Three Reasons Branded Online Communities Fail

A Deloitte consultant just released result of a study of 100 businesses with online communities. From the WSJ:

One of the hot investments for businesses these days is online communities that help customers feel connected to a brand. But most of these efforts produce fancy Web sites that few people ever visit. The problem: Businesses are focusing on the value an online community can provide to themselves, not the community.

The three main reasons for failure were not surprising:

  • Focusing on the technology over the value of the community to its members;
  • Failure to assign experienced staff to develop the community;
  • Poor or no metrics for measuring success.

Let’s tackle those one at a time:

Bells & Whistles
It is so very tempting to focus on the gee whiz things you can do with technology, especially with the very hot social media arena. However, you have to center all of these efforts on the value you will provide to your anticipated community members, making sure that is aligned to deliver some value for your company or organization when it takes off. Constantly ask yourself “So what?” as you develop your plans. Once you have the value identified you can make rational choices about the technology you choose to deploy.

Leadership and Management
Would you launch a new product or service line without an experienced person to develop and manage it? Not usually, no. The same goes for online communities. They require care and feeding and interaction to do successfully. This requires dedicated staff who can interact with others online effectively and keep your online space focused on the value it should provide to participants and the company. It boggles the mind to read the story linked above and realize many of these companies spent over a $1 million on their site and then put half a staff person in place to run it.

Measuring Success
This goes back to value: your measures for success must tell you if you are creating the value you planned to achieve. Are your community members getting value? Is this participation generating value for the sponsoring company? Simply pages views and site registration won’t do. If you goal is to convert community members into customers, be sure you have processes and tools in place to measure that conversion rather than simply hope for the best.

(Story spotted via the most excellent CMSWatch.)

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6 thoughts on “Three Reasons Branded Online Communities Fail

  1. Amen DGamm. That is why we have a dedicated staff person now and worked with our metrics before launch. We also had members telling us what they wanted to do and we found the technology to do it, not the other way around.

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  5. Amen again! If had to call it, I’d say what’s happening is that companies probably have a bunch of gen-y employees telling the higher-ups how important social media has become, and eventually convincing them they need to do something web 2.0 to stay competetive. I think from there, the execs who know nothing about social media develop these online communities without thought to who will monitor/staff/promote them.

    A great (bad) example of this is Sprint’s Buzz online community. I know a guy (through Twitter) who is one of gen-y types I’m talking about–evangelizing social media to anyone who will listen at Sprint. He frequently reports his efforts to get them to buy in and start doing something, and recently excitedly announced that the CEO was starting a blog where people could post questions and he’d answer them. I don’t think I can imagine a business model more destined for failure–take a company with plenty of angry customers and tell them they’re now going to be able to receive personalized attention from the CEO. As if the guy is going to be able to keep that promise–it would take more hours than there are in a day, every single day, for the guy to keep up. The result? People will now have something new to complain about–Sprint dropping the ball on yet another thing.

    To me, branded online communities don’t work because they’re all isolated and require individual attention in order to keep up. I am a member of several and have basically abandoned them–it’s too hard to remember to check them all or even keep up with the digests. Again, there are only so many hours in a day. To me, a company’s best bet is to integrate their social media efforts into existing applications–e.g. Twitter. Like the ComcastCares thing on Twitter–it’s gotten them a lot of good press and gone a long way towards turning their reputation for bad customer service around. I am not a Comcast customer, but I see people tweeting about it and my opinion of Comcast has changed as a result. Never would have happened if ComcastCares was an isolated online community that I would never have joined.

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