More than just talking heads: How to pick a Community Consultant

By Dawn Lacallade, Community Manager at SolarWinds

Like picking a Doctor, Lawyer or Tax Professional, picking the right Consultant can make or break your effort to build a great Community for your company or organization. I have chatted with many of you who have chosen poorly and several who have chosen well and tried to put your lessons learned into print here for others.

In my opinion, this is a lot like a good hiring process:

1. Understand who you are looking for and why

2. Find candidates that match

3. Ensure you do a good background check

1. The first thing you must do is to decide what kind of consultant you are looking for. Do you want an agency to run a campaign or someone to build a comprehensive, goals based, long term plan? Are you looking for someone to just build a plan or someone who will continue on and share best practices as you implement?

One big caution: Do not hire someone who has a focus on a single tool for an overarching strategy. It would be like going to a surgeon for diagnosis.

2. To find the best Consultants, rely on Word of Mouth. What companies do you want to emulate? Who did they use? Many of those of us in the trenches of this industry will gladly point you to a few that we respect.

Unfortunately, this space seems to attract people who manufacture credibility. Look carefully. Credibility DOES NOT equal the number of blog posts or the size of the twitter following. Look for actual experience.

3. Now that you have a couple of companies to ‘interview’, be sure to take a complete look into their backgrounds. Do the Consultants you would be working with have solid backgrounds in delivering communities? Can they show the goals that were set and the ROI they achieved? Can they customize a plan to fit you or do they use a one size fits all model? Do they have experience with a range of community tools? Can they give you contacts at the companies they have worked with as references? Are they willing and able to transfer their expertise and knowledge to you within the working relationship?

One of the most challenging things to evaluate is their ethics. A good starting point is to ensure they agree with and practice within the WOMMA code of ethics.

Meet the speakers of Community 2.0!

Community 2.0 is next week, May 11-13, 2009, in San Francisco. We’re offering you 25% discount when you register for the conference using the code XM2105Link.

Find out more information here: .
We hope to see you there!

Before then, a few of the speakers took some time to share what they’re presenting on at the event. Check them out!

Anna Boyarsky is the President of Method Fan Club aka Advocacy Manager, at MethodHome. Beth will be participating in the panel discussion ‘Growing a Community Organically’ on Wednesday, May 13.

Listen to the podcast here:

Beth Murphy is the Head of Marketing & Communications at Digg. Beth will be participating in the panel discussion ‘Don’t Just Survive, Thrive. Tips & Techniques for Sustaining Your Community’ on Tuesday, May 12.

Listen to the podcast here:

Matt Warburton the Interim Director is the Enterprise Community Marketing at LinkedIn. Matt will be presenting ‘Voice of the Customer Programs-Using Insight Communities to Drive Your Business’ on Wednesday, May 13.

Listen to his podcast here:

Video advertising in-stores

In the most recent edition of CPG Matters, they look at the research efforts Coca Cola performed to figure out how customers would react to in-store advertising via video screens. They placed these videos in the Pharmacy aisle, at check out stands, and the grocery and pet care aisles.

Sales results were what Fleener called ‘dramatic’: percentage increases in the high single digits, he said, directly tied to when and where the in-store media network played the spots. ‘Not only did it drive specific Coke sales, but also the whole soft-drink category, although Coke benefited most,’ he said.

Read the full report here.

Community 2.0 West Coast Meetup

Do You live in the SAN FRAN area?

Would you like to meet with your peers in an environment conducive to ideation and networking? Would you care for a couple cocktails to top it off? Find out more about how YOU can join the industry’s best social media experts May 12 at the Palace Hotel, at 5:30pm.

To RSVP, visit our meetup page!

Customer service is about finding a way to say yes

In the Ann Arbor News, they recently profiled Golden Limousine, which was started with two limousines in 1992 by Sean and Donna Duval. Duval learned the value of customer service from working at McDonalds for eight years, mostly in management. Seventeen years later, through the knowledge that great customer service can make any business work, they’ve developed an international executive leisure transportation company.

Sean provided some valuable quotes while being interviewed by this newspaper:
“Customer service is about an attitude. It’s not about being servile or menial or beneath you. It’s about finding ways to say ‘yes.’

How do you find new customers?

At Daily News, they recently took at look at how a business can keep bringing new customers in your door. Even though the list is meant for small businesses, everyone can profit from a few of the suggestions.

  1. Develop a plan
  2. Realize there is no one path to success
  3. Work your local media
  4. Infiltrate events
  5. Followup
  6. Give a little to get a lot
  7. Work your personal network
  8. Check out the competition
  9. Use multiple ads
  10. Ask for feedback

What have you seen work the best for you from the list above?

Social Media Brandjacking

Frederick Felman of writes, Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can be a boon to marketing, but they can also be a threat if not properly managed. What happens when someone outside your organization sets up a profile using the name of your brand, your spokesperson, or some other piece of your IP? The solution is proactive prevention.

