What’s an Online Community’s Value?

Today, I’ll discuss the leading marketing strategies that consumer-centric organizations use to create and grow online communities in support of their brands. I’ll also explore metrics for measuring a community’s impact (and proving its value to your overall business).

Strategy: How Do You Successfully Build an Online Community?

In my agency’s experience with building sites for leading consumers brands such as Converse and Helio, the focus on community is tightly integrated with the design strategy and overall Web site experience.

Here are five tips to help you formulate a winning strategy for your business:

  • Release control. Branding online isn’t about controlling the customer message; it’s about listening to what customers have to share. Give them the tools to provide their voice; be creative; and share with others, and you’ll be amazed by what they do.

  • Entertain. We’re all inundated with marketing messages. One of the few ways to successfully stand out from all the noise is to give your customers original content that entertains and supports your brand. In other words, give them a reason to interact with your brand beyond what you sell.

    A great example of the first two rules is Converse’s online gallery of films. The award-winning site houses hundreds of consumer-generated films loyal fans have produced and can share with others. The site is accessed worldwide in multiple languages and has become a valuable asset for Converse.

  • Connect. The community is always connected. The relationships members have with each other and your organization don’t end at your site. They communicate through multiple channels and wield tremendous influence over other members (friends) within the community. Think about how the community integrates with your other business channels.
  • Be authentic. If there is one rule I see violated too often in marketing, it’s this one. Whatever messaging you have that can be perceived as sales-y or fluffy, it will be dismissed immediately and can backfire on you. Be honest. Be authentic. Remember the goals of a community are to build trust and create a deeper connection between your customers’ lives and your brand. Leave the marketing-speak and overt persuasive selling behind.
  • Innovate. Helio, the new high-end provider in wireless communications, recently launched phones that integrate a unique partnership with MySpace.com. Techno-savvy customers can post photo bulletins directly from their Helio mobile phone, compose MySpace Mail, view their friends’ pages, post comments, and add new friends (including Helio itself) wherever and whenever they want.

Said Ali Zanjani, Helio’s sales and distribution chief, said in a recent “Wired” article, “At the center of the brand is the whole notion of a connected community, which is represented by an artifact that happens to be a phone. But it’s not the artifact that matters — it’s the lifestyle.”

Analysis: How Do You Measure Community Value?

What metrics should you consider when gauging the impact of your online community and assessing the value it has on you business? As with other areas, it’s important to look for trends over time as your community develops. A few metrics to consider:

  • Number of sign-ups for community updates (e.g., newsletter opt-in)

  • Number of “send to a friend” messages
  • Time spent with community content (e.g., films, music)
  • Member conversion rate (percentage of completing goals)
  • Dollar amount of revenue influenced by community members
  • Percentage of revenue influenced by community members
  • Number of friends added in social networks (e.g., MySpace.com)
  • Number of blog views and comments
  • Number of sign-ups via member referrals (with or without incentives)

How are you leveraging the Web to build a community with your customers? What metrics are you using to gauge its value? This is your opportunity to contribute to the ClickZ community! Send me an email and let me know your thoughts. I’ll share contributions from readers in my next column.

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