More on this later, but I’ll be speaking at the BBS in September in Chicago. If you’re going to be there, let me know. I’ll buy you a beer.
Teresa: What do you think it the most common mistake that companies make when they start working with communities online?
Jake: Rushing In.
Jake: They all too often are like a kid in a candy store. Sure, they’re excited, and that’s great, but they don’t often stop to survey the landscape, determine the best way to spend their capital (social and financial alike) before they start throwing it around.
Teresa: So how would you recommend they do that? What questions should they be asking themselves?
Jake: Listen before you start interacting. Read, read, read. People in online communities love to interact, discussion, complain, compliment – hell, that’s the core foundation of the activity! Take advantage of that and get up to speed.
Jake: Identify a few key “thought leaders” within the community that you can introduce yourself to. These might be people who run the community tools themselves (like a fan forum moderator), or it might be someone who’s known in the community as an “old timer”.
Jake: Fill them in on what you’d like to do and get their opinion and buy-in first.
Jake: This helps create a “warm introduction” rather than a cold one. Just like dating – it’s always better to get someone who knows both parties to do the introductions than just walking up to someone you don’t know.
Jake: Then actively listen to the community overall, and make it clear that that’s what you’d doing. Let them vent to you first before you start sharing your vision
Jake: Use those same active listening techniques that marriage counselors talk about. Once they’ve felt like you’ve properly heard (and more importantly, understood) them, then you can start offer suggestions, ideas, etc for THEIR problems.
Jake: Then and only then do you start to move on to your OWN problems.
Teresa: It’s the “she comes first” strategy of community engagement!
Teresa: So what kinds of communities are we talking about here? Are these the kinds of conversations that take place in blog comments, facebook groups, etc?
Jake: I’d say the lesson here is more about how companies interact with consumers, rather than which formats those communities come in. Many “communities”, i.e. a group of people who are tied together around some shared emotional connection, use a number of types of tools. But the relationship overall is the important part.
Teresa: Do you think that marketers get too interested in the tools rather than the relationships?
Jake: Absolutely. No question about it.
Jake: We marketers (yes, I have to include myself in this group) love the “New Shiny”. Tools are new, they’re shiny, they’re fun to play with. There’s a reason that marketers continue year after year to try to build new customers while ignoring existing ones, even though it costs 10x (or more)… it’s sexy. It’s what gets you on the cover of BusinessWeek.
Jake: Unfortunately, much of our industry has forgotten that success is more sexy than shiny.
Teresa: So do you think there’s a need for a frame shift in terms of attitude?
Teresa: And if so, what do you think marketers need to start doing more of?
Jake: Frame shift? Probably so. How do we do it? Act more like humans than cogs. Every single last one of us carries on a variety of human relationships, right? Mother to Child, Spouse to spouse, business colleague to vendor, friend to friend, etc. If we paid more attention to what we did away from work and applied that same attitude to our company to customer relationship, that relationship would be a lot more pleasant
Teresa: Why do you think that’s so challenging?
Jake: Training. We’ve all been trained for generations now that the best way for a company to operate is with the biggest, tallest, thickest wall between outside the company and inside.
Teresa: Do you think that was ever true?
Teresa: Did the Web change the best practice?
Teresa: Or did it just finally enable what should have been happening all along?
Jake: No, I don’t think it was ever a very effective practice, and I don’t think it happened overnight. I think that over time, the wall grew slowly enough so as not to realize it was there. And when/if people did realize it was there, it was sorta comforting, at least to the company. After all, there’s no legal risk if consumers can’t talk to you. There’s no security risk if everything you do it top secret. Companies could, at least in their own minds, dictate terms for the relationship much easier.
Jake: But along comes the internet.
Teresa: Do you think customers got used to the relationship, too?
Teresa: Or do you think we (we’re all consumers) were always clambering for a way into the inner sanctum of the companies we cared about?
Jake: Absolutely. Again, it happened slowly, over time. And I also think it was wrapped up in the shiny that consumers latch onto. It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of skipping your local corner store and going to the Mega Lo Mart was an amazing wonder. But in doing that, what we gave up is our sense of community… no longer does our pharmacist know our full medical history, call us by name, and suggest an alternative medication or brand to our doctors because he’s familiar with our history. In many ways, we’ve gone from small to big and realize that we love the convenience of big, but long for the emotional satisfaction of small. The new community/social tools and capabilities that the internet helps us realize are making that balance possible.
Teresa: Mind officially blown.
Big thanks to Teresa for the interview invite. I always appreciate a chance to talk about community!