Commentary

Community

In my last article we talked about community and how the original promise of a boundless, global Internet community had been lost. Even AOL, the Original Kings of Community, realized recently how detached they had grown from their community roots. The notion that “If you build it, they will come, and once they’ve come, we can shake them down” just doesn’t play well anymore.

The problem with most early community/get rich schemes of the late 90’s was the companies tried to impose a structure on what is basically an organically growing thing: Like trying to grow a square watermelon.

Some of the newer technologies that are focusing on the idea of community have taken this to heart and have learned how to stay out of the way. These technologies use the community itself to instruct the marketer on how the community wants to be served.

Take BBI Systems, for instance. Formerly Blue Barn Interactive, BBI has been a leader in the community space for years, running community sites for companies like Martha Stewart and MTV. Most recently BBI has developed a series of products that automate the ability for companies to monitor, respond, and categorize the conversations that go on in their non-linear, 24/7 way. BBI can identify key influencers in the community and automate special offers to them. Imagine this scenario: a woman goes on Martha Stewart and complains that her muffins stick in the baking pan. With the BBI System, an ad can be served immediately with a special offer for no-stick muffin pans, emails, with muffin recipes can be dispatched, and the fact that muffin-sticking is a big topic that day can be captured, logged, and organized into trend analysis reports.

Native Minds has taken the whole idea of the local community expert to a new level. Developed as a way to cut down on the high cost of call centers, Native Minds has developed a “smart agent” technology, which provides a front end to a companies FAQ’s. Their earliest customers where large automobile manufactures that used the system to answer many of the questions from mechanics that would normally have been picked up by the call center. With the call centers average $7 a call, even migrating a small percentage of those calls to the Native Minds system saved millions of dollars for these manufactures.

But beyond this, the Native Minds system can actually learn new information about what customers are looking for. For instance, an consumer electronics manufacturer was able learn that size and weight were important considerations for customers, even though those options were not listed under the customized product spec sheet. Realizing that size was an important component to customers, based on the logs recorded through the Native Minds interface, the manufacturer was able to include options in its product offering that increased sales significantly.

Finally companies like CRM Metrix has developed a series of products that help companies determine if their site is actually helping their marketing efforts. The founders of CRM Metrix were able to leverage their skills as experts in consumer research in the consumer package goods field to develop a technology where users are surveyed before and after interacting with a site to see if key brand metrics had improved. For instance, a peanut butter manufacturer could measure the effect the site itself had on improving a consumer’s perception of their brand through a series of entrance and exit polls, surveys, and other methods used to interact with the consumer and measure response. First the first time, using CRM Metrix, marketers can justify the cost of developing and maintaining a brand specific site, as well as improve the experience through feedback and tracking movement through the site.

And that wraps up our community discussion, and also wraps up this column for a time. I want to thank all the folks at MediaPost who have let me rant on for these past months and years. And I want to thank all of you for reading and sending your comments and I truly appreciate being part of your community.