Building a community is key to brand development

As more brands use social media to engage their audience and build communities of influencers, they need to make sure their choice of online activity is in line with a specific aim.

  • Click here to read how social media is being used to turn campaigns into instant big hitters
  • Click here to read how Philips has entered the world of health professionals
  • Click here to read how Giffgaff’s customer service issues have been handed to its own community
  • Click here to read how Peperami is using freelance community Idea Bounty for creative spark
  • Click here to read how closed groups offer brands valuable insight

The word “community” used to conjure up images of ladies baking cakes for a church or school fair. But in the online world, communities are not being formed for the purpose of providing funds for a good cause, they are serious tools for brands to use as part of their marketing strategies.

While online communities now form part of many brands’ social media strategy, there is still confusion about what is the best way for a brand to use a particular community. Many simply default to Facebook or Twitter, which may attract the masses, but it is not always the best way to meet a brand’s strategy.

Brand managers need to be up to speed with the world of online communities, and how different platforms can add real depth to their social media strategy. Some brands have succeeded in creating their own public communities either within their own websites or as microsites. These include Starbucks with its My Starbucks Idea site; Nike with its Nike Plus running community and Virgin Atlantic’s V Travelled site. O2-owned mobile provider Giffgaff also uses its own community as a customer support tool (see Keeping It Close To Home, below).

Along with Facebook, such communities are primarily used to target consumers, but electronics manufacturer Philips is reaching

out to a business audience. It has partnered with business networking site LinkedIn to reach healthcare professionals in a bid to become a “trusted adviser” of information, and facilitator of industry debate (see Strictly Business, below).

Unilever, on the other hand, is tapping into communities as a way to source brand content. It has turned to the creative community offered by Idea Bounty to crowdsource the brief for its new Peperami TV ad, which was unveiled this week (see Creative Crowdsourcing, below). Filmmaking community Mofilm is also distributing briefs to its members for other Unilever brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Vaseline, to tell a “branded story” through a commercial-length short film.

Brands have several options to explore when it comes to building a community but they must make sure the channel they choose is in line with a specific aim, argues Robbie Hearn, head of member experience at Giffgaff. “A lot of companies get seduced by the term social media and treat everything the same. We also use Facebook and Twitter, but they are different platforms from our own community.”

Using a platform such as Facebook and Twitter to provide customer services has many pitfalls, Hearn adds. “If you do the wrong thing in the wrong part of social media it can backfire. If you try to offer support through a channel that isn’t designed for it, you will end up with an unhappy group of people.

“We constantly monitor Twitter and we respond immediately, but it’s not ideal for dealing with customer support issues because you only have 140 characters.”

Facebook and Twitter are also not the best places for brands to look for consumer insights to base strategic decisions on, such as new product lines, approaches to business or other forms of market research. Closed communities are more effective for this type of engagement, argues Doron Meyassed, director of Promise Communities, which facilitates closed communities for brands.

Meyassed says that brands should decide whether communities are for “consumer input” or “consumer output”. Open communities, such as Nike’s running community and Marmite’s Love/Hate groups, are typically built to create output or brand advocacy. Input communities are ideal for gaining consumer insight, looking for new innovations or developing a strategy, and for many reasons are best kept within the confines of a closed channel.

The problem with Facebook is that you do not know the users. A closed community lets you know who is who, so
you can use it to base business decisions on

Doron Meyassed, Promise Communities

Meyassed argues: “The problem with Facebook is that you do not know the users, so if 1,000 people say they like an idea you do not know who those 1,000 people are. A closed community lets you know who is who, so you can use it to base business decisions on.

“In most of our communities, participants have signed non-disclosure agreements, so we are able to have much deeper level conversations with them. And if you are looking to develop a new product, you don’t want rival brands to find out what you are planning. In private community spaces you can experiment more safely, which is important because you won’t always get it right first time.”

Brands are also better able to motivate and interact with closed community participants – giving people a reason to care is key for a successful community, Meyassed claims.

