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Examples of online communities in the TV industry

We return this week to our series of Online Community Examples. There is a lot of talk about the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine – how newspapers are using Twitter and how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. So this week we take a look specifically at examples of online communities in the TV industry

Online communities in the TV industry

The TV industry has a relatively long history of online communities – both fan sites and sites sponsored by the brand itself. People like to discuss both within the fantasy of a programme (fan plot lines, character diaries and so forth) and also discuss the content itself – evaluating what happened, talking about the acting, new characters or a twist in the plot. What is more, there is a real rise in people discussing TV programmes whilst they are being broadcast – people combining the online community experience and the TV experience simultaneously. This industry is fertile ground for online community examples, as the three case studies below show.

Rate My Space

HGTV in the US set up their Rate My Space online community to accompany their broadcast schedule which, as their full name suggests is Home and Garden Television. The concept was originally very simple. Users could upload an image and brief description of a room or part of their house that had been renovated. Others could then vote for or comment on these images. As we’ve discussed before, simple concepts can often be the best ones in online communities, and so it proved in this case. HGTV wanted to both generate engagement and discussions with it’s viewers, and to use the increased volumes of content to increase revenue from advertising on the site. And from an outside perspective they seem to have done both quite successfully. Just looking at the site you can see the speed at which images have views, votes and comments – the engagement they have created and the interest in the site is huge. And also there are reports of considerably increased traffic and advertising revenue from those parts of their site that have online community elements. A further sign of the success of Rate My Space as an online community site is that it has now spun off a TV programme of it’s own. Users are asked to pick rooms on the site that inspire them and then a designer will come to their home and use elements from these to make over a room in their house. So an online community grew out of the broadcast element, and then a new broadcast element grew out of the online community.

Heroes

Heroes is a well-known case study of how a range of online community and social network tools can be used to support a TV show. It is also a good example of how a hub and spoke approach to social media strategy can be the most successful. As well as a central hub (NBC’s Heroes site) they had presences in a range of spokes – other social networks and sites where viewers and fans might be. This approach allowed them to engage with users in a place and in a manner that was appropriate to them, but also to bring them back to their own site where they could share their interest for the show and meet people like them. The range of spokes employed by Heroes was extensive and impressive, from the Ninth Wonder fan site, through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, to widgets, games and a Wiki that explained everything Heroes. The benefit of this approach for them was that it enabled them to reach out to people where they were, often in very active fan sites, and then bring them back to their own territory where they could interact with them and get value from this. They also worked the other way – letting those on their site take widgets and content out to their other social networks and communities and spread the word for the show. This shows that sometimes, in fact in our experience more often than not, a standalone online community does not get the most benefit possible from your target audience. You need to work with the other discussions and online communities out there and build a hub and spoke model of engagement. Engage where people are but as a way to bring them back to your site, where you can both get most benefit.

The Sex Education Show

Channel 4 in the UK has run two frank and educational series on sex and sexuality as part of their public service remit. The first, the Sex Education Show, gave advice and information on sex issues. The second, the Sex Education Show vs Porn, looked at how the portrayal of sex in porn compares with real life experiences. Both shows were successful and both were accompanied by a strong online community: Sexperience. The subject matter of the programme was clearly sensitive, but also highly suited to an online medium. Subjects that can seem sensitive or difficult to discuss face-to-face can be much easier to talk about online. Especially in an online community where you know you are with people like you. You have the benefit of the level of anonymity that online can bring, with the reassurance and community feeling that you get in a well-nurtured online community. And this is why on Sexperience you get a range of discussions that would not happen elsewhere – discussions on penis size, premature ejaculation, and sexually transmitted diseases. An online community can be a safe place and can be a place for people to share information, ask questions and suggest answers on a common theme, subject or issue. The Sexperience site does this well – encouraging and nurturing discussions on sensitive subjects alongside videos, blogs and forums that support this content. Factual programmes and in particular programmes that deal with more sensitive issues or subject matters are prime targets for successful online communities. You can add real value and real service, and you can encourage people to engage at a level they might not otherwise.From the FreshNetworks Blog See all our Online Community Examples Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

