Archive for the ‘Online communities’ Category.

Pets and social media: it’s more than just cute cat pictures


There are a lot of cute cat pictures in social media, and a lot of cute cat videos. People, it would appear, like looking at cute cats in social media; and their owners like sharing these photos. So what happens when you get a group of cat owners together - you might expect cat overload as they compete to share the cutest photos of the cutest cats. And you do get this, but more importantly you learn something about how people meet and interact in social media and what the value of this can be.

We worked with the team at PetNet to develop and launch a space for cat owners (Scratching Post) to share more than just cute pictures. By looking at how they interact with each other about the highs and lows of pet ownership we can learn a few things about how consumers interact online:

  1. Photos and text make good stories - in a world of instagram and camera phones, it often seems that images are replacing text in many interactions online, and whilst cute cat photos are obviously popular we attract long stories just as often. People like sharing and writing stories either about the joys of cat ownership or sharing and asking for advice about more difficult situations.
  2. Cats can type - not really, and more an observation about how community members will develop their own behaviours. Perhaps the most surprising development was with these stories, after a few months we noticed that some started to be written ‘by the cat’ - first person narratives written from their point-of-view. And this wasn’t just an isolated example with lots of the content being penned from the cat’s point of view. What is going on is actually quite clever - members of the community (organically) started to write the stories of joy from the cat’s point of view and the more serious questions and enquiries (for example about health issues) from the owner’s point of view. An unplanned for development that has then been used to inform the UI and changes we’ve made to the community.
  3. Expert advice is critical - a real success of Scratching Post is that community members can balance questions and advice from fellow cat owners with an expert view. The weekly ‘surgeries’ (with vets, behviouralists and others) are the most popular times of week on the site with people coming together for a two hour period to ask questions of and interact with these experts.
  4. We can provide an outlet for people’s passions - one community member put this quite nicely saying that Scratching Post allowed her to “bring out the crazy cat woman inside”. And she’s right. We use the different communities and networks we are part of for different reasons - you might not flood your Facebook friends with your cat photos, questions and experiences so a safe environment with other cat owners is perfect for this side of your character.

Overall, the Scratching Post site is a microcosm of the kind of interactions that happen across the internet and more so in true and valuable communities. Perhaps most important is that it provides a space for people to come together and share a common passion. And it is helping to stem the cute cat pictures that might otherwise be flooding their friend’s Facebook news feeds.

I’ll be talking more about cute cats and social media (and how to balance the needs of a community with commercial needs) at Social Media Marketing London on 25th October.

To really understand social media, you must also understand online communities


Audience at a Dan Deacon concert

It is very easy to get excited by social media. By “Likes” and “Follows”. To think about the tools you can use. To worry about creating content. To feel you must rush to be on the latest platform or site. But in all this excitement it can be easy to forget something that is more important than the tools, platforms and sites that you can make use of - the skills and expertise you need to identify, manage and grow a true online community.

When we talk about social media we are really only talking about tools that we can use to help us and the people we engage to achieve a task. To make a success in social media we need to understand online communities. For those of us who have been working in this space for many years this has long been the basis of all our work.

What is an online community?

There is a temptation to assume that all use of social media is the same - that we are ‘doing social media’. But this is just not true. There is a fundamental difference in how people behave when they are primarily in a group of actual friends (such as on Facebook) and how you interact with people not because you know them and are friends with them, but because you share a common interest (such as in a forum for fans of Arsenal football club, a site for mum chatting about nutrition in early years or a group of runners helping each other with training advice and tips as they prepare to run a marathon).

An online community is a group of people who exhibit this second behaviour. They do not necessarily know each other, and may not have any desire to become friends in that broader sense of the word. They do have a common passion, interest, concern or question. And they can find and engage with others online because of this.

Working with online communities

For most organisations looking at social media, it is only by identifying, building and engaging with online communities that they will start to get real benefit. Online communities are truly scalable because they do not rely on becoming ‘friends’ with people but mean that you (the organisation) and the rest of the community engage on topics that you all share in common. This is real engagement in a way that just amassing Likes or Follows is not.

Social media just provides the set of tools you can use to do this. But the real skill is threefold:

  1. Firstly to be able to identify the community you want to engage and understand why they would engage with you. What is the passion, problem, concern, issue or question that you can connect with your community about? And why would they connect with you at all about it?
  2. Then how do you find these people and help them to find you? Likes on Facebook or Followers on Twitter do not necessarily make an online community.
  3. Finally how do you manage them. There is a valuable and often heated debate elsewhere about the differences between a social media manager and a community manager, but any community does need the ‘party host’ role. A community manager who facilitates conversations and activities, helps to moderate the community so that it is a productive and friendly place for all, and who acts as the link between the organisation and the online community.

With all the excitement of social media it often feels like we have forgotten what we have known for many years about online communities and the way they work and interact. For anybody looking at or working in social media a solid grounding in how online communities work and how we should work with them is essential.

LinkedIn v Facebook: growth statistics and trends


Having already looked at how LinkedIn has grown over the last eight years,  we thought it would be interesting to look at the growth of LinkedIn in comparison to another online networking giant - Facebook - as well as in relation to Internet use in the more general sense.

