Three popular series from the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009

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Image by SlipStreamJC via Flickr

We posted on New Years Eve the most popular posts on the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009. Alongside some popular posts we covered a number of series of posts that were well read and referenced - here are three of the most popular.

1. Getting Started in Social Media

In this series we outline our thoughts on four steps any brand should do when they are getting started in social media. The aim is to give any brand who is looking to use social media (or indeed to use it better) a framework to work through, some ideas and also a lot of questions and decisions that will need to be made.

  • Part One:  Do you know what people are saying about you? Buzz tracking, social media monitoring, the power of understanding who is talking about you where and why, and some great free tools for any brand to use
  • Part Two: What do you want to achieve? Working out your brand’s aims and objectives (and making these measurable) is the single most important factor in a successful social media strategy. Do this before you think about technology.
  • Part Three: Have a go and experiment with social media Once you have clear objectives that are measurable it’s time to get going. Try things out and experiment, but make sure you do them where you know you will have the greatest chance of achieving these aims and engaging the people you want to engage.
  • Part Four: Track and evaluate the success you are having When you are using social media tools it is essential that you are measuring and tracking your performance against these aims. Measurement is critical and assessing the benefit you are having will help you to refine and improve your strategy overall.

2. Online Community Examples

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 week we looked at a different industry and showcased three short case studies of online communities, whether for marketing, customer engagement, market research or other reasons.

3. Insight from online communities

Not all communities are online research communities, but all communities can be a useful source of insight. Just watching the conversations can be invaluable and bring real insight to any organisation, but there are ways that any community can get real insight value from the insight of your members. In this series we described eight ways of getting insight from online communities:

  • Profiling data: gathering the right information and then analysing the profiles of  your community members can bring significant understanding of the people who join your community.
  • Focused discussions: focusing the discussions in your online community make it easier for people to join the debate and also let you concentrate on those issues that are of most interest to you and likely to bring greatest insights.
  • Learn their language: the language community members use is often overlooked, but provides a real insight into their lives and their perceptions on a product, market or issue.
  • Rating and voting: not everybody wants to begin or even add to discussions, but we can understand what they think and get insight from them by offering and than analysing their use of different ways of communicating.
  • Photo uploads: photos offer a real insight into what people think and also allow us to gather opinions people who are not as comfortable expressing themselves in words.
  • Photo activities: get community members to upload photos on a specific theme or in response to a specific question. Isolate the most interesting photos by using the opinions of community members.
  • Discussion events: as your community matures, people start to use the community at regular times.Take advantage of this by offering discussion events where people discuss a different issue at a certain time each week.
  • Quick polls: any community can use some simple insight tools, and quick polls are one of these. They are a great way to get instant and top-level quantitative insight from your community.
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Our top five posts in March

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At FreshNetworks we aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. In case you missed them, find below our top five posts in March.

1. How to use Twitter for PR

A great presentation from Corinne Weisgerber that outlines how brands can use Twitter for PR. From tracking and monitoring, through live-reporting and activism, to public relations and crisis management. A great introduction for anybody interested in the topic.

2. Social networks and online communities more popular than email

It’s now official. Social networks and online communities are now visited more often online than email. This is reflects the way people are now using the web, and how social media sites actually let us do new things, rather than being an new way of doing old things.

3. Social media ROI: Measuring the unmeasurable?

There is a lot of discussion about how to measure the ROI of social media. Some people claim it isn’t possible, but this just isn’t true. The key is to work out what you need to measure and why, and then work out how to measure it. Too often people don’t do this step.

4. Examples of online communities in the retail industry

As part of our series of online community examples,  we looked at examples from the retail industry. Case studies from Wal-Mart, Sainsbury’s and Starbucks.

5. Russia – the fourth largest social networking market in Europe

Whilst we’re all talking about Facebook and MySpace, Russia is becoming a big force in social networking in Europe, with the fourth largest market for users. Sites like Odnoklassniki (Одноклассники) and VKontakte (В контакте) are leading the market there and showing how a relative late-comer to broadband is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing markets for social networking.

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Examples of online communities in the retail industry

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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.

See all our Online Community Examples

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  • Business media: trends for 2009 (
  • Now We’re All Poor People Who Shop at Wal-Mart (
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Another example of good use of video in online communities

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The Co-operative has a long history of building sustainable consumer engagement in the UK. Long before Tesco or Sainsbury had loyalty cards in the UK, I remember at home as a child collecting stamps every time we did our weekly grocery shopping, and when the book was filled we could claim money off. At that stage my parents could also have had a say in the way the local branch was run - suggesting ideas and voting on ones to carry through to action. A real example of engagement on a local level.

Of course nowadays, engagement like this can be done on a much broader level and impact the business much more fundamentally than just the local store level. Working with online communities and leveraging the benefits of social media, brands can engage people more deeply. This is what the Co-operative Bank is aiming to do with its new blog, GoodWithMoney.

GoodWithMoney is a recent launch, with only a few days of posts. It is covering the bank’s efforts in micro-financing and the only posts that exist at the moment cover a current trip to visit organisations and businesses they are supporting in Bosnia. I have lots of questions about this blog (do they intend to keep it running or is it just a short term CSR or PR effort, how often will they update, is it designed to engage customers on an ongoing basis, how will they encourage interaction), but there is one thing I love already: their use of video.

We’ve written before about how powerful video can be in an online community, and how we work a lot with video in online communities we build at FreshNetworks. But the GoodWithMoney site is a really good case in point. Each blog post includes a relatively short paragraph or two updating us on what they have been doing, but it is the videos where things really come to life. A subject like micro-financing can be difficult to understand, what brings it to life are the real stories of real people. Video is a much more engaging way of conveying these types of stories. People come to life and feel more real. If one of the aims of online communities is to build a real connection between brand and consumer, then video is a great way of achieving this.

Video’s also great if it can be shared - it let’s you get your message out on other sites and bring people back into the community. As I’m doing right now…

Dina - Diary owner helped by microfinance from CFS on Vimeo.

  • WeAreMedia Module 5: Social Networks (and widgets) for Community Building, Taking Action and/or Fundraising
  • Some Q&A; on virtual private communities
  • When pictures speak a thousand words
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