Monday, July 07, 2008

Companies need to tread lightly when entering online communities

The results from the latest poll about which social site/tool is best for conversations, are in and here they are:

Plurk - 47.2%
Blog - 30.6%
Twitter - 16.7%
Friendfeed - 5.6%

So Plurk is the big winner, which really isn't a surprise given that I am such a Plurk evangelist, and that many of my Plurk friends likely voted (thanks guys!).

But I saw an interesting example yesterday of how companies need to know the unwritten 'rules' of interacting with people via these sites/tools. On Plurk, some users have started adding special emoticons to their plurks from outside sites. Yesterday, someone added one to a plurk, but instead of displaying the plurk, it displayed the website's URL (if you moused over the URL, you could see that the emoticon's name was listed). It appeared that the person that tried to add the emoticon messed up and left the site's URL instead.

And the people in the plurk immediately got upset, and felt they were being 'spammed'. In just a couple of mins, the tone of the plurk turned from casual and fun, to anger at the person that the other plurkers felt was 'spamming' them.

Which is an important lesson for companies to understand when they begin participating in online communities. If these communities even THINK you are trying to advertise your business, they can get VERY cranky VERY quickly. The best way to promote your business, is to participate in the space as the community does. Give these people time to trust you. Show them that you can provide value, and they'll begin to open up to you, and will want to learn more about your company. I've already blogged about how Tim Jackson is doing a wonderful job of this on Plurk to ultimately promote his employer, Masi.

Another consideration is to understand that many communities (all?) self-police themselves and create their own rules. Some communities openly encourage newbies to ask questions and participate. Some communities will delete any question that's ever been answered before, and scold you for asking a question that's already been covered in the site's 50-page FAQ.

Social sites such as Plurk and Twitter seem to be much more open to helping new users get up to speed, quickly. But you shouldn't promote your business until you have first demonstrated to others that you are there to create value. When others start asking for more information about what your company is and does, then you can tell them. But don't push that information on them until they are ready. Kathy Sierra has some great posts on how to create online communities, and their 'rules of the road'.

But as with anything else, when you enter into an online community/space, always have the answer to this question at the front of your mind: "What value can I bring by being here?"

UPDATE: Beth has a great post on how ideas take on a life of their own and are built upon by online communities. Another important point for companies to consider.


Unknown said...

I'm not sure whether to thank or curse you! I'm new to Plurk, but when I see something new, that looks half decent, I HAVE to sign up. It looks pretty good, although most people this side of the pond tend to go with Twitter.

Good article though - thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, interesting old school Social Networking 1.0 wasn't on the list? You know, Forums....

While Plurk has threaded conversations, and FF is an upgrade on Twitter, managing them is next to impossible so far and until that is sorted (cliques are hopeless) I am still going to say forums are better for organized discussions.

Twitter is more use as a broadcast medium these days and truly the others lack in organization.

Just my 2c .....

Mack Collier said...

Dave I meant that to apply to forums as well. Thought I had actually used that word, maybe I forgot to, I was trying to do 3 things at once when writing this ;)

And you are correct about forums, you have to monitor them just as closely as you do Twitter/Plurk/Friendfeed. And I think that in many cases, companies are more familiar with forums/message boards, and it's very likely more of their customers are there as well.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you think someone would have written a Dummies type book for things like Plurk or Twitter for companies who are just entering online communities? Or, did that already happen and I missed it?