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

Using Twitter as an engagement tool

Image via CrunchBase

This has been yet another week where Twitter has featured high in many discussions – in part thanks to the triple impact of Susan Boyle‘s performance on Britain’s got Talent, the Pirate Bay decision and of course Ashton Kutcher‘s one millionth follower. At FreshNetworks we think that Twitter is a great example of how people are innovating with social media – each of these different topics is being made popular by different people using Twitter for different reasons – sharing good content, keeping up-to-date or just following celebrities. One of the main benefits that organisations can get from Twitter is to use it as an engagement tool – as part of a hub-and-spoke approach to social media and online communities. Use it to engage people and then provide them with a destination to go to or a thing to do. Today, I was presenting on this topic and how to get value from Twitter as an engagement tool and you can find the slides below.

Examples of online communities in healthcare

It is a couple of weeks since our last set of online community examples, with trips to the Marketing 2.0 Conference in Paris and Web Mission 09 in San Francisco taking up much of our time and space on the blog. But we’re returning today with a great set of examples from the healthcare industry.

Online communities in healthcare

On one level, healthcare would seem to be an ideal area where online communities can add real value to professionals, patients, families and carers, friends and others. We’ve written before about how user-generated medical content can add value to people’s lives, and why this online space is a great place for people to be sharing their experiences and stories and also finding and connecting with others in a similar situation to them. Online communities for healthcare can provide real insight and real support as the examples below show.

Mayo Clinic Blogs and Podcasts

There are a number of examples of healthcare providers making good use of social media and online communities, and Mayo Clinic are one of the most notable of these. They describe themselves as the largest not-for-profit practice in the world and treat about half a million people in the US each year. Their use of social media is a great case study of how you can use a number of simple tools to engage your stakeholders and how providing a range of ways to engage you can reach different people. At FreshNetworks we believe that sometimes the best online communities can be quite simple, but effective, and this is the case with Mayo. There are three main parts of the Mayo Clinic strategy and together they are starting to build an online community of people with a shared interest in the organisation, and in the topics they cover. On their own website they host a blog and a series of video and audio podcasts. Together, these serve both as a way of them communicating internal developments and changes but also their opinion and expertise. Alongside this they run a YouTube channel where you can see expert videos and also videos that give you a real insight into the organisation, their clinics and the people who work for them. The best online communities are often simple, providing a way to engage people around themes, topics and content that is relevant to them and you. For somebody like Mayo Clinic, this engagement is around their knowledge and expertise as healthcare providers. They also, through their blogs, videos and podcasts open their organisation to outsiders – showing you inside their buildings, putting forward their own experts and putting a human face and interaction on a large organisation. For healthcare organisation this kind of interaction makes all the difference – they’re about social interactions and real stories, online communities help them to show this.

AIDSPortal

AIDSPortal is a knowledge-sharing online community sponsored primarily by the UK’s Department for International Development and aimed at people who are working as part of the response to the global AIDS epidemic. The site provides professional and peer-to-peer networking and an online community where they can share experiences, knowledge and support each other with answers to questions and problems. Part of its purpose is, undoubtedly, to open up policy making and the UK governement sponsorship is a sign of this, but as a service to those working in this area it is a powerful tool. Whilst the Mayo Clinic case study was about engaging around their expertise and knowledge, AIDSPortal is about 4,500 professionals with knowledge, experience and expertise connecting with each other. They can share knowledge and articles, experiences, blog posts and answers to questions. But one of the strongest elements of this site is how it is organised. Any online community is only as useful as the way that users can find and AIDSPortal is particularly strong in the way it organises this, allowing you to view data by region and country or by topic area. You let people dive into the content in a way that makes sense for them and organise their own content so that it fits with this. This is a large part of the battle of getting an online community launched and is an important aspect to work out during the pre-launch strategy stage.

