Last week Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimiter Group published what I suspect will grow to be known as one of the defining guides to entering passion / interest communities. While Jeremiah did a truly solid job this is a topic that hits home for me so I’m going to expand with my own thoughts on a few points… Continue reading
Yesterday vBulletin [think Jive or Lithium forum platform but for the peer to peer, homegrown community -- and on a far larger scale] announced a new activity feed feature for their flagship product… And that’s big for social brands.
Despite the massive growth of networks, forums remain the significant — although often overlooked — place for interest based discussions. For the same reason pinterest was able to explode past a host of existing networks, forums “own” the topical… your friends don’t always share your interests… so you have you have to seek out who people who do.
Forums are where people go to deep dive. Where the consumer advocates and individual influencers live. Forums can be the biggest source of discussion on an industry and yet somehow it’s still uncommon to see a big brand on one.
Forums are smaller. They’re generally self-funded. Often in it because of passion, not the money. So they don’t bend, don’t build nice little brand owned zones. They set the rules and the rules are about absolute transparency. No doubt it’s a major shift from what brands are use too.
But social isn’t field of dreams. Building a platform or page with your logo all over it does not mean people will come, or share. As brands we have to meet the customer where they live. And since few do that’s opportunity.
Just think about the implications of the feed… If you put aside the desire to have some massive number, the feed is akin to being able to talk to thousands of your most passionate target customers without a single other topic cluttering the message. Where else can you do that?
Last week I wrote about the importance of engaging on community forums to reach influencers and build up brand conversation. Ideas are good but real world is better and today I stumbled across a seeding program by Gunnar OPTIKS on the Alienware Arena forums that shows exactly why every brand should be looking at forums as a part of their social attack strategy. Let’s take a look…
Gunnar Opticks provides “digital performance eyewear”. Yes, that’s a real category and according to the Gunnar marketing materials, a very important one given how much we stare at our monitors these days. For gamers vision become even more important as eye fatigue can lead to [virtual] death, as well as cause long term “real world” problems. [my disclosure on gunnar optiks at the end of the post]
So what do you do when you’ve got a product that solves a problem people don’t know they have? You could talk up the benefits until you were blue in the face, or you could take the social road and get the top customers of arguably the top mainstream gaming system manufacturer in the world to do the talking for you. But getting people to talk requires them to have your product — and that’s where seeding comes into play.
Gunnar’s seeding program is straight forward – take the top 10 posters on the Alienware Arena forums, send them out a pair of shades and ask for their initial thoughts & a full review in return. Throw it all into its own sub-forum for branding & to keep the conversation visible and in less than a week you’ve got a few hundred comments and thousands of views from the core of your target market.
4 ways to social success with Gunnar’s seeding program
1. Encouraging honest reviews.
In their program overview the request is simple: Post an initial comment, in-depth review and final thoughts. No mention of the tone of the posts, no requirements for a good story, no pulling unknown members who may just be employees. It’s up to the, already respected, user. By not forcing “positive” you actually encourage it – transparency goes a long way to winning people over, add a solid product and you’re in business.
2. Asking for a follow up [keeping the conversation alive]
Gunnar didn’t just want to get a week’s visibility, they want mentions down the road and they want people to know the long term benefit too. So rather than taking a one hit & go approach they’ve asked for 3 phases of comments getting them 3 waves of exposure. On some forums people will put their gear & reviews right into their signature; it’s all about fitting into the individual community to make the most of it.
3. Engaging with the testers & other users
This isn’t set it & forget it. Gunnar’s done the right thing getting the forum staff involved and also bringing their own employees onto the site to answer questions and provide the facts. It’s full transparency since those employees are marked as a part of the company and are sticking towards the facts, offering positive thanks and leaving the opinion to the user. The seeding program shows their commitment to the community, the one to one engagement puts them in the “good brand” category.
4. Backing it up with sponsorship banners [the action opportunity]
You don’t want to stop in front of the finish line, you want to cross it. Gunnar’s program is all about conversation but with people talking, sharing comments, and hyping the product up, it’s essential to have a way for those not in the program, whether it’s other members or casual visitors of the site, to have a way to act. Gunnar chose to sponsor the forum their post is in with a few targeted banners – nothing too strong but an easy click to get members around the community into the area & reading the review.
As the Gunnar example shows, forum seeding is a great way to stir up conversation about a brand people may know about but not have tried or just aren’t talking about. In the world of community, nothing is going to outweigh a trusted member’s opinion on the overall perception of a product and getting involved with a few giveaways is at the same time a great way “in” to a community without having to worry about seeing as spamming or advertising – it’s value for consideration – a win all around.
* Disclosure: I know the team at Gunnar [although finding this example was a pure coincidence thanks to @alienware on twitter] and use a pair of Gunnar 3D glasses and sunglasses in addition to my Oakley shades.