctly, it is now easier than ever to conduct qualitative or ethnographic research with a wide and often disparate respondent base. You can observe and analyse people in their social context, and get insight into not just what they think but also why they think it.

At the Online Methods conference, I will be talking a little about this, but more about how these changes are causing a fundamental shift in the market research industry and in the relationship between agency and client. The old divisions no longer apply. Previously a client would commission an agency who would go away, do the research and then report back. Now clients and agencies work together, each using and playing to their own strengths. This can make online research communities very cost effective for clients and removes the barrier an agency can sometimes place between a client and their customers. There are lots of ways that online methods are changing market research, but the changes in the agency-client relationship are possibly most fundamental of all.

In a nutshell: A one day conference for buyers and suppliers of online research taking a practical and solutions-driven approach to its uses and applications.

Where? Crowne Plaza - The City, London

When? 3rd June 2009

How to book: Click here

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Why Facebook probably isn’t harmful (and may even do good)


According to a report in today’s Daily Mail (and also picked up by various other newspapers in the UK), “social networking sites such as Facebook could raise your risk of serious health problems”. Apparently it’s to do with spending less time socialising with people face-to-face and could lead to a rise in illnesses including cancer. A big claim, and one that has attracted a lot of discussion today.

The claims are based on a paper by Dr Aric Sigman in Biologist, Journal of of Institute of Biology, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, appears to have been rather misrepresented in much of the press. Rather, Sigman looks at how two changes have happened in society concurrently: an increase in “electronic media use” and a decrease in “social interaction”. He also looks at how a decrease in social interaction can be associated with physiological changes, increased incidence of illness and higher premature mortality. Not quite the dramatic ‘Facebook causes cancer’ discussions that it seems to have prompted.

That this paper cause such reports and discussions should not come as a huge surprise. There has been a marked increase so far this year in discussion in UK mass media about social networking - from Facebook to Twitter. And many of these reports question the role that social networks and online communities can play in people’s lives.

For those of us involved in building and managing online communities, or those who are members of communities themselves, we know this just isn’t true.

Social networks help to bring people together. Sites like Facebook allow people to stay in touch with their friends and acquaintances, to build and maintain networks of people they might previously have lost touch with. They help people who move towns or countries stay up-to-date with their friends from back home, share photos and ideas with each other and extend their friendship. Social networks are ‘me’ spaces, they centre on the individual member, their network and connections. What they really allow people to do is to maintain a broader range of connections than has previously been possible. Whereas they might have lost touch with people they don’t see or talk to regularly, they can now keep in touch with them (either passively by just reading their updates or viewing their photos) or actively (by sharing ideas, photos and stories with them). This can have a huge benefit to many people. It shifts the nature of friendship by extending it, and allowing us to add to the circle of friends we see regularly with a wider group of friends we stay in touch with.

Online communities are different. They centre on topics, shared interests, experiences and goals. They are ‘us’ places where people get together because of this common element. Social networks allow us to extend and widen our circle of friends, keeping in touch with those we might otherwise have lost contact with. Online communities allow us to extend our friendship group, to find people who may have a similar niche interest to them, even if they don’t know them nor live anywhere near them. It’s easier for people with particular medical problems to find others in the same situation as them, people interested in the same topic to share their passion and people with a particular problem to find the answer they need. Online communities connect us with people through ideas and interests, without the need for us to know or meet these people. We can share and build on ideas with them and connect thanks to our mutual passion for something.

So online communities and social networks allow us to do very different things from what we could without them. They allow us to extend and maintain our friendship group, to connect with people with a shared passion and to make friends with people because of ideas and not because we happen to be be in the same place at the same time as them. All of this without having to be geographically close, nor indeed to want to discuss things at exactly the same time. For me this really augments and deepens our social interactions. It adds to our offline friendship groups and social interactions. It allows us to do things we just couldn’t do as easily before.

Maybe we are spending more time online, and maybe we are spending less time in offline social interactions. What cause and effect there is here I’m afraid I don’t know. What I do know is that online communities and social networks allow us to do new things in new ways. That has to be a good thing.

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Examples of online communities in the retail industry


For the second in our series of Online Community Examples, we move on to look at online communities in the retail industry.

Online communities in the retail industry

In an economic downturn, we’re seeing a real shift in retail shopping  patterns. Here in the UK there are reports of people switching from their usual supermarket brand for what they believe to be a cheaper alternative (as shown by the current price war between competitors Tesco and Aldi). People are shopping around more and price is of even greater importance than it might have ever been in decision making. In this climate customer engagement is more important than ever, as is extending the customer experience by offering other services and support in addition to your core product. You need to keep your brand front-of-mind, so that when the customer next goes shopping they think of you first. This is where online communities can come in handy.