Novartis’s CFVoice

CFVoice is an online community for people with Cystic Fibrosis, built and managed by Novartis, a pharmaceutical company. Launched in March 2008, the site has a clear focus on children, teens and young adults and on their families and carers. The site is indeed split into separate areas for each of these user-types, with a different mix of content, activities and games that each of them can do. This online community is a great example of engaging different people in different ways – using interactive games as a way of younger audiences sharing their information, videos and personal stories for teens and the younger adults and discussion boards and forums for parents and carers. A different way for different members to use and gain benefit from the online community. And for these members, the benefits are clear. They get to meet and share experiences and stories with people like them, people facing the same challenges and issues and people with similar concerns. And they can do this even if they don’t know anybody in that situation or aren’t able to reach them locally. For Novartis the benefits are also clear. Through the stories, questions, discussions and contributions they are able to get a real granularity of insight into the lives of people with Cystic Fibrosis, and the lives of their carers. This kind of insight has traditionally been difficult for them to obtain and is an area they would probably not have had the same level of understanding about. So benefits on both sides and a clear example of how to use an online community to engage different member-types.From the FreshNetworks Blog See all our Online Community Examples Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

Using experts to get real engagement in online communities

Online communities are about engagement, between consumers and between them and the brand. They bring huge benefits for and brand or organisation, from rich insights through innovation and ideas to word of mouth and advocacy. The question we are often asked is why the consumers would take part. Why would they take part in your online community.

My presentation at the Marketing 2.0 conference in Paris earlier this week addressed this very issue and discussed different ways in which you can incentivise people to take part and which of these we have found to be most successful at FreshNetworks.

1. Pay people to take part

We’ve discussed incentives in online communities before and the simple truth is that if you are building an online community that is about long-term engagement and real dialogue then they don’t necessarily have the impact you want. Online communities are about social interactions and social dynamics. Once you pay people or incentivise them to take part (by giving them, for example, vouchers or entry into a prize draw for completing a minimum number of actions each month) you shift the member’s mindset from this social one into a market one. They make a judgement on what you are giving them and how much effort they are willing to expend for this. And the end result is typically that you don’t get the kind of involvement that you want. Some people may do slightly more, but these will be fairly transactional contributions. And you may even dissuade some people from doing as much as they would otherwise.

2. Feedback from the brand

There is a definite benefit in online communities to real feedback from the brand. You are not leading the online community but taking part in it alongside all of the other members. With this in mind you should take part and respond to people in your online community. Feedback is essential and an online community won’t work, won’t grow and won’t meet your objectives if you don’t take part. It should be seen as a normal part of community management, and the way that you reward people for their comments and contributions. They want to know you’re listening and responding so do this.

3. Using your brand’s expertise

Over and above the importance of listening and responding, there is a real power of using the expertise that is inside every organisation to give something back to your community members. All organisations are experts in something – you may be an insurance company that has a lot of information to help home-owners, or you may be a travel firm that has expertise in travel and making the most of your holiday. Whatever your brand and whatever your product you will have expertise that your customers can use. And there is real power in this. By putting yourself forward as experts you are giving people an insight into your brand and an opportunity to engage directly with you. By answering questions from community members, you are incentivising them within a social dynamic rather than giving them money and making their behaviours more transactional. And video brings all of this to life a lot more.

At the conference, I presented a video we have made to showcase how you can use expertise in a community, and you can see this here:

Social media in action – Using expertise in online communities

So our advice is simple. Don’t incentivise people with money or anything equivalent to this. Rather involve yourself in the community – give them feedback and leverage your internal expertise. It’s the best way to launch, grow and build a real online community.

From the FreshNetworks Blog
Read all of our posts based on the Marketing 2.0 Conference here

The lies behind online ratings and reviews

Ratings and reviews lie. Simple, subtle lies, but lies all the same. And I suspect most people will never know.
‘Professional’ reviews
The first time I realized what a con ratings could be was when I visited Dubai. I was travelling with a group of friends and one of them booked the hotels. It was quite a surprise to hear we’d booked into a 5-star hotel for what seemed like a 3-star price. It transpired that this was not because my friend had negotiated a great deal, but because hotel stars in Dubai are dispersed as liberally as banking bonuses. Dubai is the land of the 7-star hotel and I’m afraid that has nothing to do with the Burj Al Arab being better than the 5-star Carlyle in New York or Cipriani in Venice.
Thankfully, one of the great things about online consumer-generated Ratings and Reviews is their ability to bypass the bias that could come from the reviewer benefiting from the review. At least that’s true so long as the reviews are honest and any bias is stated. If enough ‘ordinary’ people are writing the reviews then they ought to be trustworthy. And I am sure they are. However bias does still remain and so do a couple of other hidden lies of ratings and reviews.
The Growth of online ratings and reviews
First a little bit about the explosive growth of ratings and reviews across the web. Ratings and reviews are an excellent way to build a sense of community on a website, to improve customer service and increase loyalty. They have also proven to be a great way for retailers to increase sales. A key part of their growth stems from the escalating importance of Word-of-Mouth (WOM):

  • Trust in a ‘person like me’ tripled to 68% in 2008 v’s 2004 (Edelman, 2008)
  • 84% of consumers now trust user reviews more than critics’ reviews (MarketingSherpa, 2007)

Furthermore, their presence has driven a significant change in behaviour ‘ Most of us are now using online ratings and reviews before making purchasing decisions:

  • ’76% use online reviews to help make purchase decisions’ (Forrester Research, 2007).
  • 78% say consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising (Nielsen, 2007),

What retailers have come to realise is that their customers trust each other more than they trust the brand. So providing that your products aren’t junk, it’s far better to let consumers advocate your products to one another than to attempt to persuade them by shoving marketing messages down their throats. The result? Retailers have been adding ratings and reviews to their websites. and they have:

  • helped customers make better decisions
  • increased sales
  • reduced the number of returns because consumers were able to make a better buying decision


Concerns about negative ratings and reviews
Despite all the evidence, we at FreshNetworks still run into uncertainty when discussing ratings and reviews with online retailers. Especially amoung UK-based retailers, there first reaction is often nervousness.

‘Surely people only write a review when they’re really annoyed about something. So if we allow reviews we’ll end up with loads of nasty comments”

It’s an understandable concern, however it’s baseless. When it comes to online reviews for products consumers are far more generous than you might think. Assuming ratings are on a scale from 1 to 5, we’d expect 2.5 to be the average score for reviews. With this in mind, it’s rather impressive that the average score accross the web is actually more like 4.3 (BazaarVoice, 2008).

Even if you do get negative reviews, there is strong evidence that negative reviews are good for retailers ‘ preventing returns and giving more credibility to websites. Woot is a great example of this.
So how to ratings and reviews lie?
There are four key ways in which ratings and reviews lie. There may be more but these are the ones that jump out at me. 1. There is no ‘zero’ score.
Ask most people ‘When is a product good or bad’? and they’ll say above 2.5 is good and below 2.5 is bad. The assumption is that 2.5 is the mean average score that can be awarded. However that’s simply not the case. The vast majority of five-point scales force you to allocate 1,2,3,4,or 5 stars. If you thought a product or service was rubbish, you cannot give it zero; that does not count as a rating. As a result the mean score that can be awarded is 3 not 2.5. This is great for retailers who have ratings and reviews on their site as most items will appear to be better than average even when they are not. 2. Self-selection bias in ratings and reviews
there are three kinds of purchase bias that add to ‘the lie’. The first is self-selection bias. Ask me to rate the restaurant behind my office and I won’t. I’ve never eaten there because I don’t like the way it looks. As a result I have selected myself out of being able to review its food or service. Thus, ratings and reviews’ second lie comes from the self-selection bias inherent in the need for people to have experienced a product or service before rating it. I know that restaurants which sell all you can eat buffets for ??3.50 serve poor quality meat, so I’m not going to buy and I’m not going to review. The people who do review are those who for a given product or service had a reasonable expectation that it would fulfill their needs when making the purchase. Hence the group of potential reviewers is biased from the outset. 3. Choice-supportive bias
The second type of purchase bias comes post-purchase. Choice-supportive bias describes our tendency to recall positive feelings or memories to the choice we made. We tend to remember the positive things about the options we chose more than we remember the positive attributes of the alternatives we did not select. 4. Post-purchase rationalization
The third and final purchase bias is post-purchase rationalisation. This bias comes from our tendency to retrospectively justify our decisions as rational ones. We humans prefer to feel that we made good selections not poor ones. So if you ask me whether or not I liked a product that I just spent my hard earned money on, you’re going to get a positive review more frequently than you get a negative one ‘ we like to feel our past choices have been rational and well made.
It is the sum of these biases that results in an average five-star review of 4.3. That’s a long distance from 2.5.

Despite the lies, Ratings and Reviews are great

I’ve had a bit of a go at Ratings and Reviews, but that does not stop me from liking them. They are excellent tools for online retailers and they do a great service to customers. Just like a review on the back-cover of a book or a politician’s statistics, we should always treat claims with care. And so long as that’s done everyone still stands to benefit. For one thing, if ratings and reviews are considered on a relative basis (as is often the case) then the absolute number does not matter in the least. And let’s be honest, right now, anything that encourages people to buy more is a good thing for the economy and for all of us. What do you think?Post by: Charlie Osmond, Founder and CEO of FreshNetworksFrom the FreshNetworks Blog Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

Examples of online communities in the financial services industry

For this week’s instalment in our series of online community examples we turn to the financial services industry.

Online communities in the financial services industry

There’s no escaping the fact that the financial services industry has been hit hard by the current economic climate. But like any industry at the moment, now is a great time to innovate in the way financial services companies communicate with and engage their customers. There are some really informed examples of social media by financial services brands and below are three great case studies of online communities in the industry from around the world.

Royal Bank of Canada Next Great Innovator

Since 2007, the Royal Bank of Canada has been running the Next Great Innovator Challenge, an online competition for university and college students across Canada to suggest an innovation for the financial services industry. The competition runs on an online community site that invites those taking part to submit their ideas, and to comment on and vote for those that others have submitted. This turns the competition into an example of real consumer co-creation. Allowing consumers to work together with each other to suggest and refine ideas that will change the financial services industry in Canada. The online community also performs a number of other functions. It is a way for the Royal Bank of Canada to share its ideas and information about innovation, business change and the financial services industry. They are using the challenge as a way to reach those often turned-off by discussions about financial services (university and college students) and then engages them through the online community. This site is a great way of getting new ideas into the business, engaging an often difficult-to-inspire audience and also to build relationships with people who will potentially be valuable customers to the bank in the future.

HSBC Business Network

The HSBC Business Network is an online community for both customers and non-customers, allowing businesses and entrepreneurs to share information with and gain information from their peers. It is a good example of brands using online communities to provide a service that compliments and enhances their existing product portfolio. Here they are providing business advice and networking opportunities, not something that HSBC has previously offered on this scale, but something that it is very possible for them to do using online communities. The site has gathered over 1,000 members since the start of 2008, and like any peer-to-peer advice and support community it’s value will really depend on the growth of its member base and then on these members being active in the community itself. The forum areas are currently popular and active and reflect both ongoing business and entrepreneurial concerns (such as how to manage staff) and topical talking points (cash collection in the credit crunch). It would be great to see these grow with time and also to see how HSBC use the resource they have created. Online communities in the financial services industry offer a great opportunity for peer advice and support to be combined with expert commentary from the organisation itself. Leveraging this expertise and mixing it with user discussions and comments can be a great way for the organisation to grow and build the size and value of the community, position itself as an expert in the area, and to learn from (and with) its consumers)

