An Innovative Approach to Online Communities

By Eileen Feretic  |  Posted Friday, December 11, 2009 22:12 PM


When setting up online communities, companies should think in terms of "tribes" rather than market segments. That's the recommendation of the "2009 Tribalization of Business Study" conducted by Deloitte in conjunction with Beeline Labs and the Society for New Communications Research. (www.deloitte.com/view/en_US/us/Industries/Technology/article/940bf5d47d124210VgnVCM200000bb42f00aRCRD.htm)

The study, which covers more than 400 companies that have online communities, was presented by Edward Moran, director of Insights & Innovation at Deloitte Services, at the Digital Mission to New York, which was supported by UK Trade & Investment. According to Deloitte, "Survey results indicate that while enterprises are effectively using online tools to engage with customers, partners and employees for brand discussion and idea generation, organizations are continuing to struggle with harnessing social media's full potential."

To "think tribe," the report states, companies "need to find groups of people who have something in common based on their behavior, not their market characteristics."

"Businesses need to understand the social aspects of online communities," Moran told the audience. "They should be socializing with their customers, but many are still in the denial stage."

According to the survey respondents, the capabilities that contribute the most to the effectiveness of online communities are the ability to connect to like-minded people (more than 30 percent), the ability to help others (more than 25 percent), a community that's focused on a hot topic (about 25 percent), facilitation and moderation (nearly 20 percent), and the ability for members to develop themselves (slightly more than 15 percent).

The respondents also indicated their companies' purposes for starting online communities. The top five reasons are market insights and research (about 50 percent), idea generation (about 45 percent), customer/client loyalty (nearly 45 percent), amplifying word-of-mouth (slightly more than 40 percent) and market thought leadership (about 35 percent). At the bottom of the list are pricing (less than 2 percent), alumni relations (about 5 percent) and product testing (about 7 percent).

The study also asked companies about their biggest obstacles to achieving a successful online community. The top five are getting people to engage and participate (about 30 percent), attracting people (just under 25 percent), getting people to keep coming back (about 20 percent), finding enough time to manage the community (slightly less than 20 percent) and getting people to populate their profile (about 13 percent).

The department that most often manages online communities (in more than 35 percent of the responding companies) is marketing. That's not a surprise. What is surprising is the list of departments that are the least involved in managing these communities; IT (slightly more than 5 percent), sales and market research (approximately 4 percent each) and customer service (about 3 percent). Considering the importance of these groups in creating and maintaining online communities, their lack of involvement in managing these communities doesn't make sense.

The report also includes strategies that help create a successful online community:

  • Clear goals and purpose
  • The right talent
  • Commitment and time
  • A topic that engenders passion
  • A site that's social and communal.
  • It seems that for businesses to have successful online communities, they have to play by some new rules--social rules.

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