Closed communities can be set up in a similar way to the Facebook design, adds Meyassed. Promise sets up communities so that users see rolling news feeds on their homepage of activities and discussions they participate in, whether it is a survey, poll or discussion on the brand community they are a member of. Participants can also “befriend” other participants.

But the extra element that generates motivation, Meyassed argues, are the user league tables that are visible to all members of a community. These rank users according to their level of contribution, and score them on individual activities. All these components show input from the brand as well, which is essential to avoid participants switching off, says Meyassed. Additionally, marketing directors from brands that Promise works with update their communities regularly on how their input has contributed to their strategy.

By becoming part of the activity in an online brand community, marketers not only regain a sense of control, but also add greater creative impact to the initiative they have launched

Mike Hall, Verve

Motivation is key for continuous contribution, adds Nic Ray, managing director of Quirk eMarketing, which owns the Idea Bounty platform that Unilever used for its Peperami crowdsourcing campaign. “If you submit five or six briefs that fail to find favour then you could get discouraged, so we are constantly adding new ways of rewarding the community,” Ray explains.

“The top 10% of ideas receive a certificate from Idea Bounty with an endorsement from the brand. We are also introducing leaderboards, so the more briefs our members participate in, the more community points they will get.”

Whether a community is open or closed, having a full-time facilitator will ensure brands get the most out of their endeavour, Promise’s Meyassed maintains. “You need someone to sit down and identify the big themes and trends and sell them back into the organisation.”

Not only does the world of brand communities confuse some marketers, it also makes them uncomfortable at the thought of giving such authority over to a community, says Mike Hall, partner at Verve, which has recently released a report outlining how brand communities should work. “The big issue is control, or rather the relinquishing of it.” 

He adds: “But we have come up with the mantra – participation is the new control. By becoming part of the activity in an online brand community, marketers not only regain a sense of control, but also add a greater creative impact to the initiative they have launched.”

Investing in a community can be difficult for marketers to justify. There is no standard way to calculate a return on delivery for a brand community. Hall advises marketers to compare the activity carried out through an online community with how the same outcome would be achieved through other means.

But deciding on which community strategy to plump for doesn’t mean choosing one or the other, says Phil Soffer, vice-president of product marketing at community technology provider Lithium. “Different options will work in different situations,” he adds. “A lot of brands that have Facebook pages are understanding the nature and limitations of it, and are looking to create synergies with their own brand communities.”

When engaging the masses is key: Social media transforms Coca-Cola campaign into an instant big-hitter

When reaching the masses is the aim of the game for brands, Facebook can be seen as a fast track to a larger audience because it could take longer for a brand to build its own base, according to Dominic Sparkes, managing director of social media management agency Tempero.

For example, Amnesty International launched an appeal via Facebook, Twitter and blogs in May asking its followers on these sites to help fund a press ad to hit out at oil giant Shell and its activities in Nigeria. Amnesty reached 2,300 people and raised £40,000.

BT is another brand that is using Facebook to gain consumer support. It has just run a poll asking consumers to decide how the storyline in its Adam and Jane TV ads should progress. About 1.6 million consumers voted and the next instalment of the campaign has been previewed to thousands of Facebook fans, some of whom have even started their own groups about the characters.

“I have been stunned at how much people love this campaign,” BT retail marketing director Matthew Dearden told Marketing Week in March. 

Coke is about to use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as part of its distribution strategy for its Happiness Machine video. The video, featuring a vending machine in a college campus that delivers flowers, pizzas and unlimited Coca-Cola, is the company’s most successful viral campaign, with more than 2.6 million views on YouTube. The company is now preparing to launch a British version of the ad and wants to appeal to a mass audience, says Coca-Cola vice-president of global interactive marketing Carol Kruse.

Coke’s Facebook page was nearing 11 million members as Marketing Week went

to press. “It was started by Dusty and Michael, two guys in California who love Coke,” says Kruse. “When it got to about 1.5 million members, Facebook made us take it over, so we administrate it along with Dusty and Michael.”