Wesabe

Wesabe is a money-management site and online community for people who want to share advice about personal finance decisions. It combines the kind of money-management tools you get in Quicken or Microsoft Money but adds a social layer on top of this. Users can add tags to their frequent purchases and become a ‘fan’, ‘user’ or ‘captive’ of the service or product. They can find other users in a similar situation and share advice and information with them to help them improve their financial decision-making. The social media element of the site also allows peer-to-peer financial advice, tips and information. And this is shown as relevant based on each users own situation and information they have entered into their profile. Wesabe is a great site and a great example of adding a social layer to an existing service. Money management tools are useful from an organisational perspective. By adding the social layer and letting people in similar circumstances find, interact and share advice with each other the site becomes a lot more useful. It stops being just an organisational tool and starts being a real service that they are gaining from. As with the HSBC example, this online community shows how using peer advice and support can be successful for organisations in the financial services industry. Online communities offer a way for people in similar situations to find each other and to support each other. Whilst you might not know somebody personally in the same situation as you, an online community can help you to find them and then for you t o help and support each other.From the FreshNetworks Blog See all our Online Community Examples Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

Examples of online communities in the travel industry

For the next in our series of Online Community Examples we are looking at examples of online communities in the travel industry

Online communities in the travel industry

The travel industry is one well suited to online communities focused on engagement. Whether you’re an airline, holiday company or hotel chain, your guests typically only experience the brand on a limited number of occasions annually. They may be leisure travellers who might only stay at your hotel once per year or even business travellers who use your airline each time they fly to New York. In all cases the experiences these consumers have with your brand are limited and for a fixed period of time only. Online communities offer you a way to extend this brand experience between visits or experiences, they allow you to engage and interact with your consumers even when they are not staying at your hotel or flying your airline. This is of critical importance when it comes to rebooking – if you can keep your brand at the forefront of your consumers’ minds then they are more likely to rebook with you. If you can offer them extra services, or offer a way to extend their holiday experience, they are more likely to rebook with you. The three examples below show different ways in which companies in the travel industry are using online communities to engage their customers with a view to increasing customer loyalty.

Best Western’s On the Go with Amy

One of the real benefits of social media for travel is it puts a human and personal face on what is a very personal experience. One reason why people use Tripadvisor so much is that it contains real reviews from real people talking about their own experiences. But rather than just using experiences as reviews, we can also use personal experiences as inspiration tools. And this is what Best Western do so well with On the Go with Amy. As with many great examples of online communities, On the Go with Amy is simple concept, but one that delivers well against Best Western’s objectives. The community is a blog from travel journalist Amy Graff, where she share first hand travel experience and chronicles her trips and visits. From a business trip to New York to a family road tip down Route 66 in the US. By using this medium, Best Western are putting the excitement and experience back into travel. They are giving people a set of first-hand experience and by juxtaposing business and leisure travel they are associating themselves with both of these experiences. Amy has become the company’s travel spokesperson. As well as chronicling her own travel, she gives on issues from advice on travel accessories and on historical sites to visit with children. This community gives people a real insight into travel, ideas and advice but does it with a personal voice and a very public face. The site is clearly branded and supported by Best Western but it is not overtly selling their hotels. It is engaging people in a personal experience, which is what travel is all about.

Marmara’s Marmarafit

Marmara is a French travel agency that specialises in package holidays in the Mediterranean. They have a loyal customer base and people will often return to a Marmara resort for their annual holidays. In 2008 they launched an online community site to allow people to continue their experience even when they are not on holiday. The community site has two basic parts:

  1. Marmaramis: every Member who joins the community gets a profile which allows you to upload photos of your vacations, tell the community where you have been on holiday and which resort you are going to next (and the dates). You can also make friends with people you have met on holiday or with people you are going away with.
  2. ClubMarmara: using this profiling data, individual members can be associated with the Resorts to which they have been or that they are going to. Their photos, videos and discussions are associated with the relevant Resort.

