Examples of online communities in the TV industry

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We return this week to our series of Online Community Examples. There is a lot of talk about the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine - how newspapers are using Twitter and how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. So this week we take a look specifically at examples of online communities in the TV industry

Online communities in the TV industry

The TV industry has a relatively long history of online communities - both fan sites and sites sponsored by the brand itself. People like to discuss both within the fantasy of a programme (fan plot lines, character diaries and so forth) and also discuss the content itself - evaluating what happened, talking about the acting, new characters or a twist in the plot. What is more, there is a real rise in people discussing TV programmes whilst they are being broadcast - people combining the online community experience and the TV experience simultaneously. This industry is fertile ground for online community examples, as the three case studies below show.

Rate My Space

HGTV in the US set up their Rate My Space online community to accompany their broadcast schedule which, as their full name suggests is Home and Garden Television. The concept was originally very simple. Users could upload an image and brief description of a room or part of their house that had been renovated. Others could then vote for or comment on these images.

As we’ve discussed before, simple concepts can often be the best ones in online communities, and so it proved in this case. HGTV wanted to both generate engagement and discussions with it’s viewers, and to use the increased volumes of content to increase revenue from advertising on the site. And from an outside perspective they seem to have done both quite successfully. Just looking at the site you can see the speed at which images have views, votes and comments - the engagement they have created and the interest in the site is huge. And also there are reports of considerably increased traffic and advertising revenue from those parts of their site that have online community elements.

A further sign of the success of Rate My Space as an online community site is that it has now spun off a TV programme of it’s own. Users are asked to pick rooms on the site that inspire them and then a designer will come to their home and use elements from these to make over a room in their house. So an online community grew out of the broadcast element, and then a new broadcast element grew out of the online community.

Heroes

Heroes is a well-known case study of how a range of online community and social network tools can be used to support a TV show. It is also a good example of how a hub and spoke approach to social media strategy can be the most successful. As well as a central hub (NBC’s Heroes site) they had presences in a range of spokes - other social networks and sites where viewers and fans might be. This approach allowed them to engage with users in a place and in a manner that was appropriate to them, but also to bring them back to their own site where they could share their interest for the show and meet people like them.

The range of spokes employed by Heroes was extensive and impressive, from the Ninth Wonder fan site, through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, to widgets, games and a Wiki that explained everything Heroes. The benefit of this approach for them was that it enabled them to reach out to people where they were, often in very active fan sites, and then bring them back to their own territory where they could interact with them and get value from this. They also worked the other way - letting those on their site take widgets and content out to their other social networks and communities and spread the word for the show.

This shows that sometimes, in fact in our experience more often than not, a standalone online community does not get the most benefit possible from your target audience. You need to work with the other discussions and online communities out there and build a hub and spoke model of engagement. Engage where people are but as a way to bring them back to your site, where you can both get most benefit.

The Sex Education Show

Channel 4 in the UK has run two frank and educational series on sex and sexuality as part of their public service remit. The first, the Sex Education Show, gave advice and information on sex issues. The second, the Sex Education Show vs Porn, looked at how the portrayal of sex in porn compares with real life experiences. Both shows were successful and both were accompanied by a strong online community: Sexperience.

The subject matter of the programme was clearly sensitive, but also highly suited to an online medium. Subjects that can seem sensitive or difficult to discuss face-to-face can be much easier to talk about online. Especially in an online community where you know you are with people like you. You have the benefit of the level of anonymity that online can bring, with the reassurance and community feeling that you get in a well-nurtured online community. And this is why on Sexperience you get a range of discussions that would not happen elsewhere - discussions on penis size, premature ejaculation, and sexually transmitted diseases.

An online community can be a safe place and can be a place for people to share information, ask questions and suggest answers on a common theme, subject or issue. The Sexperience site does this well - encouraging and nurturing discussions on sensitive subjects alongside videos, blogs and forums that support this content. Factual programmes and in particular programmes that deal with more sensitive issues or subject matters are prime targets for successful online communities. You can add real value and real service, and you can encourage people to engage at a level they might not otherwise.

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Examples of online communities in healthcare

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It is a couple of weeks since our last set of online community examples, with trips to the Marketing 2.0 Conference in Paris and Web Mission 09 in San Francisco taking up much of our time and space on the blog. But we’re returning today with a great set of examples from the healthcare industry.