What sort of proactive prevention must companies and marketers do to make sure that the brand does not fall into the wrong hands? Felman offers up a few suggestions on ways to stop the “hijackers” before they start.

First, sign up for the leading social media sites, even if you aren’t sure they really apply to you.

Second, search for every brand name you want to protect, including your company name, the names of your products, characters, spokespersons (or spokes critters, as the case may be) and any other intellectual property you may have out there.

Third, if you find that there’s an infringement of your intellectual property, start with a low-key effort.

For more tips and guidance on what to do, or not to do, in a social media situation, check out the rest of Felman’s post.

The Cure for Social Media Brandjacking

No recession for certain food markets

In the most recent edition of the Quirk’s Newsletter, they look at the food markets that Americans aren’t neglecting due to tighter pocketbooks. They are: bread, sweet spreads (like peanut butter), frozen meals, side dishes and coffee.

Bill Patterson, senior analyst at Mintel, the company who conducted the study said,
“As consumers spend less and stay in more, certain food markets are benefiting. These recession-proof, or rather recession-fueled, industries are destined to do well throughout the economic downturn, but it will be interesting to track their sales after the nation recovers,” says

The Speakers of Community 2.0: Anna Boyarksy

Today, we’re speaking with Anna Boyarksy, President of Method Fan Club aka Advocacy Manager, at MethodHome. Beth will be participating in the panel discussion ‘Growing a Community Organically’ on Wednesday, May 13.

Listen to the podcast here.

And as a reader of the Community 2.0 blog, we’d like to invite you to join us at Community 2.0 from May 11-13, 2009, in San Francisco. We’re offering you an exclusive 25% discount when you register for the conference using the code XM2105Link. We hope to see you there!

Community 2.0:

Join us at Community 2.0:

When online research communities don’t live up to their promise

We’ve written before about the real power that online research communities can bring to a brand, and also of the way in which you can get insight from any online community. The promise of rich insight is great – real people talking to each other about your brand, market and competitors. They provide a real hub for innovation and co-creation and give you access to real-time insight. But sometimes they just don’t seem to work, they just don’t deliver what you might expect. At FreshNetworks we have built online communities from scratch, and also worked with organisations who have an incumbent online research community that isn’t living up to its promise. Through this experience we’ve developed the following four tips to help discover what the problem might be:

1. Do you actually have a panel, not a community?

Research panels and online research communities are very different. They work in different ways, deliver different types of research and insight and are useful for different business objectives. The biggest failing that we see with online research communities is that what you really have is a panel of people and not a community. The discussions tend to be between the brand or agency and community member, rather than peer-to-peer in the community. And you find that the majority of your traffic comes when you send an email about an activity, survey or discussion that you want people to respond to. This can be the most difficult problem to solve. You need to think again about who you want to engage and why and build an engagement strategy alongside your research plan.

2. Do your community members actually want to engage with you?

Wanting to engage with people in an online community is really only half of the story. There are probably lots of things that you want them to do, but do they really want to do them? And if so do they want to do them in your community? The difference between an online research community and other forms of market research is that you want to build and grow a community of people to work with to help you for insight and research. You can’t call through a list of people until you find those who want to answer your questions. You need to build a community that targets and meets the requirements of the people you want to engage so that they will be there to answer your questions when you have them. If they don’t actually want to engage with you, this can be difficult.

3. Are you incentivising in the right way?

The topic of incentives is one much discussed in market research – should you incentivise people, for what behaviours and with what reward? Get your incentive structure wrong and you will encourage and grow the wrong behaviours. People will only contribute to your online research community to an extent they think appropriate for what they are getting in return. The signs that your incentivisation structure is wrong includes unusually larger churn-rates. Indeed you might see the higher rates of churn typical of a research panel, rather than the low churn rates we see in online research communities. You’ve moved people from the social context of the community to a market context where they aren’t engaging with you but transacting.

4. Are you part of your community?

The role of the brand and agency is changing with the growth of online research communities (a topic I shall be returning too at the Online Research Methods conference in London June). One major change is that rather than the agency and brand always asking the questions, and the respondent answering, the playing field is levelled somewhat. Online research communities only really work if you play a role in the community as a peer, rather than trying to lead or direct it. You have questions to ask and activities that you want people to do, but you also need to join in the conversations. Don’t always ask questions, but answer some too. Join the forums, talk about yourself – give a face and a name to the research and the brand. This makes the experience better and fairer for everybody. And also more enjoyable for you. Where this doesn’t happen, where the agency or brand hides behind an ‘Admin’ name, or doesn’t engage in the community, you miss out on a whole range of real, rich benefits. So, if you see an online research community that you think just isn’t living up to its promise then ask these four question of it. Of course, identifying the problem is less than half the battle. The next step is to fix it.From the FreshNetworks Blog Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog