Archives for posts with tag: community

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The Internet is great. If you like data, the Internet is perfect for you. You can easily get overwhelmed by stats, not understanding the metrics that really matter. All this data is worthless unless you count the numbers that really make a difference.

The Internet is enormous – you can achieve scale rather quickly and fairly easy. As easy as you might make the mistake to chase volume over meaning. If you want to attract a quality audience should you try to use every SEO trick in the book or facilitate an engaged community? If you want to make money with your site, should you deploy many slide shows and photo galleries with low value or engage through high value content?

People love to do stuff on the Internet. The best metrics are often those that relate to people doing what the Internet is best at – interacting. Unfortunately, humans are extremely complex, so the way in which we measure it can be over-simplified. Just look at click-through rates. The average is now 0.1% or lower. You could say that out of 1,000 impressions served, at least 1 person was clicking. Buy gazillions of impressions and you can get thousands of people to click. Or, you could say that 0.1% means, 99.9% of people didn’t care about ad and your work is an utter failure.

Some say banner ads don’t work at all. Or they are not working hard enough. Putting them in the right context makes sense, making them bigger and more intrusive definitely not. They should be more useful and relevant. When I see an ad that tells me the Hollywood Bowl will start individual ticket sales tomorrow at 10am, that would be useful. Good targeting works fairly well. Still, we are in danger of attributing everything to the last click, and very little to any other form of effect, or to any brand-influence or other communications the customer may have been exposed to. We tried solve that attribution challenge, the pace is too slow for my taste. Too many digital campaigns are measured on soft and unimportant metrics. It is not all about the click, and the last click is certainly not everything.

So, next time you report on campaign numbers, don’t go for the shiny number. Data tells a complex story. My guess is, you’re stopping at page three. Dig deeper.

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Google that question and you get thousands of of answers. Books have been written about it, about any Social Media conference will have a session about this topic and you can find daily new blog posts discussing the organizational model for Social Media. The majority claim Social Media should be centered around the marketing department, a vocal minority thinks PR is best suited for this task, some outliers think customer services are best equipped to deal with individual inquiries.

Some of my favorite experts believe Social Media is so revolutionary, such a fundamental game changer to the future of business that it had to start with the CEO and work down from there, utilizing the power of the whole organization.

Brands can add value to the community through content.

And that is an important skill of marketing people.

Real conversations should be between real people.

And that’s where the customer services team shines.

People desire an authentic dialogue with the whole company, including CEO.

That’s where it’s beneficial to make the whole organization social.

All true. Where do we go from here?

How about starting with the customer?

There’s not one customer in the world who cares what department owns Social Media.

They have their own reasons to visit social properties and, from time to time, to interact with a brand: They might want convenience, reassurance, discounts, exclusivity, etc. Customers only care about ownership when the engagement they are looking for is dysfunctional: When they express criticism on Facebook and get no response from qualified individuals, just the unicorn response: “Look at me, we are beautiful.” When the YouTube video is just another self-indulgent promo. When the Twitter feed is a pure push marketing platform.

The owner of a social platform has to be the best qualified person/department to deliver the best experience to the audience.

Ownership of platforms should not be a departmental/divisional question, it should be a customer experience question. When you want to deliver a press-focused presence on a platform, it makes no sense for the marketing department to own it. A customer services platform shouldn’t be run by PR people.

From a strategic point of view this adds a layer of complexity, particularly when it comes to aligning departmental goals. But, let’s repeat this slowly: Goals shouldn’t be about the department, they should be about improving the customer experience.

The discussion of Social Media ownership will continue for the foreseeable future. And the answer remains the same: There’s only person who really owns the social platform, and that’s your individual customer.

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We all live in bubbles, no matter where you work and live.

Your department might be a bubble, never really engaging with the other departments and understanding their challenges.

Your company might be a bubble, rolling along nicely, respected by the market, the analysts, and the business community. Until the day you have to declare bankruptcy. Just ask Blockbuster.

You might live in a bubble within your community. Not knowing the neighbors, not interested to improve the overall community, not caring about anything but your own family. Until the day you need help and nobody cares about you.

It’s easy to live in a bubble, quietly getting on with your own life in comfortable semi-isolation.

You need to get off your butt and leave the bubble.

Find ways to have as many professional conversations with anyone outside of your department. Have as many chats about something with anyone. It doesn’t have to be about work, it can be about sports, the last book you read, the latest song you love.

Talk with competitors. Make contacts at conferences and invite them to lunch. Have a chat about the competitive landscape, be open about your problems and concerns. This is not about spying, this is about learning from each other.

Meet your neighbors. I’ve lived in apartment buildings where I never talked to my neighbors. And I regret that. I’m grateful to know people that go to sleep close to my own bed. A brief chat can make the day brighter. Someone to ask for a favor makes life easier. Feeling a sense of community is an important part of the human experience.

Never stop doing this.

People don’t get old by default. People get old when they lose touch with the outside world. They don’t get challenged anymore, they don’t talk to enough people to learn things they didn’t know. They get scared of the world, just experience it through their self-constructed bubble.

