When social media impacts search – 3 areas to think about

Search button - now more social and influenced by word of mouthToday I attended an event hosted by WOMMA UK which covered the ways that word of mouth is impacting search and looked at how search and social media are overlapping more and more.

Search and social are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially with the arrival of Google+, a clear indication of the search giant’s intention to further develop and improve the social nature of search results.

There are several important areas brands should consider when thinking about how word of mouth affects their performance on search engines. Here are three areas that brands should keep in mind when looking at their social and search strategies:

1. Word of mouth drives search traffic - be ready

  • People that “hear” about your brand (online, face to face, or otherwise) will want to search for you, for convenience, for education and for learning about new opinions. This means you need to cater for all the various different ways people will search for your brand and cover all the possibilities that  misspellings or misperceptions may cause.
  • “Reviews” is a very popular search term, so hosting these on your own site is a great way to generate authenticity and long-tail search terms.

2. Social and your online reputation

  • Consider the implications for reputation management. Is “scam” a prominent result on the suggestions for your brand in Google? Nobody wants to see that, but instead of covering it up, ask yourself why this is such a dominant sentiment. Maybe there is a miscommunication and customers are not fully informed as to what your provide? Treat this as an opportunity to intercede and communicate.
  • You can be proactive by using third party sites such as Yahoo! Answers, which generally ranks well and gives you a neutral platform to respond to negative sentiment.

3. Conversions and social media

  • Retailers – price is no longer a USP. Your customers will be seeking deep content, such as user reviews and friend’s recommendations. It is important for users to trust your site, or they will go elsewhere to research and/or purchase.
  • Remember that peoples’ decision making can be rational, but is predominantly emotional. Having social recommendations appear in search results and on page will appease the latter.

Yet more evidence of online community benefits

A couple of days ago I blogged about some of the emerging analysis of online communities and their benefits from the Deloitte and Beeline Labs 2008 Tribalization of Business Study. I’ve  now seen the full slide deck and have posted this below.

For me, perhaps the most shocking statistic in this study continues to be that 34% of the communities studied did not have somebody charged with managing them. One of the things that people can easily overlook with online communities is that, although technology is important, these are social environments and so the social structure needs to be set up and then managed correctly. A good community manager is critical and when paired with an effective strategy and good technology it can make a community really fly.

I should also add that whilst the social aspects are important, so is technology. In fact another revealing statistic from the study is that almost one in ten of the communities studied had more than ten community managers. With good technology and an effective strategy you can really make this process more efficient. Meaning that a community can grow significantly, without a concomitant increase in bodies managing the community.

Anyway, here are the slides

  • Do Branded Online Communities Fail?
  • Companies failing with social networks
  • Why (most) online communities fail
  • Building your Community Strategy
  • Some Evidence of Online Community Benefits

Some evidence of online community benefits

So here’s another post on the Deloitte / Beeline Labs 2008 Tribalization of Business Study that everybody seems to be talking about (including me here and here).  They are running a webinar next week on the study and I came across some slides they will be talking about thanks to Awareness Networks.

Here are a couple of slides that start to show the benefits identified of online communities. The first shows what companies are doing with online communities and the second shows the benefits they are getting.

It is clear from this that amplifying word of mouth, innovation and online research communities that are the most frequent use of online communities in the study. This mirrors our experience of working with clients and talking to people in this space. All three of these can be uses of the online community and this medium of engaging people is great for achieving them.

Perhaps of more interest for me is the second slide that looks at the benefits people are seeing of online communities. Greater awareness (including through better organic SEO) is something that is a clear benefit for brands of a community, as is generation of new ideas. What is interesting is that almost 25% of firms reported that the online community led to each of: increased sales, more referrals and more leads. This shows the clear and immediate business benefit of the communities and so the more immediate (as well as the longer term) benefits they bring.

These slides are great and start to show some of the real benefits of online communities that the study found. Adding depth and detail to the reports that came out when this study was first released.

Usage of online communities

Business measures of success

  • Do Branded Online Communities Fail?
  • Corporate Social Networks Are A Waste of Money, Study Finds
  • Social Networking in the Enterprise
  • How Internet Marketers Can Create an Extra Revenue Stream
  • Companies failing with social networks
  • Why (most) online communities fail
  • WeAreMedia Module 5: Encouraging Online Participation - Some Tips from Nonprofits
  • OCRN: The Online Community Marketing, Growth and Engagement Report
  • Why Does Corporate Social Networking Fail?
  • Corporate Social Networks Are A Waste of Money, Study Finds
  • The Art of Conversation - It’s About Listening Not Marketing
  • Requirements for a social media network

More clarity on branded online communities ‘failing’

There has been a lot written this last week about the Deloitte report into online communities (the 2008 Tribalization of Business Study), in particular driven by a Wall Street Journal blog entry discussing how online communities fail. I wrote about this on our blog (here) and that article was also republished by FutureLab and Experientia.

