Today we are beginning to notice that the new media are not just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression. — Marshall McLuhan
As we look at the ways to drive success in business, the channel is a critical element and, therefore, needs to be energized around your portfolio. In Figure 10.1, you can see the energizing elements for the entire channel.
The channel is made up of your sales team, your partners, universities, and government agencies—basically your entire ecosystem of influencers. With all the competition in the market today, energizing your channel is an important driver of success. In this chapter, we talk about ways to energize and educate both your channel and marketplace. We focus on the newer techniques, or vessels, that should be used in tandem with traditional marketing methods. (Note: What is not included here are the basics in execution of your GTM plan with your channel. This could be a whole book on its own!) In Figure 10.2, we see IDC Research that shows the most popular forms of these new marketing types as vessels for energy.
Because we have covered how to drive the content through a focus obsession on the customer, we now talk about how to effectively use seven new digital vessels in the execution of your GTM plan for the channel, as shown in Figure 10.3.
There are seven key new vessels to energize your channel that I will discuss in this book. While there are many more emerging (like Jellyvision and the like), this covers what my team and I have used and experimented with in the real world. Our Web site will have updates and results as we try out new media.
- Social networks with virtual environments, online communities including Facebook
- Participation with viral and serious gaming
- Sharing through widgets and wikis
- Blogging, including Twitter
- Really simple syndication (RSS)
The commonality among these seven areas is that they form a platform for social and emotional connection to energize the market and ecosystem. Let's explore how to leverage them.
Focus on Social Networks: Online Communities
People are social beings. Since the earliest of times, communities have been alive and active in the world. The importance of the emerging social networks that exist in our new online world should not surprise us. With so many people working from home, there is a societal shift of people being alone more than in the past. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people who work at home full time rose 23 percent from the last decade. Time alone while working from home and being connected online but not in person has changed society to crave more communication with others and has given way to new online communities. Even my dad who is retired spends much of his time online. The results shown in Figure 10.4 are that more than 70 percent of people participate in online communities today.
These numbers will continue to grow in the future as online communities and social networks continue to grow.
People want to engage with others who have something in common with them, and the connections can be both personal and virtual. Remember high school, where kids grouped together by common interests? Even in the latest Disney movie, High School Musical, the kids sorted themselves by interests in sports, music, or science. People like to be a part of something, and they like to talk to others with whom they have something in common. This is one reason why communities are growing in their importance. Sharing commonalities and engaging in dialogue can be energizing and satisfying to the new-world customer. Communities bring to bear an engagement that causes customers to become passionate about your company and product.
What Is a Community?
A community is a group of people that has a shared interest. Communities can be two to three people or thousands; the people might connect in person, through electronic means, or both. Wikipedia, a community itself, defines community marketing as a strategy to engage an audience in an active, non-intrusive prospect and customer conversation.
Development of online communities has afforded us an opportunity to observe people interact with one another, express their own opinions, form relationships, and break relationships. These relationships might be with other consumers, with friends, with companies, or with products or logos; people form relationships with everything.
There are many ways to group communities. One classification is by who sponsors the community—a vendor company or a group of users. We will consider a classification by the common bond that causes the group to form and stay together.
Types of Communities
There are four major categories of communities: crowd sourcing, activity-based, obsession-based, and experience-based. Let's explore each type:
- Crowd sourcing or definition communities: These communities come together to design something, or they are created for the purpose of providing feedback to a company about its products or services. For example, Threadless is a community-based T-shirt company with an ongoing open call for shirt design submissions. If your design is chosen for print, you get paid for it. At IBM, we have communities that enable participants to input into the design of our products, such as our Project Zero. The company that produces WD-40, the lubricant used in thousands of households, formed an e-community for women, who were not buyers of its products. They formed this community to see what would inspire women to buy its product. They were told to make it into something women could carry in their purses, and so they did. Communities provide relevance in both B2B and B2C marketing as customers shape where the product and services will go or are going!