Wal-Mart’s Elevenmoms

Wal-Mart have a chaquered history with social media (the infamous Wal-Marting Across America campaign, for example), but they are doing some great things at the moment. One good example of building a small but powerful online community is Elevenmoms. The original concept was simple - get eleven moms to blog about their lives and in particular about their  money-saving tips. These blogs would be collected together in one space where others could read and comment on what was being discussed. Those eleven moms has now grown to 21 and includes a green-mom, among others.

This is another simple online community concept that really works. Communities don’t always have to be about engaging all your customers or providing discussions that they all want to join, sometimes getting a small number of people to blog and start a conversation is all you need. Others will read and gain benefit form what is being written, and with  time the number of people adding comments and interacting with the content will increase. You also have the benefit of not all content being from the brand itself - rather you are sponsoring and promoting user-generated content. Allowing your customers to speak for you. A difficult decision to make, but one that can offer real benefits to your brand.

Sainsbury’s Online Community

This is a relatively new online community from one of the major players in the UK supermarket market. It is yet to grow and mature and it will be interesting to see how it is managed in the future, but the initial signs are positive. The Sainsbury’s Online Community is a simple concept - a set of forums where people can share ideas and tips. This is really a user-generated version of the recipe and ideas cards you can get in store or download online. Rather than Sainsbury’s providing you with recipes and ideas, they are providing a means for their customers to share these things with each other. This should increase both time spent on site and the range of things people do once they are on the site. Sainsbury’s are also providing a new service to their customers, they are supporting them to make the most of the groceries they buy between shopping trips, thus keeping the brand front-of-mind.

Currently the community sits separately from the e-commerce part of the site. I think that this is a sensible idea, at least for now. People who are shopping on a grocery e-commerce site are typically going their with a set of specific items in mind that they want to buy. We would like them to buy all of these and checkout their basket, without any distraction to put them off doing so. Mixing in community content in this environment can be difficult - we want to enrich and enhance the experience (and so make people buy more or buy more expensive products) but we do not want to distract people from their core task. This will only really be possible once there is considerable content on the community and we can use it to tie together ideas and recipes (for example “you’re buying this item, how about these other items to make this recipe as recommended by…”). At the moment the concept is simple and needs to grow and develop, once it has done the opportunities are great.


No overview of online communities in the retail industry would be complete without looking at MyStarbucksIdea. This site, launched in early 2008, has a simple community concept - you can submit an idea to Starbucks, comment on existing ideas or vote for them. As with many example of online communities, simple can be best. You need to establish how you want to engage your customers and, importantly, how they want to engage with you. Starbucks identified that they wanted to create a feeling that customers had input into and a say in the business; that anybody’s voice could be heard. This fits well with the open and friendly brand they have developed and so would reinforce their position in the market. It would also be a source of new ideas and innovation and allow them to co-create with their customers.

But what makes this community really work is also simple - Starbucks actually listen to and respond to the comments in the community. This closes the feedback loop, rewards those who take part in the community, encourages others to join, and reflects on them as a listening brand. It’s often easy to overlook the need to engage and respond to ideas in your online community. But taking part is the one thing you can do to maximise the benefits you will get from the community itself.

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FreshNetworks wins place on Web Mission 09 to San Francisco


The exciting news at FreshNetworks today is that we’ve been selected to be part of Web Mission 09, a delegation of 20 of the best Web 2.0 companies in the UK and Ireland meeting the many inspiring people and supportive Web 2.0 networks which exist in Silicon Valley. It’s a great endeavour and a great opportunity for us and the other companies selected as part of the Mission.

For the team at FreshNetworks, this is just one of the trips we’re making to the US and across Europe this Spring. Innovation and sharing and learning with others is important in digital marketing and in social media. Things are moving so fast and in so many ways that it’s good to take time out, see what others a re doing and share our own experiences.

Charlie, our CEO, will be out in San Francisco for us from March 28th to April 3rd, and is looking forward to talking online communities and social media day in and day out. He’s also going to be blogging about Web Mission 2009, his experiences, the people he meets and what he learns. So we can all gain a little bit from what he discovers while he’s out there. Look out for our Web Mission 09 series, and Charlie’s posts form the March 28th to April 3rd.

Follow Charlie’s trip: Web Mission 09

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