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Home is where the start button is…

The importance of creating online communities

There’s a lot of stuff out there, hence the creation of sites like tumblr which allows you to, well, tumble through a galaxy of fascinating, hilarious and innovative little sparklers…and you could happily tumblr on forever. It’s no wonder then that companies feel daunted at the thought of competing for the fleeting attentions of the darty-eyed netizen. As research suggests, our brains are actually becoming accustomed to rapid consumption of frequently changing content.

But if you look eastward, social media trends suggest that YouTube videos and flashy infographics are not the most effective way to make your nest in the consumer brain. You need a nest of your own. Chinese online social communities are a site to behold. By 2009, 124 million Chinese reported involvement within social communities, and 98% of 98 million BBS (forum) users reportedly contributed content. That’s a whole lot of interaction, with a vast number of netizens eager to get involved in online communities.

So what’s in a home?

Integration

As Gini Deitrich explained in her blog on 8 social media trends for 2012, integration of media platforms is no longer an advanced marketing technique – it’s essential to maintain engagement and loyalty among consumers. A community serves as a hub to integrate social media activity, and this is where you add depth to your brand. Instead of posting a link to Twitter, slap on a live Twitter feed to accentuate that “buzzing” feeling. Instead of posting the odd video or pinning the promo short in the corner, create a gallery where users can comment, vote and enjoy your videos in a centralized location. Then, why not link those videos to a production studio, where users can create and upload their own?

Innovation

Communities are also where ideas come together. Think TED or eBay’s X.Commerce. If you’re looking to stay ahead of the competition in the eyes of your consumer audience, find out where they’re looking! I’ll always remember Crayola’s ingenious campaign in the early nineties that invited kids to create a new crayon colour. Every kid on my block had out his colour wheel, and when “macaroni and cheese” came out, it was the hair colour of choice in art class. Take another tip from the not-so-far East and engage your audiences by tempting their imaginations and allowing them to create – something we as a society tend to forget we enjoy. Statistics on Chinese media production reveal that China quantitatively surpasses every other country besides France when it comes to writing blogs. Chinese netizens create twice as much online material than do US users. And the catch – by providing consumers a platform in which they can be imaginative and interactive, you’re gaining insight into new ways your company can potentially improve their lives.

Aggravation

If you think about it, the home is also a space where nothing is taboo. Find out what makes your audience buzz, and then prod them with the proverbial stick. Have a glimpse at ChinaSmack.com to get a feel for how controversial news and views can create a wildfire of engagement… then try igniting a few flames yourself.

But how do you get them to come back?

This is where a lot of companies get confused. A community is not defined by one project, one idea or one topic – if it were, it’d be a cult. Instead, swallow your pedantry and embrace “trending”. Look no further than that sprightly blue bird, and engaging your consumer audience becomes a no-brainer. Ever notice the “trending” column on the right side of your Twitter page? That’s what your audience read about on the tube this morning, and dove-tailing that Metro blurb is one of the easiest ways to get their attention. It doesn’t have to relate to your products or sing your praises – if it’s interesting, it will attract viewers, and from there on out, you get to plan the agenda.

Admittedly, this is a shallow dive into the potential of online communities (which many companies are already exploring), but it also suggests that we can find some new ideas by lifting our gaze eastward. There is so much more to discuss… competitions, thought leadership, second life… and the list goes on. And before you think, “But wait…isn’t western culture simply too individualistic to embrace online communities to the extent they’re thriving in China?”, consider this: at the end of the day, Chinese netizens engage in social communities for freedom of expression, e-chievement, affirmation of opinions and escapism… these are universally attractive concepts – desirable to the western Gen-Y as well. Perhaps future generations hold a stronger affinity for said communities than we think.

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Written by Alison Jarrett

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  • S Saravanan

    Very nice read on a very interesting topic.

Gorkana Group

Gorkana Group offers PR analysis & evaluation across traditional & social media.

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