Brian left a pretty interesting comment to my post on why B2B companies have a distinct advantage online. He wrote:
I believe in the idea of customer communities. Not so much those hosted by the company, as that tends to imply a lack of trust, but those in which the company ventures outside the fortified walls and participates in the conversation with their customers.
Communities hosted by companies don't necessarily imply lack of trust. I think if there is a way that a company can facilitate an unmet need, for example for customers or people interested in discussing "x", it would help everyone if they did. To me, a successful blog, is a hosted conversation and can build community. It's both activities.
Part of Brian's response can teach us a thing or two about customers and potential customers and how they enter conversations:
I think that the issue of trust in corporate blogs stems from the reputation of the organization in the community prior to the blog. It is the perception of trust in the brand (and it's alignment with the community focus) that is magnified through the act of hosting their own community.
I recently learned of a new community while browsing Tino's Strada site.
Called "Nation of Go," it is a community promoting auto enthusiasts to "Drive, Share, Connect." As a car guy, this sounds awesome to me. There is far too much splintering in our corner of the web and communities which seek to unify gear heads hold a special place in my heart, but here's the rub.
Nation of Go is "A new social network for gearheads from BFGoodrich Tires."
BFGoodrich Tires? I've had them and feel they offer a high quality product, but for them to get into the car community scene? It feels wrong. I tried to justify it, recognizing that one thing ALL cars and trucks have in common is TIRES, which pretty much means BFG is known by any gear head you meet, but then I visit the Nation of Go site and they make a point of mentioning, specifically, what BFGoodrich tires they had installed on new vehicles which had come with other brands.
I believe that, when hosting a community, the value provided to the community members should always be the focus. I understand that there's a business need to get some kind of ROI out of the deal, but if a community is going to be developed and spun as providing real value to its members, then THAT needs to be the focus above all else. ROI comes later, naturally, organically.
When I see a community hosted by a corporation, the first thought to cross my mind (and very likely many other minds as well), is "They're just trying to sell their stuff with this." It can put people like me on full alert.
So, a community is being created to unify gear heads across the country to "Drive, Share, Connect," but the first visit reveals there's a van and a Mitsubishi parked somewhere in Bakersfield and, while we might not know too much about these vehicles they're using for their epic adventure across the country meeting people, we know exactly which BFGoodrich tires they installed.
I consider successful blogs types of communities where the content draws people with similar interests together. While a Web site is written to help the user find information they're looking for, a blog is more a kind of place where people who are thinking about that information see each other, choose to interact with the ideas in the posts (or not) and with those who show up to do the same.
What if your organization doesn't have a baseline before starting a blog?
Start with customers
You won't feel the pressure to make it all about you - they've already experienced you, and you have a chance to make things better if the experience has not been great. Fix the problem first, of course. Inform them of more ways they can have to interact with you and especially with each other, if they so choose.
Many organizations have user group events and meet ups. Some companies have customer Advisory Boards. You could integrate some online with the face to face - for example, giving a way for users to stay in touch on topics and discussions started live. Continuity over time is one of the trickiest parts after you leave a successful event.
At the event you have the emcee getting everyone energized, online you have a facilitator for the conversation. In some cases that's the same person as the content curator, in others, she's a different person. Project scope and skill sets would determine that.
Last year we discussed the skill sets needed of a corporate blogger. Today at Fast Company expert blog we take a look at three companies that started down the trust path with customers first.
There's a lot more to say about trust. Maybe we can start by thinking about and thanking those professionals who are giving a human face to organizations, who are creating content - and experiences - for customers and their peers. By doing that, they are already making a difference where it counts most.
What's stopping you? How can this community help you take steps to get started? Weigh in.