Examples of online communities in the telecoms industry

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This week we are turning our attention to the telecoms industry for our series of online community examples. If you have industries you’d like included in future weeks please vote in our poll or contact me on Twitter.

Online communities in the telecoms industry

There are not as many examples of good online communities for the telecoms industry as in some of the other industries we have covered so far in the series. Part of the reason for this is that the nature of the industry is one that facilitates communication - they don’t provide content but allow people to communicate over their networks or using their products. Therefore many example of their use of social media are actually of them allowing people to communicate in social networks and on other sites. This means that you miss out on the benefits that online communities bring and is a shame - as the great examples below show the ways in which they can really support brands in the telecoms industry.

Telstra’s nowwearetalking

Telstra’s nowwearetalking has attracted some criticism in Australia as being too evidently a PR vehicle, but it is a good example of how a telecoms firm can build and run an online community and begin to have a different dialogue with shareholders and others with an interest in the firm.

The online community was originally built to provide a new dialogue with shareholders at Telstra, many large firms struggle with shareholder engagement and nowwearetalking was a way of overcoming this. The site also aims to increase the level of public debate across Australia on the future of telecommunications. Telstra want to engage and interact with their shareholders and also to discuss and debate bigger issues in the industry. For both of these an online community is a good solution.

Whether nowwearetalking has achieved these aims is not clear, but what is clear is that the online community is a great example of how to combine activity on the community and also on other sites - a hub-and-spoke model. Alongside the blogs and discussions on the site, there are videos on YouTube and podcasts to download. Telstra are engaging both on their own community and also distributing content across other social media domains. This can be a very successful strategy - you engage with people where they are and also provide a place for them to come to that you manage.

Sprint’s Buzz About Wireless

Support forums can  be a great way to build a community, and there are a number of great examples of these in the telecoms industry. Sprint’s Buzz About Wireless is a particularly good example. The site is designed for people to share experiences and ideas with each other, rate and review services and also to ask and answer questions in the forums. This is predominantly a support forum, but it provides a number of other ways for people to interact which both creates a fuller experience for members but also allows people to engage in the way appropriate to them at any given time. Sometimes you will want to ask a question or answers ones that have already been raised; other times you might just want to look at and rate ideas.

What makes Buzz About Wireless really work, however, is the forum area. Support and problem solving is an important component of customer service in the telecoms sector and one that many firms spend large amounts of time and resources on. What Sprint have done is to build an online community that takes away some of these time and resources. Rather than  Sprint answering questions and solving problems, they provide a space where consumers can answer each other’s questions and solve each other’s problems.

The power of this should not be overlooked. Even a community of modest size could have a real impact if its members are motivated to respond to and answer problems. A community the size of Buzz About Wireless must have a large impact indeed. What Sprint need to do, and what they do do, is to provide different ways for people to engage but also to encourage people to support each other and answer questions. In a support forum it can be advantageous to create different user types to both reward people who answer a lot of questions, and also to highlight the potential weight and importance of any answers they give. A community like this needs a lot of work to get the planning and strategy right, and the success of Buzz About Wireless suggests that Sprint did just this.

T-Mobile’s Sidekick Wiki Community

Where online communities can support telecoms providers is to allow people to extend and enhance the experience they have of using their service. For mobile providers this can be a case of providing people with a place to discuss their handsets to to share advice and tips about using them, or content created with them. This is what T-Mobile did with their Sidekick Wiki.

The Sidekick Wiki site has been running since 2006, and is an online community where Sidekick owners can exchange ideas about using and customising the handset, solve each other’s problems, share tips on how to make the most of the equipment. The site is a Wiki and over the last three years has grown to include a vast quantity of content. All created by users, with the only noticeable presence from T-Mobile in the forums where they help to answer questions, and on the homepage and in the news sections where they provide an office T-Mobile presence. The rest of the site is what a Wiki is at its best - a customer-curated experience of ideas and experiences.

This online community shows how telecoms companies can add real value to their equipment and products, and also how they can extend the life of and interaction with them. Many people will move from one mobile handset (for example) to another quite quickly. This will be either because they want the new features, want to keep up with the latest trend or, in many cases, because they feel they have got all they can out of their existing handset. Sites like the Sidekick Wiki are designed to constantly show how you can get more from your handset, making you retain it for longer and so increasing customer loyalty and decreasing switching.