Coke fans post an array of content, including photos, videos, stories and even song lyrics. “We will sometimes do a status update and ask a provocative question, like what’s the craziest place you’ve had a Coke? People will respond with pictures of someone on Mount Everest drinking a can of Coke,” Kruse adds. “While we have a global Facebook page, we let our individual markets execute what they think is right, under our global umbrella.”

Any brand’s Facebook page that generates volume like Coke’s will understand that  moderating is a big job. Tempero’s Sparkes says it’s not just about removing inappropriate language. “We not only make sure the content is clean, but make conversations more meaningful by either responding or driving it in the first place and prompting users to generate content.”

But things can sometimes go awry. Coca-Cola recently axed digital agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine following a Facebook campaign for its Dr Pepper brand, which hijacked users’ statuses and posted embarrassing updates – the most offensive including references to porn videos.

Meanwhile, retailer Habitat last year put its Twitter account in the hands of an “over-enthusiastic intern” which led to the use of inappropriate hashtags such as the Iraq war and the iPhone launch. After a three-month break, it returned to Twitter in September with the message: “This time we want to get it right – tell us what you want to hear from us.” Habitat survived the experience with a first-hand knowledge of how not to engage with a public community and emerged the better for it.

Coke’s Kruse says mass communities can help a brand spread the word if the right strategy is employed. “In the digital world, there are so many needs and opportunities for content that can flow – whether we put it on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube,” she says.

Strictly business: Philips enters the world of the health professionals

Tapping into a business community is helping Philips to reach health professionals. The electronics manufacturer, which produces radiography and cardiology equipment, wants to encourage brand advocacy in this niche community by using the LinkedIn networking tool.

Hans Notenboom, Philips global director for online customer relationship management, says working with LinkedIn is part of the brand’s strategy to be recognised as the thought leader in the health and wellbeing sector. “Hosting a LinkedIn community is creating more brand advocates by building relationships with clinical staff and facilitating dialogue,” he explains.

Notenboom believes that within two years, 95% of brand engagement will happen through websites that have already attracted a critical mass. Its own LinkedIn group has 11,000 members. “You have to go where the audience is,” he says. “Healthcare professionals are registered on LinkedIn in large volumes, so this is a good start for us.”

The frame of mind users are in when they visit the site is important, says LinkedIn’s European managing director Kevin Eyres. “Because LinkedIn is a site where professionals come to establish their identity and exchange information, they are already in a certain mindset. Philips takes advantage of that and initiates the conversation in the right way,” he says.

Seeing social networks in their context is important, he adds: “Facebook is for social sharing, Twitter for public broadcast and LinkedIn about professional connections.”

Standing out among the growing number of brands coming to LinkedIn to converse with a target audience comes down to the quality of the discussion the brand can initiate, having the right types of people in the group, and having effective moderators.

Keeping it close to home: Giffgaff hands over customer service issues to its own community

Giffgaff entered the already crowded mobile market in June, but the O2-owned virtual network operator’s unique selling point rests on its community model, which operates as the company’s main customer service function.

Giffgaff head of member experience Robbie Hearn describes the set-up as “crowdsourcing customer service”, delivering the company savings, which it then passes on to its customers. “The community is at the heart of the business,” he says. “The majority of questions customers ask are answered within the community by members within five minutes. And if the answer they give isn’t correct it will get corrected by someone else in the community, or people will come back and say whether a tip they got worked or not.”

Technical or account-based queries are handled separately, Hearn adds: “Any network issues will be updated regularly by Giffgaff staff through the community and personal account queries are dealt with by the in-house team for privacy reasons.”

The other purpose of Giffgaff’s community is to generate ideas for how the business should be run and what new products should be developed. “Over 400 ideas have been submitted and we tell the community which ones we will go ahead with and which ones we won’t and why,” Hearn reveals, adding that Giffgaff’s latest pricing bundles have been designed largely by the community.

