I came across this interesting article in ReadWriteWeb that discusses how the enterprise has not yet quite dived head first into virtual worlds, even though it has been around since 1995. Virtual worlds are different because it recreates social interaction found in real-life in a digital space. Steven Walling mentions three key functions that can benefit virtual teams in an enterprise which are social networking, real-time collaboration between teams, and interactive training. While these functions are great, what are some functions of virtual worlds that are beneficial in reaching consumers?
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 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
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 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
Sydney uses MySpace to attract visitors
This week saw the launch of MySpace MySydney, a community for people who want to move to Sydney on a working visa. The page pitches itself as an online community and ‘Ben’ is your host (he’s the one on the video on the homepage). The site contains information on how to get a visa, travel information, advice on Sydney as a place to live and work and also aims to be a hub for networking with others in the same situation as you.
The site is from the Tourism New South Wales who are hoping to capitalise upon recent changes in the work and holiday visa regulations for US students. It’s now easier than it was for those from North America to get these visas and this MySpace site supports a wider marketing and social media push accompanying the change.
So what can we learn from this?
We’ve covered a lot of travel initiatives recently in the Social Media Diary – from BA’s Metrotwin, to Amex’s community for travel managers and Air France-KLM’s Bluenity. Travel is certainly an area where social networking and online communities are being used more and more to engage people. We see this at FreshNetworks, where the latest community we helped to launch this week is for a big UK travel brand. Travel has a number of great hooks for activities in social media – some people need information and have questions that other users can answer based on their experiences, it’s a subject that lends itself well to media and there is the opportunity for connecting people doing similar things in similar places. We’re seeing different travel brands trying different things – from setting up their own online communities, to interacting with people on Facebook or MySpace, providing social networking tools or just blogging.
Some of these initiatives are successful and some aren’t. What it seems that Sydney hope to achieve with this site is to present a lot of genuinely useful information in a way that is relevant to their target audience. They also hope to leverage some social networking – getting people in similar situations to get together, meet each other, share ideas and thoughts and between them build the usefulness of the site. This is an interesting proposition and I’ll be following how it pans out. Whilst I can see the clear benefit of the marketing and informational element of the site, I’ll be watching to see how (and in fact if) the social networking side of the proposition develops.
Whilst we often say that it is difficult for a brand to get a real presence in a social network, there is a real power of social networks to help people find others going through the same situation or with similar interests to them. It may be that getting people considering a move to Sydney to meet each other in MySpace might just work. We’ll wait and see.
From the FreshNetworks Blog
Air France-KLM launch Bluenity, the ‘first’ social network for the airline industry
Today Air France-KLM launch what they claim is the ‘first’ social network for the airline industry: Buenity. Once signed-up, members will be able to share tips on hotels, restaurants and shopping at destinations across the globe. But the real USP of the site is that is allows members to make their travel plans public – showing their flight bookings made through KLM or Air France. They can then find other members on the same flight or in the same locations when they are.
There are some obvious benefits to this – people to meet in the lounge and to travel, people to share taxis with, people to meet for dinner or business or just a way for people to share ideas with others who are similar to them. As Patrick Roux, Senior Vice President Marketing at Air France-KLM, says:
This is a response to those customers who would like to be proactive on their trip, whether they are travelling for professional or leisure purposes. From 7 November onwards, travellers and especially the 75 million customers who choose our two airlines every year, will be able, by using Bluenity, to meet before, during and after their flight
So what can we learn from this?
Whilst I’m not sure that this is the ‘first’ airline social network (see the launch of BA’s MetroTwin), but the proposition certainly is an interesting one. When we are working with clients at FreshNetworks, building online communities for them, we spend quite some time identifying why an online community could work in this situation and what the connection between and motivation of members would be. In this case it is clear that the commonality between members is first that they are both customers (maybe regular travellers on) Air France and/or KLM, and second that they might both share a closer experience – the same destination or flight.
I would expect the team who built this site to have looked into this shared experience in quite some detail. Do people who fly want to interact in this way? How do they currently meet people and spend their time in the lounge and on the place? How much do they actually want to engage and how much of this do they want to do online.
With the launch last week of LinkedIn Applications it is now possible for your TripIt travel plans to be visible there so that people can see where you are going and so that you can find others going to the same place. It will be interesting to see if users are more likely to use this kind of service than they are to use a site like Bluenity. Airfrance-KLM do have the significant benefit of a direct link to their reservations engine which makes the whole process much simpler, but I expect this will be a good case study of whether people prefer a separate social network or a widget to help them in this goal.
Of course, at FreshNetworks we know that travel is a vibrant market for online communities and social networks. It’s a sector that a lot of our clients come from and a sector where engagement with your customers and guests is critical. It should be no surprise that Air France-KLM have entered the fray. I’d expect most of the big players in this sector to be doing the same in 2009.
From the FreshNetworks Blog
Amex to launch online community for travel managers
One of the best examples I know of a brand using information they have to add a social layer to their site is the Members Know site from American Express. On this site Amex use the data from spending using their cards to highlight restaurants and hotels in certain cities that are popular with their members. Once you’ve signed up you can share your thoughts on these establishments and exchange travel tips with other business traveller. Today, they are launching a new online community, and this time it isn’t aimed at the business travellers, but at the people who organise their travel for them.
Business Travel Connexion is aimed at corporate travel managers and will combine editorial from Amex and other suppliers with user-generated content. Amex hope to create a real-time resource for the members and also build a fairly homogeneous community of a group of people who would valuable to marketers. They will be able to share information and ideas with each other and also with Amex and other suppliers. The site includes a “Product Lab” area for feedback and co-creation.
So what can we learn from this?
Amex are a great example of how brands are adding social layers to their existing sites and products, delivering real value to people and making the most of the product and information they already have. With Members Know they took data that previously wasn’t used externally (data on spending in hotels and restaurants) and repackaged this in a way that was both useful for members and encouraged them to interact and upload their own content. In the same way, Business Travel Connection, links a set of individual customers who are isolated (often working with no peers in their organisation) but who share a strong common bond (they all deal with the same problems). That they can be linked through the Amex brand is even more powerful.
When thinking about ‘going social’ – building online communities or using social media – too many firms build approaches that don’t always address their unique position in the market or capitalise upon what they may have to offer. Amex have done things the right way. They’ve thought about their strategy and about why people would engage in an online community that they manage; and about what they have to offer that’s different. These are important stages and ones that we at FreshNetworks spend a lot of time on with clients. Working out why people will engage and why they will engage on your site is a critical first step to any online community