At FreshNetworks we build online communities for brands, we help clients with their strategy, technology and platform. I have to say that my experience of working with clients and of online communities jarred with some of the things the Wall Street Journal blog seemed to be suggesting as it’s analysis of the report. In particular the fact that so many communities were ‘failing’ and the cost cited. The latter figure was later clarified as a mistake (6% and not the initially reported 60% of firms studied had spent in excess of $1 million on their communities). The former has been clarified thanks to Francois Glossieaux at EmergencyMarketing.

The study included a large number of cases where the community had been running for less than a year - a relatively short period. Whilst we see and help clients to realise some direct benefits of having an online community they take time to build and to develop. This changes the analysis of the Deloitte report quite a bit. At FreshNetworks we take communities through a process from infancy to maturity. For different audiences, different brands and different communities this process takes differing amounts of time. One thing that is common, however, is that considerable effort (on the part of all parties) is needed to build the community to a stage where it looks mature.

I would venture that although a business or brand may see siginificant and tangible benefits of the community from the very early days, running an evaluation of a range of communities that are less than a year old may lead to perverse conclusions. Maybe it isn’t that many online communities fail, as the Wall Street Journal blog suggested, but that many online communities are in their infancy. This is a conclusion I could relate to.

Online communities can have an impact on the business from the beginning, especially those built by brands are designed with specific business objectives in mind. But any longer-term evaluation of success really needs to allow for these communities to develop and mature and then take place.

I would be interested in any data that judges ROI or success of online communities against the stage of development for the particular community. This more detailed and segmented approach to success would have greater insights for those of use who build and manage online communities and advise clients on how best to engage with their consumers or stakeholders in this way.

  • Online community effect proves tricky to pin down, claims survey
  • Social Networking in the Enterprise
  • Corporate Social Networks Are A Waste of Money, Study Finds
  • Online Community Numbers that Don’t Add Up
  • Why (most) online communities fail
  • Corporate Social Networks Are A Waste of Money, Study Finds
  • Some Q&A; on virtual private communities

Do branded online communities fail?

Today a lot of people are talking and writing about a new report from Deloitte looking at online communities, the 2008 Tribalization of Business Study. The report is based on interviews with 100 firms that are sponsoring branded online communities, looks at what they are doing and what benefits they are reaping.

Of all the coverage of this report today, the Wall Street Journal prompted a debate on why most online communities fail. The claim is based on findings that 35% of the communities studied have fewer than 100 members and that apparently 6% of the firms has spent over $1 million on the site. This leads the analyst from Deloitte to comment that:

“A disturbingly high number of these sites fail”

At FreshNetworks we build and manage branded online communities, working with firms who want to launch a community and helping them to get the strategy right, set up the platform and then manage the community. I was surprised and shocked to read some of the comments on this report. We’ve seen quite a few communities that fail, but have seen and been involved with even more that are successful. This led me to try to consider what it is that makes a community work and how to reconcile my own experiences with the Deloitte report.

The first indicator was Deloitte’s finding that 30% of the firms did not employ a full-time and professional online community manager. It would be good to understand if these firms were also those whose communities had fewer than 100 members. From our experience, a good, experienced and committed community manager is critical to the success of the community. This is more than just a moderation role, it’s more the role of the party host, helping the community to thrive and grow, bringing together members and discussions and focusing activity. An analysis of the types and levels of community management that was involved and how this correlates to the success of the community would help to understand this situation more.

I also noted that even though 35% of the communities studies by Deloitte had fewer than 100 members, a not dissimilar number (25%) had more than 1,000. To have 1,000 active members takes significant planning, management and activity on the site. When we work with clients we help them to understand that in many cases it will take a while for the community to reach maturity and to build large active membership bases in all but the biggest brand name or issue-based communities. But size isn’t necessarily the most important consideration. Different people set-up communities for different reasons. You may want a small and private online research community, you may want a place for your most loyal customers to interact with the brand, or you may want to attract advocates and amplify word of mouth. For some, a large and vibrant public community will meet their needs, but size really isn’t everything.

If we are to understand the success of branded online communities we really need to look at the objectives that firms went into the endeavour with. Different firms will have different endeavours and so what may look like a ‘failure’ on the basis of external and arbitrary factors, could be a perfect success for the firm that set it up.

The benefits people see from branded online communities can be huge and varied. Significantly improved natural SEO, greater product advocacy, amplified word of mouth, insight into customer opinions, help innovating products. The list goes on and will be different for different brands and different communities.

We work with a lot of clients to help them get their strategy write, build the community that best meets their needs and then to manage the community to build and grow it in an appropriate way. These three elements are critical to get right and involve bringing in the right people at the right time, both within an organisation and external help where it’s needed. Branded online communities that are set up and managed correctly don’t fail.

  • Some Q&A; on virtual private communities
  • Deloitte Study: Enterprise Value of Online Communities Yet to be Realized
  • Why Most Online Communities Fail