Online communities in healthcare

On one level, healthcare would seem to be an ideal area where online communities can add real value to professionals, patients, families and carers, friends and others. We’ve written before about how user-generated medical content can add value to people’s lives, and why this online space is a great place for people to be sharing their experiences and stories and also finding and connecting with others in a similar situation to them. Online communities for healthcare can provide real insight and real support as the examples below show.

Mayo Clinic Blogs and Podcasts

There are a number of examples of healthcare providers making good use of social media and online communities, and Mayo Clinic are one of the most notable of these. They describe themselves as the largest not-for-profit practice in the world and treat about half a million people in the US each year. Their use of social media is a great case study of how you can use a number of simple tools to engage your stakeholders and how providing a range of ways to engage you can reach different people.  At FreshNetworks we believe that sometimes the best online communities can be quite simple, but effective, and this is the case with Mayo.

There are three main parts of the Mayo Clinic strategy and together they are starting to build an online community of people with a shared interest in the organisation, and in the topics they cover. On their own website they host a blog and a series of video and audio podcasts.  Together, these serve both as a way of them communicating internal developments and changes but also their opinion and expertise. Alongside this they run a YouTube channel where you can see expert videos and also videos that give you a real insight into the organisation, their clinics and the people who work for them.

The best online communities are often simple, providing a way to engage people around themes, topics and content that is relevant to them and you. For somebody like Mayo Clinic, this engagement is around their knowledge and expertise as healthcare providers. They also, through their blogs, videos and podcasts open their organisation to outsiders - showing you inside their buildings, putting forward their own experts and putting a human face and interaction on a large organisation. For healthcare organisation this kind of interaction makes all the difference - they’re about social interactions and real stories, online communities help them to show this.

AIDSPortal

AIDSPortal is a knowledge-sharing online community sponsored primarily by the UK’s Department for International Development and aimed at people who are working as part of the response to the global AIDS epidemic. The site provides professional and peer-to-peer networking and an online community where they can share experiences, knowledge and support each other with answers to questions and problems. Part of its purpose is, undoubtedly, to open up policy making and the UK governement sponsorship is a sign of this,  but as a service to those working in this area it is a powerful tool.

Whilst the Mayo Clinic case study was about engaging around their expertise and knowledge, AIDSPortal is about 4,500 professionals with knowledge, experience and expertise connecting with each other. They can share knowledge and articles, experiences, blog posts and answers to questions. But one of the strongest elements of this site is how it is organised.

Any online community is only as useful as the way that users can find and AIDSPortal is particularly strong in the way it organises this, allowing you to view data by region and country or by topic area. You let people dive into the content in a way that makes sense for them and organise their own content so that it fits with this. This is a large part of the battle of getting an online community launched and is an important aspect to work out during the pre-launch strategy stage.

Novartis’s CFVoice

CFVoice is an online community for people with Cystic Fibrosis, built and managed by Novartis, a pharmaceutical company. Launched in March 2008, the site has a clear focus on children, teens and young adults and on their families and carers. The site is indeed split into separate areas for each of these user-types, with a different mix of content, activities and games that each of them can do.

This online community is a great example of engaging different people in different ways - using interactive games as a way of younger audiences sharing their information, videos and personal stories for teens and the younger adults and discussion boards and forums for parents and carers. A different way for different members to use and gain benefit from the online community.

And for these members, the benefits are clear. They get to meet and share experiences and stories with people like them, people facing the same challenges and issues and people with similar concerns. And they can do this even if they don’t know anybody in that situation or aren’t able to reach them locally. For Novartis the benefits are also clear. Through the stories, questions, discussions and contributions they are able to get a real granularity of insight into the lives of people with Cystic Fibrosis, and the lives of their carers. This kind of insight has traditionally been difficult for them to obtain and is an area they would probably not have had the same level of understanding about. So benefits on both sides and a clear example of how to use an online community to engage different member-types.

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  • Mayo Clinic launches new culture blog (tissuepathology.typepad.com)
  • Social media experience at Mayo Clinic (fastforwardblog.com)
  • Engaging Healthcare Consumers using Social Media Tools (thielst.typepad.com)
  • Sharing Mayo Clinic Goes to Facebook and other Social Networks (ducknetweb.blogspot.com)
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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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  • Is Social Media an Industry? (mashable.com)
  • Social Media ROI: Measuring the unmeasurable? (socialmediatoday.com)
  • Experiments in Social Media Marketing: Apple vs #Skittles (brilliantthinking.net)
  • Youth Marketing Statistics: Mobile social networking in US up … (jonggunlee.tistory.com)
  • Social media is here to stay… Now what? (vator.tv)
  • 10 Great Reasons To Start Your Own Social Community Site (raunchyjohnson.com)
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Examples of online communities in the financial services industry

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For this week’s instalment in our series of online community examples we turn to the financial services industry.

