Community building: Do customers want another social network?

Reprinted from the Zazoo blog:

With the recent explosion in Facebook and Twitter use (the media hype and recent stats are backed up by anecdotal evidence such as the stream of high school and uni friends that have discovered me on Facebook and a bevy of would-be porn stars following me on Twitter), it’s inevitable that some pundits are starting to ask if we’re reaching social media overload.

Judy Shapiro, writing in Ad Age, writes that, “We use our different social networks to enrich different dimensions of our lives. Therefore, as you would expect, we want different things from our different social networks…. This is the heart of the problem. As marketers, our knee-jerk reaction to every community we create is to motivate members to create rich and robust profiles of themselves so they can connect with each other in new and powerful ways. While this approach may be desirable to us as marketers, it may not be best for consumers. We need to be mindful and respectful of the realities our customers live in and the truth is that managing all these social profiles is none too easy, the technology and tools notwithstanding.”

She suggests marketers take a close look at their community-building strategies, asking “Are we being practical about what we expect users to reveal about themselves in our communities? Is our community a hub where users will congregate regularly, where rich profiles are of value or are we creating a secondary ’spoke’ community meant to address narrow or temporary niche needs? In short, as marketers do we demand that users create too many profiles in all our community-building programs?”

The Harvard Business Review has also discussed this issue recently, recommending that companies treat communities as a high-level business strategy that is integrated across business functions, rather than just being the domain of the marketing department. A Facebook group or a Twitter account is not good enough.

The HBR authors advise that companies shouldn’t try to control communities, and should view online networks as just a tool for community building, not an entire strategy. In other words, get out there and meet people face-to-face rather than just via the Internet.

It concludes: “Although any brand can benefit from a community strategy, not every company can pull it off. Executing community requires an organization-wide commitment and a willingness to work across functional boundaries. It takes the boldness to reexamine everything from company values to organizational
design. And it takes the fortitude to meet people on their own terms, cede control, and accept conflict as part of the package”

Anyone up for the challenge?