Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Your Blog is a Cabin in the Woods

Ben Yoskovitz wrote an interesting post this week entitled “You Can’t Build Authority and Thought Leadership via Twitter”. He made a good case for the idea that microblogging platforms like Twitter are great for transient stuff, but cannot replace a blog for developing “authority” through in-depth, focused opinions and subject matter knowledge. He also pointed out that no one has established themselves as authority on any subject strictly through their activity in Twitter, but that it is a great tool for expanding  your audience.

As an example of that last point, I found Ben’s post through Twitter. There was a discussion going on there regarding his post which evolved into a question about where communities start.  That got me thinking about how and were online communities develop.

Communities can develop around all kinds of social platforms.  Those communities have notable differences which I think are due in large part to the nature of the platform.  Ben says if you are looking to be a thought leader/authority then you need a blog.  But what if you are an organization looking to engage a community (or build your own) using social media?  Is is a blog the best place to start or is there a sharper tool in the social media shed? Let’s take a look.

Forums

Long before blogging became popular, online forums and chatrooms provided the foundations for “virtual town halls”. Forums are still widely used as a vehicle for supporting  discussions regarding certain products (Macbook, cars, gaming).   Forum content is typically moderated and  limited to specific topics.  A forum Moderator is responsible for ensuring that the forum’s content is appropriately organized and on topic.  Online forums are much like conferences.  They offer subject matter experts sharing their opinions and knowledge of specific topics with attendees who have questions and want to learn.  Conferences typically offer a number of topical sessions which are often moderated.

Are forums the right place for you to engage.  Perhaps.  If your objective is to provide assistance regarding  your products or services, engaging in forums may be a good approach.  The downside is that forums don’t generally have the traffic or reach of social platforms like Twitter or Facebook.  Some organizations have been successful creating forums within their website to assist in product support.

Blogs

In recent years, well known bloggers have developed dedicated audiences who visit and comment on the blog regularly.  Of course, very few bloggers ever  rise to this level.  The internet is a very big place and a blog is like little cabin out in the woods.  You better have some amazing stories to tell on your front porch if you are looking to attract and build a community on your property.

Is creating a blog the best way for an organization to engage a community.  Many have tried it, but my personal opinion is that corporate blogs are generally boring and offer very little for the community they are trying to engage, therefore there is usually not a compelling reason for people to travel down the dirt road to your cabin in the woods.

Personals

If blogs are like cabins, then “personals” sites like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are like large residential developments.  Lots of people have houses there but only your trusted friends and neighbors know where you hide the key.  Like in a physical neighborhood, you meet new people through your neighbors and through social associations and events.

There are many more Personals sites than the three mentioned above and even they have significant differences.  MySpace never had much appeal to adults and appears to be losing favor with Millenials as well; however it does have a strong music-oriented component.  If you are a musician/band looking to build a community, it’s a pretty good place to start.

LinkedIn is clearly oriented to professional networking.  Using the groups feature, you can establish and engage with communities, but I sense that most people who have LinkedIn profiles don’t spent a lot of time interacting there.

Facebook has evolved into much more of an application platform than the other two.  Companies have leveraged this capability to create Facebook applications that can be useful (or not).  The trick with Facebook is finding your target community and then getting them to use your application and share it with others.  Simply setting up a Facebook page because it’s the latest corporate trend is not going to provide any value to you or your customers.

In all of these cases, the reach potential is great because they have very large populations.  On the other hand, you are dealing with platforms that require some sort of acceptance on the part of the “residents” before you can interact with them which may be a barrier for your organization.  If you want to engage the people in this neighborhood, you better be offering something of value or they won’t be answering the door.

Microblogging

There are many emerging platforms that follow this model, but the king of the hill is Twitter.  Twitter is a village festival.  Everyone is in the street, talking, sharing, showing off their wares (blog posts, presentations, subject matter expertise).  There are people (lots of them) providing entertainment, news, advice.  It’s vibrant, alive, growing and you don’t need permission to come in.  People will listen to you (and tell others about you) if you have interesting things to say.  They will just as easily ignore you if you are annoying. For companies, Twitter is a great place to just sit back and listen for a while to see what people are saying.  They are talking about their lives, their families, their friends and their jobs.  If you are in business, chances are someone is talking about the the stuff you are selling, or they may be talking about YOU!

Would it make sense to engage communities like those on Twitter?  Absolutely, BUT you must do so in a way that adds value.

  • Does that mean telling people to go read your corporate blog? NO!
  • Does that mean pitching your junk in 140 characters or less? NO!
  • Does that mean listening first and offering ideas and solutions to help people get something done?  YES!
  • Does that mean helping people in the community connect with others who have similar interests? YES!
  • Does that mean getting involved with charitable causes or perhaps organizing your own? YES!