Online communities in the financial services industry

There’s no escaping the fact that the financial services industry has been hit hard by the current economic climate. But like any industry at the moment, now is a great time to innovate in the way financial services companies communicate with and engage their customers. There are some really informed examples of social media by financial services brands and below are three great case studies of online communities in the industry from around the world.

Royal Bank of Canada Next Great Innovator

Since 2007, the Royal Bank of Canada has been running the Next Great Innovator Challenge, an online competition for university and college students across Canada to suggest an innovation for the financial services industry. The competition runs on an online community site that invites those taking part to submit their ideas, and to comment on and vote for those that others have submitted. This turns the competition into an example of real consumer co-creation. Allowing consumers to work together with each other to suggest and refine ideas that will change the financial services industry in Canada.

The online community also performs a number of other functions. It is a way for the Royal Bank of Canada to share its ideas and information about innovation, business change and the financial services industry. They are using the challenge as a way to reach those often turned-off by discussions about financial services (university and college students) and then engages them through the online community. This site is a great way of getting new ideas into the business, engaging an often difficult-to-inspire audience and also to build relationships with people who will potentially be valuable customers to the bank in the future.

HSBC Business Network

The HSBC Business Network is an online community for both customers and non-customers, allowing businesses and entrepreneurs to share information with and gain information from their peers. It is a good example of brands using online communities to provide a service that compliments and enhances their existing product portfolio. Here they are providing business advice and networking opportunities, not something that HSBC has previously offered on this scale, but something that it is very possible for them to do using online communities.

The site has gathered over 1,000 members since the start of 2008, and like any peer-to-peer advice and support community it’s value will really depend on the growth of its member base and then on these members being active in the community itself. The forum areas are currently popular and active and reflect both ongoing business and entrepreneurial concerns (such as how to manage staff) and topical talking points (cash collection in the credit crunch). It would be great to see these grow with time and also to see how HSBC use the resource they have created.

Online communities in the financial services industry offer a great opportunity for peer advice and support to be combined with expert commentary from the organisation itself. Leveraging this expertise and mixing it with user discussions and comments can be a great way for the organisation to grow and build the size and value of the community, position itself as an expert in the area, and to learn from (and with) its consumers)

Wesabe

Wesabe is a money-management site and online community for people who want to share advice about personal finance decisions. It combines the kind of money-management tools you get in Quicken or Microsoft Money but adds a social layer on top of this.

Users can add tags to their frequent purchases and become a ‘fan’, ‘user’ or ‘captive’ of the service or product. They can find other users in a similar situation and share advice and information with them to help them improve their financial decision-making. The social media element of the site also allows peer-to-peer financial advice, tips and information. And this is shown as relevant based on each users own situation and information they have entered into their profile.

Wesabe is a great site and a great example of adding a social layer to an existing service. Money management tools are useful from an organisational perspective. By adding the social layer and letting people in similar circumstances find, interact and share advice with each other the site becomes a lot more useful. It stops being just an organisational tool and starts being a real service that they are gaining from.

As with the HSBC example, this online community shows how using peer advice and support can be successful for organisations in the financial services industry. Online communities offer a way for people in similar situations to find each other and  to support each other. Whilst you might not know somebody personally in the same situation as you, an online community can help you to find them and then for you t o help and support each other.

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Examples of online communities in the travel industry

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For the next in our series of Online Community Examples we are looking at examples of online communities in the travel industry

Online communities in the travel industry

The travel industry is one well suited to online communities focused on engagement. Whether you’re an airline, holiday company or hotel chain, your guests typically only experience the brand on a limited number of occasions annually. They may be leisure travellers who might only stay at your hotel once per year or even business travellers who use your airline each time they fly to New York. In all cases the experiences these consumers have with your brand are limited and for a fixed period of time only.

Online communities offer you a way to extend this brand experience between visits or experiences, they allow you to engage and interact with your consumers even when they are not staying at your hotel or flying your airline. This is of critical importance when it comes to rebooking - if you can keep your brand at the forefront of your consumers’ minds then they are more likely to rebook with you. If you can offer them extra services, or offer a way to extend their holiday experience, they are more likely to rebook with you.

