Achieving an efficacious online brand community

Online brand communities are popular vehicles for gathering consumer intelligence (e.g., pre- and post-purchase information) and fostering brand affiliation (e.g., generating buzz, increasing loyalty). However, effectively (and efficaciously) managing these communities remains something of a mystical art akin to voodoo, relying as much on luck and happenstance as on strategy.

An MIT study of such communities sought to identify some causality with respect to what actions community managers can take to produce positive outcomes. The study concluded that online communities require constant attention if they are to increase a brand’s sales.

The mere existence of such a community does not “strengthen relationships and drive sales. Rather, it is the exchange of high-quality information on these sites that drives a strong customer response.” Community members who “obtained higher levels of relevant, frequent, lengthy, and timely information” experienced a stronger relationship with the corresponding brand. No single one of those dimensions of communication was sufficient on its own–“only members who received higher levels of all four…ultimately made purchases from additional categories of products and…bought more products from the same category.”

Brand-based online communities

A burgeoning number of brands are establishing consumer-centric online communities. A January 2012 University of Michigan study suggested that consumers spend, on average, 19% more after having joined such a brand-based online community.

“After controlling for several factors, the authors found that the quantity and quality of friendly relationships with other customers was key. Customers who had many friendly relationships, or who befriended more important or prominent customers, were likely to spend more on the firm’s products. Those who displayed more products on their profile page also tended to rack up purchases.”

Source: Strategy + Business


A Social Media Autopsy: A Eulogy for Bebo

or, Bebo: A Cautionary Tale

I am convinced that the study/observation/analysis of social media has been, to date, simply a prologue. Social media has been the “new frontier” which none of us have experienced before. Thus, most theories regarding it have largely been bald suppositions. This is not a bad thing: it is how the study of all subjects evolve. First, blind ignorance. Next, awareness. After awareness, curiosity. After curiosity, relentless pursuit of knowledge. Throughout it all, answers – even if they aren’t the final answers.

And while our disposition towards a subject changes, it must change also. In order to facilitate proper examination, we must see our subject in all its phases. Consider medicine, for example. Consider yourself a medical student. Do you think you could glean all you need to know about the human body just from work with infants? Could you learn how to treat the feverish symptoms of an adult simply by examining the hiccups of a child? No. For medicine to arrive at where it is today, we have studied humans of all ages and varieties – but especially, we have studied corpses.

So, does it not hold that we would need social media corpses in order to study what factors determine “healthy” social media? If so, we need not wait much longer. While I’ll grant you that some social media corpses littered the internet more than a decade ago, I suspect there will be distinct differences between social media sites which were born and died in virtual anonymity (read: no media attention, very little public awareness) (pun intended), versus those which matured in the spotlight and then faltered or became titans.

In an April 8, 2010 CNN Tech column, Mashable‘s Pete Cashmore observes that Bebo – the social networking site which has found broad acceptance in the UK – might soon some crashing down. More important to us – as consumers and technorati – is why? He suggests that innovation is the key.

James Robinson of The GuardiansObserver column seems to agree. He points out that Bebo’s unique visitors have fallen 45% in the last year and asks, why? Why has Bebo lost traction while Facebook and Twitter have gained it? Ultimately, he agrees with Cashmore: Bebo simply failed to be creative, therefore, it faltered.

Darwinism is certainly at work on the internet and this is exemplary evidence of that. Innovate, it seems, or go the way of Bebo.

This is a good warning to be heeded by companies large and small who wishes to establish an impactful online presence. After all, as Robinson points out, one of the major challenges facing social networks is that they are subject (i.e. they have subjected themselves to) the fickle desires of the viewer. Nowhere is this more poignant, because on the internet your competitor – or some beckoning distraction – is only a mouse click away.

Hikikomori – a digital recluse?

In the March 15, 2010 edition of Newsweek, Devin Stewart reports that “the estimated number of hikikomori” is burgeoning. Hikikomori, as it turns out, is the Japanese term for “shut-ins who have given up on social life.”

Stewart seems to suggest that this is related to the miserable economy, where Japan’s massive debt has contributed to just 14% of respondents reported feeling confident in Japan’s direction, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll cited by Stewart. But, what if the economy is just a single contributor among many? And what if hikikomori are cropping up across the globe and not just in Japan?

As I read Stewart’s brief column, I couldn’t help but remember a March 2007 essay published in Harper’s where I first encountered Internet Addiction (“I was a Chinese Internet Addict.”) That essay discussed the phenomenon, likely to be added to the DSM-5, in which individuals become so obsessed with the internet that they lose touch with reality (I’m dramatizing, but only slightly). What of the people who give up on physically social lives, and opt for solely (or predominantly) digital ones?

This bears keeping in mind. As social media develops and becomes more pervasive – as comprehensive connection to a digital world becomes more facile, what do we stand to lose?

Email Addiction. Side-effects: Stupidity.

Way back in aught 08 (September 2008), I wrote about the building evidence for Internet addiction. The March 2010 Entrepreneur brings us an article by Joe Robinson  (“Email is Making You Stupid“) which explores several aspects of technological addictions – including the harmful side-effects.

This article suggests that the burgeoning amount of emails, instant messages, tweets, and texts we receive  are becoming a harmful and prohibitive cacophony of hyper-communication. So why can’t people reduce the amount of messages they send (and receive)? Well, they could be addicted (“e-compulsion”). In such instances researchers notice decreased attention spans, increased stress, and decreased productivity (Alarming statistics! Read the article).

The most frightful thing to consider? What if what we’re doing – emailing about – day-to-day really impacts our life in the long-term? Robinson brings to light an argument by Winifred Gallagher, authored of Rapt, that “humans are the sum of what they pay attention to: What we focus on determines our experience, knowledge, amusement, fulfillment. Yet instead of cultivating this resource, she says, we’re squandering it on ‘whatever captures our awareness.’ To truly learn something, and remember it, you have to pay full attention.”

As noted by Robinson, it pays to pay attention to attention.