The site provides a way for people to share their experiences when they get back from holiday, keep in touch with friends they met on Resort and post photos and videos of their vacation to share with these people. They can also find people who are going to be on the same holiday as them before they go, ask questions about Resorts they have never been to and find out what it is really like in the words of people who have been before. In this respect, the site is a great customer retention tool. It provides a way for customers to extend the holiday experience even when they are not away. But the site also offers significant benefits in terms of customer acquisition. It is building a large quantity of discussions and descriptions of holidays, great both from a search perspective but also as peer-to-peer marketing. If you have never been to a particular resort before, or indeed never been on vacation with Marmara, you can read real reviews, see real photos and even contact people who have been on holiday to ask them for their thoughts. Getting your customers to really do you marketing for you.

Qantas Travel Insider

Many airlines have launched online community sites in the last year. We have already written about BA’s MetroTwin and the Air France-KLM Bluenity sites. Qantas launced it’s own online community at the end of 2008: Qantas Travel Insider. The site is aimed specifically at the airline’s Frequent Flyers and allows them to describe their first-hand experiences of destinations, recommending places to stay, eat or drink and things to do in the various cities to which Qantas flies. This is a clever use of passenger experiences and knowledge. The Frequent Flyers are the ones who know the destinations best, and they are also those most likely to find themselves going to a new city and needing advice like this. By focusing on this group, Qantas is also catering for the desire for us to share with and learn from ‘people like me’. The Frequent Flyers will associate with each other and so lend credibility to the advice. Alongside the user-generated travel advice, Qantas Travel Insider also has a large amount of more editorial content. From articles and recommendations to blogs and the Ask the Crew feature. This is a good approach to online communities – users don’t necessarily care about who gives them advice or tips, they just want to know that it is both from a credible source and of use to them. Mixing user-generated content with editorial content and expert advice can be successful online community strategy. In the case of Qantas, it also lets them use their own expertise – getting cabin crew to answer questions about things to do and places to go at destinations. Adding a concierge service to their on-board service and thus really enhancing the passenger experience.From the FreshNetworks Blog See all our Online Community Examples Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

Social media diary 27/2/2009 – UK National Museums

Nine museums in the UK launch Creative Spaces

This week in the UK saw the beta launch of Creative Spaces. An online community and federated search project across nine National Museums, part of the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP) and involving the Tate, V&A, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, Royal Armouries, Wallace Collection and Sir John Soanes’ Museum. The core idea is to provide a way for people to find, discuss and be inspired by the collections of all these museums.

The project really has two components:

  1. A federated search, allowing users to search and explore the collections across all nine museums in one place, online.
  2. An online community, allowing people to create notebooks (their own collections combining objects from the museums with their own content), create and join groups and review and add comments to objects that they like (or otherwise, of course).

It’s been an ambitious project, running for a number of years and the outcomes are exciting. The ability to search across and explore the collections is of huge value. But the social elements of the site allow individuals to essentially curate their own experience. Bringing objects from the different museums together with their own content, annotating them and making their own notebook – an exhibition for others to view and comment on.

So what can we learn from this?