The three examples below show different ways in which companies in the travel industry are using online communities to engage their customers with a view to increasing customer loyalty.

Best Western’s On the Go with Amy

One of the real benefits of social media for travel is it puts a human and personal face on what is a very personal experience. One reason why people use Tripadvisor so much is that it contains real reviews from real people talking about their own experiences. But rather than just using experiences as reviews, we can also use personal experiences as inspiration tools. And this is what Best Western do so well with On the Go with Amy.

As with many great examples of online communities, On the Go with Amy is simple concept, but one that delivers well against Best Western’s objectives. The community is a blog from travel journalist Amy Graff, where she share first hand travel experience and chronicles her trips and visits. From a business trip to New York to a family road tip down Route  66 in the US.

By using this medium, Best Western are putting the excitement and experience back into travel. They are giving people a set of first-hand experience and by juxtaposing business and leisure travel they are associating themselves with both of these experiences. Amy has become the company’s travel spokesperson. As well as chronicling her own travel, she gives on issues from advice on travel accessories and on historical sites to visit with children.

This community gives people a real insight into travel, ideas and advice but does it with a personal voice and a very public face. The site is clearly branded and supported by Best Western but it is not overtly selling their hotels. It is engaging people in a personal experience, which is what travel is all about.

Marmara’s Marmarafit

Marmara is a French travel agency that specialises in package holidays in the Mediterranean. They have a loyal customer base and people will often return to a Marmara resort for their annual holidays. In 2008 they launched an online community site to allow people to continue their experience even when they are not on holiday.

The community site has two basic parts:

  1. Marmaramis: every Member who joins the community gets a profile which allows you to upload photos of your vacations, tell the community where you have been on holiday and which resort you are going to next (and the dates). You can also make friends with people you have met on holiday or with people you are going away with.
  2. ClubMarmara: using this profiling data, individual members can be associated with the Resorts to which they have been or that they are going to. Their photos, videos and discussions are associated with the relevant Resort.

The site provides a way for people to share their experiences when they get back from holiday, keep in touch with friends they met on Resort and post photos and videos of their vacation to share with these people. They can also find people who are going to be on the same holiday as them before they go, ask questions about Resorts they have never been to and find out what it is really like in the words of people who have been before. In this respect, the site is a great customer retention tool. It provides a way for customers to extend the holiday experience even when they are not away.

But the site also offers significant benefits in terms of customer acquisition. It is building a large quantity of discussions and descriptions of holidays, great both from a search perspective but also as peer-to-peer marketing. If you have never been to a particular resort before, or indeed never been on vacation with Marmara, you can read real reviews, see real photos and even contact people who have been on holiday to ask them for their thoughts. Getting your customers to really do you marketing for you.

Qantas Travel Insider

Many airlines have launched online community sites in the last year. We have already written about BA’s MetroTwin and the Air France-KLM Bluenity sites. Qantas launced it’s own online community at the end of 2008: Qantas Travel Insider.

The site is aimed specifically at the airline’s Frequent Flyers and allows them to describe their first-hand experiences of destinations, recommending places to stay, eat or drink and things to do in the various cities to which Qantas flies. This is a clever use of passenger experiences and knowledge. The Frequent Flyers are the ones who know the destinations best, and they are also those most likely to find themselves going to a new city and needing advice like this. By focusing on this group, Qantas is also catering for the desire for us to share with and learn from ‘people like me’. The Frequent Flyers will associate with each other and so lend credibility to the advice.

Alongside the user-generated travel advice, Qantas Travel Insider also has a large amount of more editorial content. From articles and recommendations to blogs and the Ask the Crew feature. This is a good approach to online communities - users don’t necessarily care about who gives them advice or tips, they just want to know that it is both from a credible source and of use to them. Mixing user-generated content with editorial content and expert advice can be successful online community strategy. In the case of Qantas, it also lets them use their own expertise - getting cabin crew to answer questions about things to do and places to go at destinations. Adding a concierge service to their on-board service and  thus really enhancing the passenger experience.

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  • Improving user experience on travel websites (travel-rants.com)
  • How does one measure “engagement”?
  • Olivier Roche: “Avec marmarafit.com, nos clients se rencontrent avant leur départ”
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