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The future of advertising

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This week some required reading for the team at FreshNetworks has been this set of slides from John V Willshire at PHD Media, that he presented at the APA’s ‘Future of Advertising in One Afternoon’ conference.

This is a great set of slides that look at how the changes in the media landscape are changing the role of advertising and creativity. And how the advertising industry should make the most of this opportunity. The presentation paints a clear picture showing how things have changed and what this means. Looking at the change from a Pre-Industrial to an Industrial society, and then to the Network society we have today and explaining this as a shift in terms of communications from a very localised, face-to-face relationship, through mass-media to an anytime, anywhere communications style.

This change is significant and important, in the context of online communities and social media we can also add: ‘anybody’. With these tools, anybody can communicate with anybody else, at anytime and anywhere. We are no longer constricted by the need to be local and to know people personally to be able to share ideas or to communicate with them. We’re seeing some real changes in marketing, customer engagement and market research based on this change and these opportunities.

This presentation shows how similar changes are being taken advantage of by the advertising industry too. It’s best if you watch it with the sound on.

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Examples of online communities in the automotive industry

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People are always asking us for great examples of online communities in their particular industry, so we thought we’d start a series of great examples from different industries: Online Community Examples. Each Monday we’ll be taking a particular industry and giving three short case studies of online communities, whether for marketing, customer engagement, market research or other reasons. Today we start with the automotive industry.

Online communities in the automotive industry

The Automotive industry is a great candidate for social media and online communities in particular. The product is one that people are passionate about, either because it is an aspirational purchase, or because it fulfils a very important and functional role in their lives. People very often have strong allegiances to particular brands and may choose to always purchase, for example, a Ford or a Renault.

In this kind of market the best examples of online communities are those which build on and strengthen the strong consumer-brand link, or those which leverage the passion and involvement to help support the brand. The three examples below show how this can work. Feel free to add your comments of other examples you know of in this industry.

Harley-Davidson Museum Blog

The Harley-Davidson Museum Blog shows how brands in the automotive industry can capitalise upon the strong connection consumers feel both to the brand and to its heritage. The blog provides a way for Harley-Davidson to involve people in the brand, keep people up-to-date on what’s happening, share knowledge and content about the brand, interact with consumers and fans through the blog and comments. It’s a good example of where social media and online communities can really add value to an experience:

Before this blog existed, people would have to visit the physical museum, or get in touch with the brand direct to learn in this way. Now people all over the world can learn and even interact if they want. Whilst there are many fan sites out there, this has the benefit of coming from the brand itself. This not only lends it a level of credibility but also, and perhaps more importantly, means that they have information and data to share that others won’t.

This is a great example of engaging a passionate consumer base (and indeed a fan base), and the blog is a great way to share information and knowledge. It would be good to see more community and sharing elements included in the site - an ‘Ask Harley-Davidson’ discussion area would, I’m sure, be really popular.

Mini Insider

The Mini Insider online community is a fantastic example of amplifying word of mouth. The community was originally set up to work in tandem with an offline advertising campaign but has since grown in both numbers of people engaged and the ways in which it is used. It’s reported that 75% of Mini owners in the USA are now a member of the community, providing a rich resource of advocacy and of information. Not only do most members of the community stay loyal to the brand and buy another Mini, but it’s claimed that about half of all sales leads are actually generated by the site.

A resource like this is a great way of decreasing your conversion costs. Getting existing owners to talk about and showcase their own Minis helps those who are new to the brand to understand what they could have and what they might want to buy. We know that people trust peers more than a marketing message and so the Mini Insiders online community can be a much more powerful conversion tool than other sales and marketing routes. And when compared to face-to-face advice or sales, the online community is significantly cheaper.


GM’s GMnext community is an interesting example of using the brand and the consumer’s relationship with it to talk about another issue. The site brings together people from senior GM exectuives (up to and including Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner), front-line employees, and retirees as well as consumers. They are encouraging conversations in five areas: vehicle design, current and emerging technologies, the environment, ideas and global corporate social responsibility. For GM, these are the areas that they think will drive the future of the automotive industry and they want to be part of (and perhaps own) the debate in these areas.

This is a good example of brands using their position in an industry to discuss issues amongst themselves and with their consumers in a very public arena. This can be a great way to position yourself as both being at the forefront of your industry, and also of being an innovative and responsive communicator. Using internal expertise and seeking external commentators is what many brands probably want to do, and online communities make it really easy for them to do it.

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