Community Conference 2009: Lois Kelly, Communities and business

I’m at the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen. The audience is a mix of media, government, NGOs and business folks.

Lois Kelly of Beeline Labs talks about how she got into the field. In 1992, she became involved in the AOL miscarriage community. “This is what the internet is about. It is about creating ways to connect people.”

In 1998, she launched her own consultancy. She found Alan’s Forums, a community for consultants to help each other with tip on how to market each other and build your business. People were all over the world. People helping people.

In 2001, she and her neighbours joined together to save a local landmark, an old bridge. People wouldn’t show up for meetings or sign petitions. People would go online at night and voice what they wanted.

In 2005, Ning makes communities free. It’s so inexpensive and easy to use that almost anyone could start playing comunities, 900,000 communities in February 2009. There are 4000 new communities a day with almost 40% outside of the US.

Tribal behaviour has been here forever. We want to connect with each other. The biggest challenges are how to attract people and get them engaged. Only 40% of the communities set up on Ning are active.

What makes communities successful:

  • Communities need a purpose. They need a clear purpose
  • The community needs deeply felt or widely felt issue
  • Help and get help. Trust.

People do not trust businesses or governments. They do not want to be marketed to. A Nielsen study found Denmark had low levels of trust in advertising, only 28%.

What drives people’s use of communities

  • Ability to help people
  • Ability to connect with like-minded issue
  • Community focused on hot topic issue

The value of communities to businesses and non-profits is for market insights or research. She gave the example of an ’employee community’ that saved $5m a year through insights gained in the community. They were little ideas not huge complicated ones.

The unexpected value of communities from a case study:

  • Insights and Ideas. The case study company said the community had become ‘an unlimited source of R&D’.
  • Sales. They had higher average sales per community member ($1200) compared to a typical customer ($500)
  • Customers are creating their own marketing in the community.
  • They could cut down their PR or even get rid of their PR.

She suggested the people ask 5 simple questions that businesses need to ask before creating a community:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. How will people (not the company) benefit?
  3. Do people care enough?
  4. What do we expect to get? (There needs to be business value, which is tied to the first question.)
  5. How do we measure?

She suggested the businesses creating communities need to be customer-centric versus product-centric. Focus on ‘behavioural tribes versus demographic segments’. She pointed to how a scissors company had created a community not based on scissors but rather based on how people used scissors, in this case scrapbooking. She also said that companies need to foucs on ‘networks versus channels’. IBM created an internal community called beehive. Employees were able to connect with each other. Employees with really good ideas started promoting their projects. Instead of going through usual channels, employees were going through this network to promote their ideas. People also thought they could get ahead faster – ‘climbing’. She had interviewed a 27-year-old employee who said she was able to advance more quickly because she used the intranet to show off her skills. “Before this, she would have been anonymous,” Lois said.

It allows great talent to network and share.

She found that many companies do not have internal networks but will create their own through Facebook (or LinkedIn, I would say).

She said that businesses with communities need to measure against business goals. New product ideas? Earn customer confidence? Reduce customer service costs? Awareness in category? Reduce training, education costs? Change perceptions? Get votes, get sales? That will help drive design.

Communities are a lot of work. If you want a successful community, you have to put the resources in.

She also said that some companies need to be more ‘social’ but don’t necessarily need a community. She showed how had created customer reviews and recommendations. She compared a number of social strategies – badges, tagging, Twitter and communities. Communities take investment and resources to be successful, but there might be simpler social strategies to achieve your goals rather than creating a community.

There was an interesting question about Facebook. They need to pay for the service but communities are resistant to advertising or marketing messages.

Lois: In the US, a lot of us think that Facebook is over and we’ve all moved to Twitter. We’re nomadic tribes. Last year, it was Facebook. This year is Twitter. I don’t know what it will be next year. Value needs to be there for a payment value. (She talked about some of the features that Twitter is considering as a business model including adding a service for business ala Yammer.) Advertising model still has value.