- Activity-based communities: These communities are brought together by a common love of an activity. It could be like Neopets.com, a community built around games, puzzles, and activities. Or it could be something like what IBM developed for a new business approach to technology, such as SOA. We developed SOA Space for an activity-based group of developers around best practices in architecture. In SOA Space, you can chat to an expert, share your activities, and progress in your deployments, all based on role.
- Obsession-based: These communities seem to be more passion-based. They form out of a strong love of an area. We will see a case study about Harley-Davidson in Chapter 11, "Energize the Channel with Communities: OMG, Adobe and Rubicon Consulting, and Harley-Davidson." However, other community groups exist, such as people who love Suduko, and Sears has an obsession-based community for people who love their lawn mowers and tractors!
- Experience-based: These communities come together around a shared experience. Bebopjeans.com has figured out a way to create an emotional connection. Its site is Flash-driven; as soon as you see the site, you can tell that it's oriented toward teenagers. It is relevant to its audience and includes splash screens and Facebook and MySpace tie-ins.
Communities also expand because of the capacity to create relationships with people in other countries. With globalization, being connected is not just about communities in your own country, but also those around the world. For example, for software developers in China, the best community is csdn.net. For general communities, MySpace is popular in China and for connections around the world. In China alone, the most popular local community is qq.com but it is for local Chinese, not for cross-language and cross-cultural groups.
An important choice as a marketer is to decide whether to start your own community or to influence and play in other communities that are of interest. If you choose to start your own community, it is critical that you start showing value to the larger group. In Figure 10.5, IDC shares three communities used to educate that are driven by the vendors. Quest leverages community sites by its product line; National has its own semi analog university. These vendor sites enable for tighter connection on content and for direct feedback that is trackable and usable by the company.
If you choose to play in other communities, you need to do so with care. You cannot dominate the community but listen and allow people to share their thoughts and ideas. In communities, people talk about the good and bad of your products; trying to "control" the conversation will be counterproductive and potentially harmful.
How do you find a community that might fit your needs? The answer is to use Google to research the topic and see if there are existing communities discussing your topic. For instance, if you Google the words dog and community, Dogster comes up. To use Google, be as specific with your query as possible. For example, if you were looking for SOA architects in Cincinnati, write a query like, "SOA architects Cincinnati." If you know there's some sort of community verbiage in the name, you can also include that.
If you can't find an existing community, work to create one. Create a blog and index it with Google. If the topic is of interest to others, they will come. To create your own online communities, you can use Google tools, such as Google Groups. A great example of this is http://www.idrinkyourmilkshake.com. This site is driven by the lovers of the movie There Will Be Blood, and the name of the site comes from the movie's famous line. It found a new audience of users interested in discussing the movie and the motivations of the main characters. It is truly a success story of communities rushing to join the discussions because they love the movie! Can you buy anything on the site? No, but it is driving movie tickets in an extremely clever way—through the community!
Top Five Lessons Learned for Communities
In working with communities over the years, the top five lessons learned for forming a community or social network range from getting started to whom to target. The list should provide a thought-provoking set of items for your formation or joining of the online community world:
- Know your communities: Ensure you know which communities impact your company and influence your clients.
- Create communities for the long term: If you have the time and patience for long-term results, sustained efforts in communities pay off. However, they are not a quick tactic. Communities are about energizing your ecosystem through stronger customer relationships created and engagement of active energy in your business.
- Communities can be internal as well: Don't forget your own sales teams. Inside IBM, we view our sellers as a valuable community that we constantly dialogue with. As Lauren Flaherty, chief marketing officer at Nortel comments, "We look at our sales colleagues as a community. And we have learned what it takes to keep their interest in this new community portal and frankly they love the vessel. I've got a CNN crawl on the bottom of the portal so that we can tell them, 'Hey, here's what's fresh. Here's what's new, what's interesting, and what's funny. It's CNN.'"
- Start a dialogue: Your dialogue can be about decisions you have to make on new products or features or just to provide an experience for your customers and ecosystem. Make sure you choose one or more ways to have the dialogue—the dialogue will continue with or without you!
- Great communities provide value: Don't start a community just as a marketing tactic. Communities last because they provide real value, not just marketing messages. Make sure you have something they want and need.