Whilst LinkedIn’s growth has been continuous, the rate at which this growth is occurring has been in decline since 2007. This trend is in fact similar to both that of Facebook and also the Internet:

LinkedIn’s decrease in growth is not unexpected as saturation points are often seen within original/initial launch markets. In fact, when comparing the decline in growth across the three areas, LinkedIn’s user decrease correlates to that of the Internet, whereas Facebook has seen a rather more rapid decline.

What is interesting, though, is if you track growth for the first quarter this year and compare it to the previous two years growth, as this indicates that there will be a return to growth, not only for LinkedIn but also for both Internet use and Facebook too.

This is a bold prediction, specifically when news reports in June this year suggested that in developed markets, such as the USA, UK, Canada and Russia, there has been a loss in users month-on-month for Facebook.

So where will these new users come from? Eric Eldon, editor of Inside Network, which includes Inside Facebook was quoted in The Guardian saying that:

“…by the time Facebook reaches around 50% of the total population in a given country (plus or minus, depending on internet access rates in that country), growth generally slows to a halt … So far, Facebook has been able to make up stalls and losses with big gains in heavily populated developing countries like Mexico, Brazil, India and Indonesia.”

Eldon’s words actually apply to LinkedIn too and recent figures on LinkedIn’s own blog highlighted Brazil, Mexico and India as markets with the fastest growth rates.

Indeed, overall, global memberships - free and paid for – on LinkedIn grew to 115.8 million in second quarter of this year, up 61% on 2010. By contrast, Facebook, which is also said to be mooting an IPO, has more than 750 million members.

Our next post, as part of our LinkedIn Week series, will look at the top 10 companies on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Week: the growth of the world’s largest online professional network


LinkedIn has changed the online landscape for employers and employees alike. The growth rate since LinkedIn launched eight years ago has been phenomenal and it now has a user base of over 100 million people.

Given that LinkedIn is now the world’s largest  online professional network, we thought it would be interesting to look at the growth, current use and future direction of LinkedIn, as well as how brands and business can, and are, using if effectively. So this  week is LinkedIn week here at FreshNetworks and over the next five days we’ll be blogging about all things LinkedIn in the run up to a free report which will be available to download on Friday.

LinkedIn’s growth to date

(A full, high resolution version of this chart will be available in the final report on Friday 12th August).

Since its launch back in May 2003, the exceptional increase in the number of users on LinkedIn has been largely due to continuous platform development and the roll out of new features.

According to its recent ‘Growth Filing Report’ released on 27th June 2011, LinkedIn had hit the 90 million user mark at the end of 2010; already by the end of Q1 2011, user numbers had gone beyond the 100 million mark.

Aside from the growth in users, LinkedIn has also recently announced a revenue increase - 120% up year on year to $121m (£74m) in the three months to June. Profit was also up to $4.5m (£2.8m), compared to $4.3m (£2.6m) in the previous year.

Our next post will look at the growth of LinkedIn in comparison to Facebook.

12 community platforms: a list in development


There are a lot of community platforms on the market today and we thought it would be useful to collate a complete list of them.

Please let us know if there are any tools missing from the list - think of this as a kind of “wiki” which we will add to over time. We hope it will eventually become a useful community platform tool resource.

  • Drupal - Drupal open source content management system can be used for everything from personal blogs to enterprise applications. You can also build websites and use their “Pagebuild” option which enables non technical users to build their website quickly and easily.
  • Get Satisfaction - a cost effective platform for SME business solutions.
  • Jive - In addition to being a community platform, Jive ‘Engage’ offers collaboration software and social media monitoring.
  • Joomla - Open source and one of the most widely used, with an extensive existing community. It enables you to build websites and powerful online applications.
  • Kickapps - Everything built on the KickApps platform is powered from the same database of users and content, making it easy to create integrated experiences across your site, mobile app, Twitter, Facebook and more. That means you can update every single KickApps-powered experience from one place, keeping everything consistent and up to date, no matter how or where the audience accesses your content
  • Liveworld – They specialise in Facebook Wall, Facebook Forums, Facebook interactive tabs. LiveWorld offers a series of applications and platforms designed to stimulate more conversation and engagement with customers. Comes in more than 60 country/language combinations.
  • Lithium - available in 19 languages and dialects. It plugs customers into one powerful network by creating opportunities for them to engage in a community on your own site and connect to other social customers through Facebook and Twitter.
  • Mzinga – Cloud based community platform enabling you to embed apps and create private/public communities.
  • Ning - claims to be the world’s largest platform for community site building, offering an easily customised structure that can include a real time chat feature. It can also be integrated with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to create a digital hub.
  • php-nuke - open source and despite being one of the older, more traditional platforms, it still has a rapidly increasing market-share.
  • Pligg - offers an unlimited number of authors and the ability to add modular plugins to the platform according to your needs and desired social networks.
  • Telligent - Evolution platform which allows for scalability and integration with existing software programmes.

Additions to the list since the post was made:

  • EPiServer Relate - allows you to segment visitors based on location, interests or other profile data, meaning you can personalise each user’s experience to show them relevant articles, content or adverts.
  • Social Engine - social network software that helps you build your own customized community websites.
  • BuddyPress - Open source, out-of-the-box software to help build your own social network.
  • IGLOO - SaaS-based enterprise social networking company. Managed solely in the cloud, IGLOO unites document managementweb content management, collaboration and social features in one integrated suite.