Leave the bubble as often as you can. Or, one day, you won’t find the way out.


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I used to live in real cities: Hamburg, London, Honolulu. Then I moved to Los Angeles. Within a few weeks, I understood that Los Angeles is not a city, it’s a conglomerate of disparate communities. The majority of Angelenos live a pod lifestyle. From home pod to work pod to entertainment pod.

We have communities within our pods but it’s hard to experience Los Angeles as a cohesive community. (Except when the Lakers are winning the NBA title.)

Creating a cohesive Los Angeles experience

I’m following closely the emerging technology of location-awareness and believe it will help create hyper-local experiences. It’s not about creating a separate, virtual reality. It’s about creating a layer on top of our human experience. Combining both thoughts resulted in this idea:

“The Los Angeles Soundscape app tries to communicate the uniqueness and local identity of each small community through music/sound composed by local musicians/artists from that specific community. The app is location-aware and will change based on your location; community soundscapes will overlap and interact in dynamic ways, yielding a unique experience with each listen. The app is best enjoyed while driving (car/bus/bike) but will respond to slower paces as well.

The vision is to create a musical Venn diagram placed over the urban landscape of Los Angeles, at any time you might multiple tracks playing in your ear, colliding in surprising ways. The roads you take determine what you hear and we expect users to discover new neighborhoods, experience the local spirit and inspiration of the specific soundscape.

(…)

The ultimate objective of this is to encourage Angelenos and visitors to explore this amazing city outside of their typical routes and tourist spots. And help transform the sprawling suburbia into a real community.”

Let’s get it done

The project was submitted to Kickstarter, a funding platform for innovative projects. It’s the perfect platform to really explore what forms art can take. The site accepts pledges starting at $1 and you can get special values starting at a pledge of $10. Even if you don’t give money but like the idea, a mention would be appreciated.

Check it out.

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Facebook is a terrible tool to build communities outside of your immediate friends and family. It’s a good platform to maintain existing relationships. It performs badly when it comes to creating new communities based on shared interests. I’m still active in many forums and stats show they tend to build powerful, long-lasting communities.

The emergence of niche networks.

Big social networks have received all the attention in recent years but the real action happens in community forums. There are millions of these sites that have a combined audience comparable to Facebook. The one big advantage Facebook offers for marketers: Scale. It’s so much easier to communicate a message on a unified platform compared to millions of communities, often behind password walls.

In addition, you need to be passionate about specific topics: Unless you’re into Dubstep in Brazil, why would you ever know about forums discussing that topic? Or baseball forums in Germany. Sumo forums in Los Angeles. Bobblehead forums. These forums are surprisingly popular and extremely resilient because of their community bond. For every interest there is an online community to accomodate: fishing, hiking, TV shows, Rugby, Bakersfield fans – you name it. They live and grow every day even if you know nothing about them.

Real relationships

I joined a EDM (Electronic Dance Music) forum in 2000 and still participate every day. The conversation has transformed from sharing club experiences to political discussions, parenting issues, travel advice, general entertainment. I’ve never met 99% of the community but we’re a lively bunch and engage on a daily basis. It’s fascinating to experience this use of the Web and the untouchable strength of community.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to engage in niche networks

Facebook has become the Microsoft of Social Networks. It’s there, you can’t escape it but you don’t love it. We use it every day but we are really not passionate about it. I’m sure Facebook will be around for years to come, just like Microsoft won’t disappear. The real love and passion happens in niche networks. By integrating more social features into their forums, niche communities will soon begin to have their heyday. Soon means about now.

All this talk about Facebook and Twitter have distracted from one the most important strengths of the digital medium: bringing people together to form a community. The current Forums 1.0 will soon be transformed into more advanced and socialized forums.

Scale is important.

The bond and passion of a community is more important. And a much better playground for your brand.

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Everybody in the marketing world talks about community. At one point, community had a real meaning. We used to live in places that felt like communities. We interacted with other people in our neighborhood, talked to them daily, our little place in the world had the feel of a community. The little store next door. The neighbor we chatted with for a few minutes. Kids driving their bikes down the street. Block parties. Remember those times?

When we started to develop digital landmarks, we created communities grouped around shared passions. And we called those ‘online communities’. That felt real because people lived in those places, sought them out actively and particiapted. It had a communal feel to it.

Over time, everything changed.

The word ‘community’ became meaningless.

Suddenly, any message board, Facebook page or Twitter feed was called a community.

Let me give it to you straight:

– A Facebook page with a lot of ‘likes’ is not a community. It’s just a Facebook page with a lot of ‘likes’.

– A Twitter feed with a lot of followers is not a community. It’s just a Twitter feed with a lot of followers.

There’s a huge difference between a community and an aggregation of people with weak ties.

You can live in a neighborhood and never talk to your neighbors, never know what makes them tick, never care if the store next door will survive in tough economic times. All these people are just neighbors. Nothing more. Just because you live in the same neighborhood (in real life or on your social media platforms) doesn’t mean you’re part of a community.

Community is about a shared passion. Community has context. Community consists of meaningful interactions. When you develop all of these, you have a community.

