Online Communities Are Like Coral: Give Them Space To Grow

“I told a friend and she told two friends and so on and so on…” Those words come from a famous seventies commercial campaign for a shampoo. It was ingenious in that it not only recognized the power of word-of-mouth advertising, but capitalized on it by promoting the brand had that very power.

All the clever advertising in the world doesn’t carry the weight that a friend or trusted personal source has regarding product recommendations. Getting the thumbs up from someone you trust whose opinion comes from experience makes all the difference for most of us.

In a report on word-of-mouth advertising, Lithium Technologies looks at its power and how the web and social media has affected it. The report looks at online communities and SNA or Social Network Analysis. For this post, I’ll focus on online communities and address SNA in a follow up post.

Online enthusiast communities have been recognized for some time now for their power in promoting via word-of-mouth and as a breeding ground for brand advocates. Providing an online community where enthusiasts who use your brand can gather and discuss their experiences is a primary way to indentify and nurture influencers online.

A member’s community rank is a practical indicator of influence. As behavior drives rank, those with higher ranks tend to be long standing members, people who have invested more time in the community, and people whose opinions carry more weight with other members. Additionally as the ranking system is explicitly hierarchical, it promotes alignment with the community’s norms, and demonstrates clearly that participation and adding value to the community are rewarded. Members promoted through the ranks frequently act as volunteer moderators. Both public and private communications between higher status members and new community members are a time-honored means of making new users feel included as well as enforcing discipline. By definition, in any healthy community, high status members are influential.Building Customer Networks for Successful Word of Mouth Marketing

Communities as the foundations of consumer outreach

Online communities can take several forms (forums, blogs, social networks) and must be the foundation of any kind of consumer outreach. Communities are much like coral, as they grow, they attract others to the community and create more dynamic interactions. It’s up to marketers to create a space for the coral to form and nurture the growth around it.

As mentioned above, it is essential to involve members in the administration of their community. You don’t have the time or resources to manage it directly and you won’t be as effective in leading the community in any case. The idea here is to indentify those members who want to be directly involved and then offer them guidance and some basic rules to follow. Your primary concern is to be accessible to the community leaders and offer guidance and information when they need it – that means right when they ask for it. This is critical, if the community leaders don’t feel the love, they will abandon it and the community will die.

Enthusiast communities are not new, but never before have had we the power to interact with them and nurture their influence as with the web. We aren’t just talking about a few folks chatting about your product or brand at a donut shop any more – that donut shop is now global and powerful.