Branded Community or Sponsoring Niche Communities

Paul Gillin posted on a topic that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days: Branded Communities.  I’ve said it in the past and I will say it again here and now: why would you buy a build a branded community when you can rent one instead?

From Gillin’s post:

Pssst… is intended to bring fans of General Mills products closer to the company by inviting them into a members-only space where they can receive inside information, get coupons and samples and share their opinions about the company’s products. This is all the stuff that I preach organizations should do with branded communities. The site is produced in collaboration withGlobalPark, a company that manages online panels.

Pssst… is good in concept but bad in execution.

David Churbuck posted on the issue and asked one very pointed question:

Begs the question of who does a decent job with a branded community — aside from the usual product support forums, etc. — I can see some reasons for stumbling, but begs the question: who joins a community about bad yogurt?

The classic example would be Nike+ – where they’ve built a fairly successful brand community.   However, I  think a yogurt community might be a tough sell.

That said, building a branded community is a daunting task.  Potential issues:

  • Time to Market – do you have time for a 6-9 month dev cycle?
  • Core Competency – do you have people who can actually build and manage a community?
  • Expense – do you have a budget to build, and even more importantly, a budget to maintain a community?

At NameMedia, I work with Niche Community Sites, and we’ve been coming up with interesting ways to put companies and their brands in touch with the customers they want to reach, and we’ve got some compelling stories about new and innovative ways in which we’re doing this.  A couple brief examples:

It took Nike over 2 years to build their community.  We were able to get the Brother campaign up and running over night on Craftster.org.

Okay, this isn’t meant to end up sounding like an ad.  My point is that you can get real results fast working with Niche Communities and Niche Social Media.  While I’d love to tell you that NameMedia has the market cornered on creative sponsorship, there are a lot of other creative folks out there.

Or course, we’ve  got 20 million visits a month, over 30,000 conversations a day across our sites, in niches like outdoors, photography, technology, gardening, crafting, and astrology.  Our list of sites.

If you’d like to hear more about the creative campaigns we’re doing, get in touch with me or leave a comment here.  I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg and there are probably better folks than me to tell the story.

The Right Medium for the Message

Having used Twitter for a few weeks now I’ve come to the realization that it’s a viable communications means. It’s just that I’d never realized the appropriate messages to fit in that medium, which are short comments or conversations. I think of it as yelling over the cubicle wall at the folks around me. It’s good for a short blast, but any substantial conversation needs to move to a more appropriate communication means, be that a blog, an email, IM, the phone, or even the dreaded meat space.

There’s one usage I’m still coming to grips with and I think it’s a good one, the use of hashtags. This allows you to Tweet using a #myhashtag and then that tag is picked up and aggregated by Hashtags.org where you can go and see a stream of any tweets with that hashtag in them. This has a tremendous potential impact on niche communities. Think of a community of saltwater fly fishermen, who can use their phones to send a short tweet from the water, noting that the fish didn’t come in on the tide, or that their hitting on a particular fly. Or how about “the bluefish are blitzing at Sagamore Beach”? Tremendously useful…

Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They’re like tags on Flickr, only added inline to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag.

Other mashups with Twitter I question. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from BrightKite noting the exact address someone is at. I absolutely don’t want to be reporting my whereabouts via my cell phone, I have enough people trying to track me as it is. However, on the face of it, think of that group of saltwater fly fishermen again. They’d probably want to know where their friends are and be able to catch up. Well, at least you’d think that, but the my experience tells me the exact opposite, they’re more territorial than wolverines, and absolutely would take the locations of their favorite spots with them to the grave rather than devulge them to anyone.

Think about how hash tags could be used at a major event, like, say the Kentucky Derby, which is a multiday affair.  You could use has tags to aggregate what everyone is saying, and also to direct them to the events you want, such as your brand sponsored cocktail party.  “Meet at the ShillCo Pavilion for mojitos…”  If I were planning a major marketing event, I’d definitely be thinking how to incorporate this, provided I could be assured they’re be enough Twitter users around (and of course I’d tie it in with a blog, email, etc.).