The next step for Giffgaff, says Hearn, is integrating the community’s support function with Facebook, which the company is carrying out through technology provider Lithium. “There are some people who would be happy to talk to us on Facebook but wouldn’t be comfortable talking to us in our forum,” Hearn explains.

Increased traffic to a brand’s website and owning the content are some of the other benefits of hosting a community. But, ultimately, the level of engagement achieved by the likes of Giffgaff makes these communities a powerful tool, says Lithium’s vice-president of product marketing Phil Soffer. “A branded community historically has a certain percentage of customers that become deeply engaged and contribute a lot – these become your brand advocates.”

Davies will now be listed as a “top contributor” within the community, along with copywriter Kevin Baldwin, who came up with the TV and print campaign.

Nic Ray, managing director for Idea Bounty parent company Quirk eMarketing, says the community’s functions are continually being developed to help brands foster the next big idea. Brands will soon be able to ask to connect with a particular member of the community, and they could also connect with the Idea Bounty’s top 100 contributors as opposed to sending something out to its entire network of 14,000 members.

Unilever’s Burgess says that while Peperami as a brand is committed to its crowdsourcing strategy, there are certain brands and briefs where this route would not be appropriate. The Peperami brief contained details of a new product, which Unilever was willing to risk being leaked via the community, but in other cases it would not want to take this risk, adds Burgess.

He says using a crowdsourcing community doesn’t necessarily make the role of the agency redundant. He says: “The only way to crack a brief would probably still be through the agency network and probably will be for many years.”

But many marketers will be tempted to employ the services of a creative crowdsourcing community to help them develop their campaigns. Despite fears that this approach could leave brands open to accusations of IP theft, the $15,000 prize money offered to the winners of the Peperami ad proves that you can foster creative ideas from such communities without breaking the bank. And that’s surely a risk that many marketers are willing to take to get their next big idea on a budget.

Cultivating closed communities for deeper engagement: Promise Communities’ closed groups offer brands valuable insight

Closed communities are being used to provide valuable insight for brands.

Promise Communities facilitates these types of communities and currently runs about 15 live, closed communities for a range of brands, involving more than 10,000 participants.

The company describes its operation as a “24-hour stakeholder advisory board”. This “board” can help brands gather insights towards a number of strategies, such as the development of new products, services and marketing activity, as well as exploring consumer attitudes and needs.

Brands use Promise for different reasons. Prudential and the National Lottery Commission use their stakeholders to gather consumer insight, Tetley and Premier Foods work with Promise to conduct co-creation projects towards new products;

and Kraft, Volvic and the Global Hotel Alliance use their communities for strategy development.

Promise launched the Activia Advisory Board in April as a community of 400 women to tackle two distinct projects for the brand – generating and implementing new product ideas, and finding a new positioning for Activia’s communications. The Activia Single Pot yoghurt was launched as a result, and the community also provided the insight behind the Tummy Loving Care campaign.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media partnered with Promise to launch the Virgin Media Think Tank, a community of 350 members who helped the brand to deepen its customer understanding and to develop new products.

Rick Jenner, head of insight for home phone and mobile at Virgin Media, explains: “The Think Tank has proved to be an effective way of gaining in-depth insight into consumers. It is one of the most appropriate platforms to engage with segments of our customer base and helps us to quickly understand their views and incorporate them into our decision-making process.” used Promise to set up a travel-based community of 400 members, which helped implement 50 improvements to its website. head of marketing Jessica Reading says: “We have been able to co-create ideas with customers and non-customers, helping us to find new ways of displaying information on the site to increase conversion on all our customer touch points.”

Using a closed online community can prove to be a cost-effective market research tool. Following its Advisory Board activity, Activia conducted an Ipsos study that demonstrated the insights generated from the community were 47% more effective than those generated using traditional market research methods such as focus groups.

This online method could end up replacing traditional research channels, suggests Mike Hall, partner at community specialist Verve. “You can do more research with the one community which is less budget and time intensive,” he says.