Commentary

Krispy Kremes and The Power of Community

On an industry discussion list I belong to, there was a heated discussion today about, of all things, Krispy Kreme donuts. It seems like a mother of a 3 year-old, a friend of one of the list members, was soliciting donations to a pre-school fundraiser. For $10, the friend got a box of Krispy Kremes delivered to the door. The issue? She sent the appeal unsolicited to her husband’s contact list. The discussion list member looked askance at this opportunity to scarf down what I consider to be God’s food for a good cause. All of this got me thinking about community. And, of course, Krispy Kremes.

Now, community is an important thing, but not always an easy thing. That is why tribes of all sizes and shapes develop strict codes of conduct and why banishment and shunning are so devastating. I’m in all sorts of communities. The discussion list I’m on is a community. The people I talk with on the Blue Note jazz site I frequent are a community. And the secret site only for magicians that I hang out in is certainly a community. And I’ll bet the Krispy Kreme woman thought she was in a community when she sent out her missive.

It is that power of community that drove many of the business plans and site development projects at the height of the dot-com boom. Anyone remember Six Degrees? After the dot bomb, the idea of, and interest in, community seemed to have gotten lost, which is a shame because community is one of the really great ideas that came out of the Internet.

Community certainly hasn’t died, but the notion that community is something that can be nourished by marketers to reach their customers is a baby that seems to have been thrown out with the bathwater. Most marketers I speak with have little knowledge of community or how their company and products could benefit from that understanding.

Technology to the rescue.

Over the past few years, a handful of technology vendors have been focused on the idea of community and developing powerful technologies that can automate many of the functions that required legions of “moderators” in the past. Even better, there are now tools available that help marketers research, identify, reach, and respond to the ever-changing swell of the online community tide.

I define community very broadly. You only need two to tango in my view of community. Let’s take my Blue Note site. Blue Note is the corporate site of Blue Note records, a place for hard-core jazz fans. They have the ubiquitous message board and one of the forums is “Questions for Tom at Blue Note,” one of the places fans can ask how certain recordings are selling, when others are going to be reprinted directly to the company itself. It is an opportunity for Blue Note to stay in close contact with its core fan base and the fan base gets a say in future releases. This is a real community of two: between customer and company.

And there are now technologies that are focused on creating this two-way conversation, without the need for a full-fledged bulletin board and public discussion.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to take up this notion of community and discuss the companies like CRMmetrix, BBI Systems, and Native Minds that are developing these types of technologies. We’ll be painting with a broad brush, including technologies that you might not think of as community right away, but keeping with my definition of those technologies that generate dialogue.

Just think of all the things I’ve learned today in my community. I’ve learned that MediaPost writer Jim Meskauskas has never had a Krispy Kreme donut. And I think I know enough about Jim that if he ever put a Krispy Kreme donut in his mouth, he would be a slave for life, a complete Kreme Krack addict.

Now if I was a marketer with that kind of knowledge, there is no telling what I could accomplish. Today, the donut. Tomorrow the WORLD!