Friday, 6 February 2009

Dialogue is better than monologue: building engaged communities online

Month 2 in the 2009 Social Brother diary room….

I’ve been locked in a cellar with only my iPod for company as I write a presentation for the Retail Week eCommerce Summit on 17th Feb @ which e-inbusiness is the Associate Sponsor. Yes, a shameless chance to further our global domination plan by drip feeding our knowledge and experience to innocent bystanders!

For those of you who have ever given a presentation to a demanding and savvy audience, it can be quite a daunting task. Not only do you have to provide a voice of authority and knowledge, you have to be engaging and interesting. I’ve always prided myself on being able to keep people’s attention but that’s usually fuelled by some premium ales and the odd Jack Daniels, or two. I was set the challenge by Sarah, our Head of Corporate Marketing, and Steven, our Sales & Marketing Director – what should we talk about that is current, topical and relates to user experience and the use of technology to drive online conversion?

After two days of spiritual meditation in an ancient Buddhist temple in the Himalayas, entering into a zen like trance (anyone seen Monkey Dust?!), I came up with the thread of building engaged communities online by creating a buzz for your brand. Before the corporate bingo police come rushing in, that’s not just marketing waffle. I’m not trying to cram in agencyspeak to sound uber-modern. I genuinely believe that this is the key challenge for online brands in 2009 and onwards; how do you excite and interest your customers to build a community that actively engages with your brand? This week’s blog looks at what I mean by an engaged community and the power of advocacy in helping brands grow a community organically.

Yakety yak – what is an engaged community!?


Engagement (plural engagements)

1/ connection or attachment, the point at which two or more things are connected

2/ a feeling of understanding and ease of communication between two or more people

An engaged community is a group of people who have a common interest in your brand, who interact with each other and your company to access interesting, relevant information and share it across their social networks. Each member contributes to the community but some are more active than others and take leading roles. Your community requires support and your main challenge is to provide them with the tools & technology to use your content when, where & how they want. The community thrives on nurture and nature; your nurture to provide advice & guidance and moderation when needed to help the members, nature for your members to grow the community organically via their personal connections and advocacy and most importantly, on their terms.

Encouraging advocacy

This is about dialogue, not monologue. When you have engaged with customers, you can talk to them regularly and update them with relevant information. You can signpost them to important announcements and build a personal relationship. Then you can encourage them to share your content with their contacts and other social networks. By rewarding and encouraging, you gradually build up a base of brand advocates who trust you, like what you offer and will tell their connections. Check out how well Wiggly Wigglers has done on Facebook at linking product enthusiasts. Heather Gorringe has really embraced social media and put her customers at the heart of the communication – I have told hundreds of people about them because of this, who could have told hundreds more. As Diana Ross said, we’re in the middle of a chain reaction….

Putting this into practise – visualising advocacy

Below is a Blue Peter special sketch of how the One-to-Many power of advocacy can positively impact brand awareness (and eventually conversion and other KPIs) by dialogue:

e-inbusiness brand advocacy diagram

This is all very top level stuff but it does illustrate the power of engagement. If brands look to social media as the cure all for the tough economic and trading conditions, they will be missing a beat. I think people need to encourage engagement, giving their customers the tools & support to interact with their brand and content on their terms, when, where and how they want. Social media is just one element of this, albeit an important and hugely exciting one.

What do you think? Is engagement the new black, or are you one of the doubters? If you want to hear more, please come and listen to us at Retail Week eCommerce Summit on February 17th @ Millennium Gloucester in London.


Oranjepan said...

This is interesting stuff, although I'm more interested in politics and social issues where brand awareness and communications is equally (if not more) important.

I'd be interested if you could write an analysis of how you think the lessons you write could be applied in this area.

Disengagement and apathy are major concerns, particularly when you see the results have an effect, so I'd appreciate your thoughts.

If you want to contact me my email can be found on my profile page.

James Gurd said...


Interesting to reply tol a “A balding, ginger primate verging on extinction” – you’re not from Portsmouth as well are you?

I got your comment about how my thoughts could be applied to politics and social issues. I think quite easily. Below are a few points:

• Politics is about people not words – how can you engage your voters if you don’t understand what they want and then speak to them in a way that is conducive to their needs – too many politicians speak through soundbite and never actually listen, too interested in their own voices and pomp (yes that is a disservice to grass roots politics where more people are genuinely interested)
• Putting a leaflet through a door does not mean you’ve engaged with someone – engagement only happens when somebody responds to you, implicitly or explicitly
• Engagement involves concerted effort – you can’t just say “well I tried”, if you believe in something make others feel that passion – communicate it regularly
• Use advocacy – when you find someone who is listening and responding, ask them if they would like to be more involved & reward them for their effort – doesn’t have to be money!
• Allow people to share information, make it easy for them to pass on what you are saying
• And embrace the online channel – you want to see a good example how social media can influence in politics? I give you Mr Barrack Obama, President of the USA. Check out his official website and follow the social media links. This helped him engage with millions online, many of whom never embraced politics before.

Hope that is helpful.