This is a great example of using social media and online communities in a museums context. But it is also a great example of When thinking about how to use social media and online communities, it is important for brands and organisations to explore what it is they can uniquely offer. What do they have that they can share with people, and why would people come to a site that they were running to interact. With Creative Spaces, I think these nine museums have got it right. They have not just launched an online community, asking people to talk about art – there are many places you can do that. What these organisations can offer that is different is access to their catalogues, and by coming together to make Creative Spaces they are offering something even more unique – the ability to search the collective catalogues of some of the leading museums in the UK. They have something unique and of value that they can offer to people with this search, and also with the online community they have built to support this. One problem with some online communities is that they focus too much on forums and verbal communication. Other media can sometimes be a more effective way of communicating: video can be a great way to engage some people, others want to express themselves with images or objects. In a museums context this becomes even more important. I may not want to discuss my reaction to an object, but I might want to upload an image of my own as a reaction to it. Creative Spaces lets you do this, and indeed let’s you curate your own collection (they call it a notebook) with objects from the collections alongside your own content or content you’ve got from elsewhere. This is clever, allowing people to react and respond in whatever medium is most appropriate to them. Creative Spaces is a great idea, it brings social media to a museums context and creates a social experience online that centres on the unique content these museums have – their own collections. It’s easy to set up a site and expect people to come and engage there, but this rarely happens. You need to build a site that meets a need and offers something new, leveraging your own position to give a real reason for people to come and engage on your site rather than elsewhere. If you decide to join up, feel free to add me as a contact: Matt Rhodes. (In interest of open disclosure, I should say that FreshNetworks has done some strategy work with the NMOLP to help them launch and grow Creative Spaces. But it would always have been a great example of social media!)From the FreshNetworks Blog
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Social media diary 13/2/2009 – Agent Provocateur

Image via Wikipedia

Agent Provocateur engages women consumers across multiple platform

Appropriately for the day before Valentine’s Day, this week saw lingerie brand, Agent Provocateur, launch a social media campaign to promote its HelloAgentProvocateur blog. As you might expect from a lingerie brand, the blog includes a range of posts from the relatively tame advice on relationships and dating, to the more provocative (appropriately enough). One recent post, for example, included a post featuring a chart of exciting and mood-killing things to say during sex. Alongside the blog post, they’ve launched a Facebook page and also a Twitter stream allowing micro blogging from MsProvocateur. The idea, according to Scott Goodson, CEO of StrawberryFrog, the agency working on the project,

…is the first time a luxury fashion brand has launched a provocative social media campaign tying together their various data-linked platforms, like a multi-entry daily blog, Twitter feed and Facebook

With a launch tied into a new ad campaign (itself designed to coincide with Valentine’s Day), this looks like a real attempt for a co-ordinated marketing approach. Using traditional and social media and then tying together online activities with a central micro blog.

So what can we learn from this?

We wrote earlier this week about the continued growth of social networks in 2008, and in particular the tremendous growth for both Facebook and Twitter. What Agent Provocateur appear to be doing is to use the different social network tools and online community platforms to engage people in different ways.

  • The blog is being used for regular posts that discuss issues of relationships, dating, and Agent Provocateur’s products in some depth. They run news and features alongside it and this really capitalises on the role that a blog can play as a content-rich information source.
  • Facebook is being used to showcase content and ideas from the blog and the campaign, and to gather friends. It capitalises upon the networking aspect of Facebook by encouraging people to connect with it. This is much softer than some of the activities that take place on the blog and reflects the difficulty that brands have marketing directly in Facebook (and other social networks).
  • The use of Twitter allows Agent Provocateur to bring together all of this activity and to broadcast what they are doing and saying on a regular basis. They can capture contacts in a way similar to in Facebook, but Twitter offers something really different. It’s not just a medium for releasing content (as is the case with the blog) nor on for accumulating friends and showcasing the best of what’s going on (as is the case with Facebook). Twitter allows them to actually engage.

It is rewarding to see that even with only 351 followers on Twitter, MsProvocateur is starting to engage and respond to people directly. When one follower tweated about the gifts their boyfriend had bought them, MsProvocateur responded with some thoughts on gifts that are good to buy in return. The real value of Twitter is both in acting as a central portal to bring together and point to all social media activity, and also a true engagement tool. In fact, when brands use Twitter, it really is a case of the more you put in the more you will get out. It is worth finding people who are talking about your brand or the topics and subjects you discuss and following them. Do respond to people, give advice and suggestions. And make this not just an overt marketing message. Really engage people and you will then reap the benefits of this activity in sales. It’s not the use of Twitter that we like of Agent Provocateur’s campaign (although it is good), nor the topical nature of the subject. Rather it is that they are using a range of social media tools to engage people in different ways. A sensible approach.From the FreshNetworks Blog
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