There are certainly other social platforms out there and there will be more in the near future that we haven’t even thought of yet.  Ben’s post said you can’t build authority on Twitter and he may be right, but I know of no better platform to build community engagement.  Participation in social media continues to grow and organizations will find creative ways to engage with their customers there.  Will you be one of them?

Guitar (Hero) Marketing

aerosmithgh_lgMarketingProfsAnn Handley writes great stuff on her personal blog, Annarchy.  In a recent post, she talks about the transformational magic of Wii Tennis.

“Tennis is a ridiculously hard game, and there are a relative few who can, in the real world, reach pro status. Few of us can do much of anything well enough to attract real acclaim. But it’s a blast to try. And it’s even more fun to feel some pleasure of success from your efforts. To forget–even for a few foolish minutes–that you aren’t an uncoordinated undesirable left standing on the sidelines. That, instead, you are gifted. Talented. A winner on the court. The kind of person the captain picks first for the team.”

If you’ve played Wii Sports, you understand this and it got me thinking about why some experiences can trigger very passionate responses in people.  Videogame designers have has evolved the medium from relatively simple (albeit fun) arcade style formats to realistic 3D-like environments with genres that appeal to sports enthusiasts,  pilot wannabes and fantasy/role players.  The Wii’s interactive controller design takes that to a new level allowing the player to use physical movements to control the game.  This immersive experience puts the player on the court, field, fairway or in the case of the wildly successful Guitar Hero series, on the stage.

The question is whether or not these simulated experiences can motivate some players to try the real thing.

Beyond the numerous debates regarding the level of exercise a person gets playing Wii Sports, I haven’t seen any reports suggesting a game-inspired sporting goods sales surge, but Guitar Hero appears to be an altogether different tune.

Since its introduction on Playstation 2 in November 2005, Guitar Hero has spawned its own culture of fans and fanatics.  Just check out the number of Guitar Hero videos on YouTube.  The Guitar Hero series has been financially lucrative for Activision, the company behind the games. In April, 2008, Wired magazine reported that the franchise had sold 14 million units which equates to about  US$1 billion in sales.  Sensing an opportunity to tap into the passions of music enthusiasts following the initial launch of the game, music instrument retailer Guitar Center partnered with Activision to be the in-game virtual music store starting with Guitar Hero II.  It appears their instincts were right as the musical instrument retailing industry has seen record year over year competitive store increases since the game was first introduced.

Guitar Center recently conducted a survey which “confirmed that the majority of those who play the games are more interested in picking up real instruments, it also revealed that most musicians who play the games use their real instruments more frequently as a result.”

Guitar Center’s move encouraged others in the music business to get their products into the game (literally).  The latest versions of Guitar Hero are music marketing masterpieces with product placements by everything from bands to music publications and beyond.  On a basic level, there is embedded advertising for products from leading manufacturers like Gibson, Mackie and JBL.   These product and logo placements are both passive (a logo on the stage monitor) or active (play a Les Paul guitar).  Beyond the direct music tie-ins are lifestyle placements from brands like Axe and Pontiac, and music publications like Guitar Player and Kerrang.  From a content perspective, record labels have replaced the cover versions found on the original game with the real artist recordings.  Players are exposed to new and “new to you” music.  The more you play, the more new stuff you hear and you are more likely to listen to a song that you might otherwise turn off because you are interacting with it.  The results are impressive:

  • Sales of gear for first-timers at Guitar Center has surged.  In the holiday selling season in the last quarter of 2007, Guitar Center saw a +20.7% jump in comparable store sales for beginner-level electric guitar & amplifiers. This surge grew even stronger through the first nine months of 2008, when Guitar Center’s cumulative comparable store sales for the category increased +26.9%.”
  • Gibson said that it had seen sales on the rise, particularly those that are featured in the video games such as the iconic Les Paul guitar.
  • Digital downloads of older and more obscure music featured in the game have increase dramatically.

So at its core, what is it about Guitar Hero that allows it to not only be a great piece of entertainment but also an effective marketing vehicle and an inspiration for some to take up real guitars?

It’s all about appealing to a lifestyle.  Like the way Harley Davidson has figured out how to be a lifestyle company, Guitar Hero resonates with rock music Passionistas because it taps into that inner rockstar that so many have wanted to be at some point in their lives.  It works because it gives players a taste of an experience that they want in a way that lets them forget–even for a few foolish minutes–that they can be more than just a fan in the audience.  That, instead, you are gifted. Talented.  A rocker on the stage.  The kind of person who gets their face on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Do you have Passionistas as customers?  Are you helping them to tap into their inner rockstar?

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