That said, there are communities that BrightKite would fit nicely into.  Think of Crafters at a Craft Fair, or perhaps members of the same car club at a Car Meet.  You know you’re buddies arrived, and you can meet up.

I think that Twitter is hurting the blogs though. Now it seems to me that rather than linking on a blog, people are sending out a tweet about a good post. The truth is that blog links have legs, and tweets have very limited range, only to your followers, and there, only to the followers who are actually looking at the screen at that time. Twitter is kind of like a stock ticker, the information fades fast. I really only see trackbacks from sploggers now.

The diaspora that’s hit online media, with so many disparate tools, has got to stop.  Segmentation and tribalism won’t work for us.  We’ve got to move towards aggregating, not compartmentalizing.

Niche Social Networking is Networking that Works

Niche Social Networking with Mark CahillI’ve been saying for over a year that there is a limit to the places I want to network with people, and I’m going to go one step further right now: there are a whole lot of people out there I am not interested in networking with.

There, I said it. It’s not that I hate people, it’s just that for the most part I have little interest in the generic style networking that’s offered by Facebook, and in my estimation, it’s lesser brethren, LinkedIn and MySpace. Call me a snob, but I’d like to have something in common with the folks I’m going to network with, and frankly I’d like to have that commonality reach a little deeper than computer ownership and a willingness to share banality over the web.

The shine if off the first round of Social Networking, and it’s not going to come back. I’m not the only one who’s realized it either. You see, Social Networking for Social Networkings sake is a waste of time. The truth is, it’s a tool that as web developers we should be deploying where appropriate.

I believe that ’08 is going to see the rise of niche social networking. A place were the tenets of social networking find real traction in niche spaces, by users who share that common thread, be it cycling, classic cars, fly fishing, whatever.

While Twittering still doesn’t make much sense to me, I can see that it would make a whole bunch of sense when I’m networked with my fly fishing buddies (like “I’m on a blitz of blues at Sagamore Beach right now” ). Online user groups make total sense to me when it’s applied to a classic car group, but an online group of people who simply live within 40 miles of me makes no sense if I’m not interested in dating (and I’m not). Think about it.

Niche Social Networking is like hanging out at your fishing club, while Mass Social Networking is like hanging out in a bus terminal – the two are totally different experiences.

I’ve been working with niche communities since 1995 – niche social networking is a winner.

More Reading: Gary Andrews

Launches this week…

I’ve had a couple sites go live this week – first, some niche websites with NameMedia, Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels.com as well as Cats.com (I didn’t work as much on that one, it was in the hands of the talented Matt Busby and David Rodal).  These come on the tails of the launches on March 1 of Biking.com, Cycling.com, Boating.com, Yachting.com and Mommy.com.  I was lucky enough to work with Eugene Bernstein, Tom Willmot, Joe Hoyle, Peter Kuhn and Neema Dhakal on these sites, with designs by Dave Dellovo and Erik Stern.  A tremendous team!

The important thing to note on all of these sites is the application of so many facets of Web 2.0 to niche sites.  These are tightly woven niche communities that include all the things you’d expect, like friends lists, groups, internal messaging, blogs, forums, comments, and so very much more.  But it’s not a cookie cutter approach – we’ve looked at the communities we’re serving and attempted to provide the features that particular group needs.  On Mommy.com, there is an online baby book.  Or on Cats.com, we’ve come up with a means of dealing with the big internet question: how do I tell an expert from a loud mouthed rookie online, since the value of their advice is so vastly different.

On Hotcars.com and Dreamwheels you’ll see a major change to the forums setup.  It’s fully integrated with the rest of the system, and we’ve added features like the ability to link to youtube videos, etc.

There’s a lot more to come here, but for now, I think we’ve made a great start.

Additionally, I was able to launch PowerUpGeneratorService.com which has been on hold for several months (this one is not a NameMedia project).  It has an integrated project/product gallery and a homepage that is rotating between their major service/product offerings.  If you need a generator, no matter the size, PowerUpGeneratorService.com is the place for you!