Inside this Insight Report | Preface | What are online communities? | Speed read | Getting started
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Getting a handle on online communities

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2006 was the year social media went mainstream, and we've spent much of the last year building strategies and training leadership teams on what different aspects of Web 2.0 imply for marketers and publishers.

As you're interested in digital marketing trends, I thought you might like a copy of the latest Digital Insight Report on social media that we're opening up to a wider readership. It's a simple orientation to online communities and underscores the breadth and diversity of how they can be harnessed. Digital Strategy's associate Julie Walker is my co-author and Nielsen//NetRatings's European Internet Analyst, Alex Burmaster, also shares his thoughts.

Online social networks, community and user generated content should be on the radar for every brand these days. They're transforming not only the tools of web publishing, but the much wider nature of communications, with ripples that will be felt offline as much as online.

I hope you find these notes useful - maybe to explain to colleagues a little more about how digital marketing is evolving - and if you have some comments to add, or case studies to share, then just mail them back and we'll weave some into the follow-up notes.

Best from all @ Digital.
Danny Meadows-Klue
Danny Meadows-Klue
Founder & CEO, Digital Strategy Consulting

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Communities and social media

Communities are suddenly at the heart of the digital marketing mix. The arrival of convergence presents an immediate fusion with many different media channels, and everyone is talking about social networking and Web 2.0.

The virtual and physical worlds have collided. Online spaces are providing all of us smart vehicles for discussion, sharing, working and trading. In the office working on projects, or at home planning a holiday, the participative model for web spaces is creating a step-change in communications. These models cross all industry sectors, and the numbers are growing at a rapid pace. Some communities are transient, some here for the long term. Some are part of massive global retail or media firms, others linked to consumer brands. In this report we've collated a few examples to reflect the diversity of what's been developed in the last few years, and to get you thinking about how you could develop your own community effectively.

What are online communities?
Our definitions of online communities are evolving, but put simply they are the groupings of people who come together in digitally networked spaces, with some sense of shared identity. The underlying technology can be any form of messaging system or forum, which is available to participants, anywhere, anytime, typically through the internet, that facilitates an ongoing conversation. They can be open or closed, and for groups of any size, but typically the participants share a common interest, attitude or topic which translates into communication. Today, many senior marketers have online communities in their sights, but are unsure about the most suitable online community strategy for their organisation. There are a number of different types of online communities:
  • Five steps: To get up and runningCustomer review communities
  • Customer service communities
  • Customer pressure groups
  • Customer focus groups
  • Massive multi player online games (MMP)
  • Communities of practice
  • Information communities
  • Dating communities
  • Friendship communities
  • Brand communities
  • Entertainment communities
  • Expert communities
  • Personal or business networks

Speed read

  • Online environments have created a new way for people to bond together
  • Millions of embryonic communities have emerged, covering the most vast range of topics
  • Online communities are developing their own rules and behaviour patterns which can be codified and structured
  • These communities vary greatly in their resilience, intensity and longevity
  • Marketers need to understand them to appreciate how the communication landscape is changing
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Getting started
  • Engage with a small sample of the target audience to develop the offering
  • Be prepared to think outside the box - identifying and addressing unmet needs could have a bigger impact on a customer than replicating what you do today
  • Identify an experienced partner to create, host, manage and maintain the first "online community" for your organisation - this will keep your start-up costs down and enable you to focus on what you are good at - understanding your business, your customers and their needs
Danny Meadows-Klue
"We're entering a world of conversations; marketing monologue is replaced by dialogue, and marketers need to appreciate what this means."
Danny Meadows-Klue,
speaking at the US Regional Newspaper Congress, San Francisco, 2000
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Digital Insight Reports are research briefings developed and published by Digital Strategy Consulting Ltd. in association with our strategic partners. Every month there's a new edition and you can also read many of them online.

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