Communities can’t be created.

People create communities, and unless you have some secret sauce I don’t know about, you can’t create people. You can build digital landmarks and social platforms for people to create their own community. You can develop the infrastructure. The passion, love, heart, blood, sweat and tears is up to people. Not you.

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I leave the safety of the cab by exiting at the Mahim railway station, surrounded by the typical craziness of Mumbai traffic: thousand of honks and near misses. The tour guide meets me at the ticket counter and we head down to the Dharavi Slum, the largest slum in Asia with more than 1 million inhabitants. We walk across a filthy, trash-filled creek. Little kids taking a shower in the middle of rubbish, people digging through dirt.

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Before we enter the lively, residential area I take this shot. Out of respect for the inhabitants, the tour guide requests of me not to take pictures inside. We walk into the slum, maneuvering carefully to ensure we do not step in anything nasty. We learn that of the 1 million legal residents (about 1.4 million if you include illegals) 100% have electricity and running water, 90% have a television and 15% own a computer. 1 toilet is shared with 2,000 others.

We see the remains of our lifestyle: plastic cups, plastic spoons, plastic bottles. And we experience how the slum residents use these remains to make a living. Our first stop is the plastic recycling district, where discarded plastics are sorted by color, crushed, melted and then dried.

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We go deep inside a small shop, climb up three flights to end up on the roof of this shop. That’s the place where huge mounds of plastic are being dried for hours, dragged back down and then cut into tiny pellets. Just to transform into toys your children might play with every day. In the middle of this picture (Ok, I took one picture from inside.) you can see the cell phone tower, one of many that helps people stay connected to the world. On the left is one of the numerous apartment buildings of the luxurious suburb of Bandra, bordering the slum, with a price tag of $50,000-$150,000 for a studio.

The next few hours touring Dharavi slum are upsetting and make me feel uncomfortable in my white, affluent skin. But they are also the most inspirational moments of my life.

I expected misery and destitute people. Instead, I experience a community filled with entrepreneurs and small business industries not accepting the odds or destiny. They didn’t give up or went the route of begging, being dependent on others. They took life by the horns and thrive against all odds.

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(The following pictures were taken at the outskirts of the Dharavi slum.)

We crouch through corridor-like pathways between houses made from reclaimed trash as the blue sky turns into darkness inside the tight living quarters. We see houses where women weave baskets while their babies sleep on dirty mattresses. Little kids touch me, say “Hi” and “Bye”, trying to connect with me. Nobody asks for money. We just look at each other: curious, two worlds colliding. Everybody is busy working, washing, cleaning, getting on with their lives. We see bakeries that make snacks for the outside world. We see the pottery district where thick smoke covers a whole block, turning everything in its path black.

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Here is the final product, diligently cleaned by this women to sell to the outside world.

The majority of this work is dangerous, there are no rules or regulations. And, it’s incredibly dirty. Filthy. But it’s a living, an income. That counts for a lot in a city of 14 million where half of its residents live in a slum, many of them just surviving by begging on the street. Dharavi is home to around 15,000 small businesses (ranging from recycling, pottery, and embroidery to bakeries, soap factories, and leather tanning) and generates some $700 million each year.

Slums Street

Reality Tours offers various options to explore the amazing world of the Dharavi Slum. 80% of the proftis from the tours are put into a slum kindergarten and education center through Reality Cares, a non-governmental organization. Residents can acquire basic computer skills (PowerPoint, Excel, Word, etc.) for free in a 15-week course. The company also offers bike tours, overnight stays in villages and combos of sightseeing/slum tour.

This might not be for everyone. It’s heart-breaking, inspirational, upsetting and invigorating. It will change all your perceptions about slums and poverty. Most importantly, you will leave a changed person.

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Brands often consider creating communities on their site or social platforms. It sounds so appealing: You create a community and now you have an easily accessible group of people that you can engage and converse with.

The problem is: You can’t create communities

Think about your local community. It wasn’t created by plopping down a Starbucks, Target or a local snack shack and then hoping for people to show up. Communities are places where like-minded people can come together. That’s why you have art communities, food communities, religious communities – you name it. And that’s the reason why certain stores and brands don’t work in your community because they don’t understand the mindset of your local world.

In the digital space, brands often consider communities as a place to be worshipped by people. Instead, online communities are places where like-minded people hang out and, if you’re really lucky and doing a great job managing the community, where people can interact with brands and tell them how to do a better job delivering their product/service. At the minimum, brands need to help communities do what they want to do. Brands need to give people something concrete to gather around for. You have to kill your corporate hubris and believe that participants in your community can actually improve your product/service. Foster discourse and an open exchange of ideas.

Tap into the need of people to be heard: People have transformed from passive consumers to active collaborators and co-creators of the products and services they produce. These principles help you tap into the power of communities by developing a foundation of trust, motivating people to become more active participants and providing access to peer group knowledge and skills. It requires a lot of work and community management to tap into the power of communities. You don’t create communities, you merely help them get things done. On their terms. Based on their needs. Not yours.