Jeremiah Oywang’s new report on Online Community best practices for Forrester is just out.
Jeremiah’s precis of the members-only report is:”An online community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest. It’s also one of the most powerful tools a marketer can deploy for customer retention, word of mouth, and customer insight. To host a successful community, think of it as you would product development: Start by focusing on objectives, chart a road map, assemble the right team, and plan to be flexible. Then build your success by launching the community with the backing of your most enthusiastic customers and staying engaged as the community grows. Above all, remember that control is in the hands of the members, so put their needs first, build trust, and become an active part of the community.”
This serious wisdom in in lovely contrast to Nick Gonzales post, which shows the real flow as beta, TechCrunc, inflate numbers, get acquired….and so on.
The challenge with any online community, of course, is not only doing the planning to allow the community to hit some initial critical mass, but creating sustainability and consistency. Think of Backfence, which started out strong with a few highly seeded local communities, but then never scaled as planned.
For corporate folk, like Forrester’s clients, there are also issues of voice and control–would MiniCooper want a ethynol advocate with a Mini to take over a forum, for example?
And for everyone, of course, there’s the reality check of engagement versus ghost town–is what you are building relevant, focused and/or compelling enough that human beings will want to talk about local school boards, baby food jar recycling, printer cartridges, or your cereal brand at your little community and not somewhere else?
YASN (yet another social network) can easily be translated to YAOC (yet another online community), which means it’s not only how to plan and set goals appropriately, it’s setting realistic expectations about the traffic flow, the conversion rate (those who land on the page vs. those who click on a post, vs those who post vs those who post more than once vs those who…and so on).
Moral of story: Plan and scale the build out, as this report seems to suggest, but don’t inhale too deep from the agency or internal marketing services bong when setting expectations for user acquisition, retention and traffic.