Summary : while it’s quite hard for enterprises to enter the good olds forums where fans have passionate conversations, they’re still very uncomfortable with the communities they try to agregate on the “modern web”, being uncertain about what to do or give to create a real engagement. In fact, all the problem is in the word “aggregate”. On many new media, and especially on Facebook, what is supposed to be gatherings of communities is rather aggregations of selfishnesses. Consequently, understanding what these “groups” are expecting is key to serve those so-called communities : communication, special offers and services. If you’re looking for belonging, engagement and passion, rather go elsewhere…where enterprises are hardly allowed in.
The web did not wait to become 2.0 to host communities. People who shared common interests or purposes used to gather, most often on forums, to share and discuss. Even if there were moderators and people who talk more than others, we can say that everybody was talking with everybody. And even when there was a “central person”, he or she was a member of the community and not a representative of a company.
What changed these last years is that enterprises tried to gather their own communities or into dedicated spaces on public platforms (facebook etc..). What did the forum become ? They’re still alive and organizations seldom have the right behaviors to be allowed in. That’s why they try to grab the leadership on other spaces. I also heard the funnu story of a large company who managed to deal with experts forums talking about their projects before realizing that those experts were more experts than the ones they had inside. In the end they reversed the process and asked those external experts feed them with thoughts and information instead of making the brand enter the forum.
So, let’s talk about these communities, most of all those hosted on Facebook. A closer look makes us realize one things : people have few conversations the ones with the others but talk a lot to the leading enterprise. In fact…the enterprise talks a lot and sometimes gets reactions, sometimes is being called out but there’s nearly no discussions between members. What may lead to the idea that members or fans are not there to meet together but to be with the brand to get personal benefits. It’s not of community of people but a gathering of individuals that want two ways but personal conversations with the brand.
Truth is cruel : those who love a brand or a product are still gathering but elsewhere, sometimes on old forums and prefer not be invaded by the brand.
There’s a notable exception : in B2B, many vendors managed to gather real communities on more or less private spaces but not on public platform, and managed to have real valuable conversations with their customers and users.
So, what are those groups that are brands want to manage of facebook ? The answer is key because it will help to find out how to deal with them in order to make the most of them, create a win-win relationship. They are gatherings of people who are obviously waiting for three things : information, special offers and service. So rather than communities, these groups are aggregations of selfishnesses that need to be fed and served because they will seldom help one another. Help happens elsewhere. Proof is how these groups behave in case of a crises : while in a real community people are helping each other until no one is in trouble anymore, here, people join the group because they have a problem and leave it once fixed (most of time by the company, by other members), without paying attention to other who may still need help. (Yes…people can become fans because they’re unhappy with a brand). And the success of the brand does not matter either to them, their only interest being their personal satisfaction.
People have long thought that the person in charge of such a system had to bring live to communities, stimulate conversations… Not at all. He has to bring information, send gifts and foot the bill when there’s a crisis. Less appealing…but better be lucid when it comes to build a system that works. Organizations need both communication and service professionals.
And what about Twitter ? Neither community space nor group…it’s a place of its own kind. But it may be the less non-community space on the web : no structured communities but lots of open conversation on any topic, and anyone is free to join. It may also be the place where the entry barrier to discussion is the lowest for organizations who want to join the conversations on them, provided they behave the right way.
Bottom line for any organizations ? If you want to play an active role in the system, have a service driven approach. If you don’t mind being more passive, create something appealing and let people do what want with. If nothing happens the problem may not be your approach but you product…(no media can improve bad products…) Of course, both can be done at the same time