I had an interesting meeting with a senior marketing executive at a very large American company today. (I’m going to have to be coy about its identity, since I don’t want to burn any bridges there, but I can say that the company has a place on this ranking of America’s biggest corporations.)
Our conversation focused on the subject of community, and the executive revealed that his company recently decided not to attempt to build its own online branded community, and instead build a presence on everyone else’s (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.). The company’s theory is that the concept of community should no longer be limited to a single site, but instead should be distributed as a single virtual population over multiple third-party networks.
I find this interesting for two reasons. First, it goes to the heart of a debate that is happening in marketing departments across corporate America: What to do about community? Second, I think this company’s strategy is wrong.
Building an outpost for your company on Facebook is not the same thing as adding to your community -- it’s the same thing as adding to Facebook’s community. Moving engagement onto someone else’s network severely limits your ability to do things like conduct research into your customers, or get them to engage with your information, or persuade them to take a specific action (such as requesting to talk to a salesperson or downloading a whitepaper).
Conversely, building your own community ensures that users get maximum exposure to your brand, materials, and special offers, and it gives you the best possible shot at building loyalty among these users.
So why has company X opted against doing this? The reason, I suspect, is the same one that is holding back other companies: They’re scared. Specifically, they’ve realized that in order to attract a community they need content, and they are smart enough to realize that content is not what they are in the business of producing. They’re worried they will be rubbish at it, and that their communities will stink.
And they have a point... up to a point. But the point that they’re missing [that’s enough points – ed.] is that there are now companies in existence that can provide the content for them (and yes, I work for one of them).
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating not taking advantage of services like Twitter and Facebook -- far from it. In fact, a metaphor may be useful to those of you wrestling with the decision over how best to use community in your marketing efforts: Think of your community marketing strategy as a wheel. The corporate community (the one you build and host) is the hub. The Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook pages are the spokes. You need both components to make your little marketing vehicle trundle down the road to ROI. [Sound of wheels falling off metaphor – ed.]
— Steve Saunders, Founder, Internet Evolution