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

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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.

How do different age groups interact across the social web?

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Online community moderation company Community 102 recently published an interesting infographic which looked at how different age groups interact online across the social web.

Key takeaways include:

  • When it comes to age distribution across the social web, the most active age range is 35-44 year olds (25%) in comparison to just 9% of 18-24 year olds.
  • The highest majority of Facebook users are aged between 18-25 (29%) while on Twitter the highest majority of users are 26-34 year olds  (30%).
  • The average LinkedIn user is 44 years old.
  • The average Twitter user is 39 years old.
  • The average Facebook user is 38 years old.
  • 26% of Millenials (people born between 1978 and 1994, so aged 16-32, and the first generation to be “raised” on the internet) access social networks at least once a day. Millenials also spend an average of 23 minutes online every day.
How different age groups interact across the social web

How different age groups interact across the social web

15 essential articles for online community managers #CMAD

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On the platform, reading

Image by moriza via Flickr

To celebrate the second annual Community Manager Appreciation Day, we’ve brought together 15 essential articles for online community managers and social media managers. From why community managers should get involved with their online community before it is even launched, through how to manage and grow a community, to how to measure the impact you are having.

This collection of articles, resources and thinking should have something for everybody to learn from or to add to. We’d love your thoughts on these and also your own favourite community manager articles and resources.

  1. When does a community manager’s job begin?: Why it is critical that your community manager is involved in helping to plan and design the online community before it is launched.
  2. The Ten Commandments of managing online communities: An insightful presentation on how to manage online communities from Julius Solaris.
  3. The biggest mistakes an online community manager can make: From lack of engagement to a lack of discipline, we look at five of the biggest mistakes an online community manger can make.
  4. How word of mouth grows online communities: A case study on the role of word of mouth helped to grow an online community at a critical early stage.
  5. Five things to consider when engaging social media influencers: Influencers in social media can be a great help when growing your community and become advocates of your site. However engaging them can be difficult. Here are five things to consider when engaging them.
  6. How to react if somebody writes about your brand online: A simple guide to help you decide when, and how, you should respond if somebody comments on your brand online.
  7. Why you shouldn’t join every conversation about your brand online: When you should, and when you shouldn’t, join conversations about your brand online (and why you shouldn’t feel the need to respond to them all).
  8. Champions, active users and trolls: Defining the different types of users in an online community and exploring how they behave and how you should manage them.
  9. Moderation and safety: Why moderation is important, the four types of moderation you can choose from and how to decide which approach is right for you.
  10. Should anonymous comments be allowed in your online community: The pros and cons of allowing anonymous comments in your online community, and those times when it really is the best option.
  11. Comparing paid and organic search strategies for online communities: Which are more successful drivers of traffic? And which are more likely to drive engagement?
  12. Eight ways you can use your online community to get insight: Eight tools and activities you can use in your online community to get insight from your members.
  13. What online community managers can learn from gaming: How to use gaming techniques to help manage and grow your online community.
  14. Using experts to encourage real engagement with your community: How experts can add value to your online community if used sensibly, and in a way that meets the needs of your community members.
  15. Is time on site a useful measure of how successful your online community is?: The short answer is ‘no’. This article tells you why, and where time on site is a useful measure.

Social media case study: Cadbury spots v stripes campaign

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Cadburys chocolate

Image courtesy of sudeep1106

You may have seen Cadbury’s new spots and stripes underwater advert. It’s the one that starts off a little like a high-resolution marine screen saver but then develops into something that resembles a mini film.

If you have watched it, did you know what it was advertising? Or did you have to follow the call-to-action at the end of the ad and visit the website URL to find out what the hell was going on?

This new campaign by Cadbury really seems to recognise something that we’ve said before -  social media doesn’t just take place online. Their advert is incomplete without referring you to their social media site (www.spotsvstripes.com). And this site would not stand alone and be as successful without the advert driving people to it.

As an official sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the thinking behind the current Cadbury campaign is to  split the nation into two teams, the spots and stripes, to compete in game play in the lead up to London 2012. All people need to do is join one of the teams by signing up on the website to begin scoring points for their chosen team.

Cadbury will encourage people to engage with the Spots v Stripes site through dedicated social media channels, like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in combination with more traditional marketing methods  like TV and outdoor advertising in keeping with their online/offline theme. And while the site definitely plays on social gaming interaction, you can score points for offline games like running or crazy golf and can also download games from the site to play offline.

Perhaps the key sales driver for Cadbury from this whole campaign will be the introduction of a brand new product - the Challenge Bar. The Challenge Bar is a milk and white chocolate bar divided into three sections; one spotty, one stripy and one chunk in the middle which the Spot and the Stripe must play for.

The launch of this new chocolate bar will be supported by traditional offline marketing, but each Challenge Bar has one of 20 different games printed on the inside of the wrapper to get consumers playing for the “winners” chunk and driving people online to claim the points for their chosen team. The campaign will also see Cadbury touring the country in order to get the whole of the UK involved with both the Cadbury and olympic games, and, more than likely, promote the Challenge Bar.

Given that the campaign only launched last week, it remains to be seen whether this fully integrated offline and online  campaign will really take off. What is interesting to see though is that Cadbury has recognised that offline is converging with online - something that all digital marketers need to be aware of.

Read more of our Social Media Case Studies

Social media case study: Habbo hits ten years

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Image courtesy of Ivan Walsh.

Habbo, the world’s largest teenage online community, has recently celebrated its tenth birthday, proving that sustainable success can be achieved with online communities.

The first version of Habbo was rolled out in August 2000, followed by an English-language beta version in January 2001. Ten years on, Habbo (previously known as “Habbo Hotel”) has a staggering 176 million registered users, with 15 million unique visitors per month.  In the UK alone it reaches 15% of the total teenage audience and receives more than 1.1 million unique visitors per month.

So what lies behind Habbo’s success?

Timo Soininen, the Chief Executive of Habbo’s parent company, Sulake, has said that Habbo’s continuing success is down to keeping “the service fresh and relevant by frequently introducing new features and gaming elements, arranging engaging campaigns, enriching the virtual economy and payment models and nurturing the community.”

What Soininen seems to be saying is that the Habbo community continues to thrive because of careful, considered online community management and innovative content. Keeping up with cutting edge social and digital trends helps to keep the young audience engaged.

It’s likely that Habbo also benefits from Sulake’s expertise, as the social entertainment company often carry out in-depth market research, listening and analysis to gain insights into the the needs of its audience and to understand the type of material they will engage with. This is probably also the reason why social gaming and social entertainment is a key driver in shaping and developing the community.

Some of Habbo’s success can also be attributed to the intelligent joint marketing activities it has carried out with teen-friendly consumer brands like Cheetos, or, more recently Capri-Sun, where on-pack advertising encourages consumers to visit Habbo.co.uk where they can access ‘The Capri Sun Summer Theme Park’ branded room.

Habbo has also entered partnerships with media brands such as MTV and Myspace, helping to promote the site amongst its key target audience. And with Habbo’s own annual survey of 49,000 teenage users proving the claim that 32% of teenagers would never pay for content online, the fact that membership to Habbo is free is an additional way of enticing teenagers to sign up.

And the community continues to grow as these statistics from June 2010 show:

  • 172 million avatars created
  • 3 million new characters created each month
  • 120 million user-created rooms
  • Average user session lasts 42 minutes

Read more of our Social Media Case Studies

Image by Ivan Walsh via Flickr