Highlights of SxSWi: Susan Bratton (part 3) Social Networks and Online Communities

Mar 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Audio Podcasting, Podcasting, Podcasting Events, The New Media Update

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danardvincente/2512148705/We have asked some of our friends and colleagues who attended technology and new media conference South By Southwest Interactive (SxSWi) to share their highlights and takeaways from the conference, which wrapped up earlier this week.

Today we share the third part (of four) by guest correspondent Susan Bratton:

Social networks & online communities

Some of the most spirited discussion in my conversations revolved around the question, “If a company wants to create a solid social networking community around their brand, what are the most important things they should know/do?

‘If You’re Not Pissing Someone Off, You Might As Well Go Home’

Patricia Martin, founder of LitLamp Communications and author of “RenGen,” says she’s keeping her finger on the pulse of “connoisseurs of community development.”

“Now consumers enter into the world as content creators rather than content consumers and how they are now seeking to actually control their identities is really interesting,” Patricia says. The Millennials [today's young adults who came of age with ubiquitous computers and portable digital media] are an online reputation management-savvy generation. Patricia notes they are managing themselves as brands.

Another power tip came from Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of AllTop and author of “Reality Check:” “if you’re not pissing someone off on a social network, you might as well go home.” Guy has 85,000 followers. His point being, with so many followers, you cannot take personally any negative feedback.

Guy’s rationale: We agreed that whereas a marketer used to follow the axiom, “one bad customer complaint represents one hundred people who feel the same way and remain silent,” in today’s consumer-generated content world, one complaint is often simply that.

Courting Key Influencers In The Community

Angela Benton, Founder and Publisher, Black Web 2.0, suggests marketers find influencers for your brand by focusing on those who have smaller, but deeply connected followers. Trying to target only the very well-known in the social space can come off as shrill and could backfire on your “authenticity.” With all the talk about paid bloggers, it’s important to focus on those influencers who can rally customers for you who will resonate with your offering.

Cathy Brooks, Consultant, Other Than That, talked about helping mobile device maker Nokia place their phones into “more vertical” social communities. “There are so many people in so many markets: politics, food, family, technology, all of it, so how do put these devices into the hands of people who really need to use them everyday?”

Cathy is expanding the reach for Nokia into the second and third concentric circles of bloggers and Twitterers — people who can be brand advocates, who are influential to their own [niche] group. True, the Nokia conversation might not hit 100,000 people through a single influential person. But, if that blogger or Twitterer or podcaster has two or three hundred, or a thousand of exactly the right people that follow them, they are a key “radiator.” Those followers, subscribers, readers,  look to that particular person as someone who really does influence the decisions of many.

This has been Intel’s marketing strategy for nearly 20 years. Educate the influencer (aka the well-regarded, outspoken PC computer geek), and they will make the rationale to their followers why a PC with “Intel Inside” is worth a premium price.

Tara Hunt, who is Marketing Lead-Partner Platforms, at Intuit says that at Intuit, they created the platform for their small-business-owner clients to convene. For the most part, they [Intuit] stay out of the way. The community does “a darn fine job supporting each other,” Tara says.

Should brands be the facilitators of the conversation about their product?

Tara, The Advance Guard’s C.C. Chapman, Aaron Strout of Powered, Inc., and many others believe there are situations when it is appropriate for a brand to step in, to foster a community.

Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies, MIT, feels otherwise. He thinks you should go where your customers congregate. I asked him how to find these places, and Henry eloquently said:

“the best way is to use a variety of search tools. So search Twitter, search the blogosphere, search Google, search every engine that brings you to sites where conversations are taking place. Listen to podcasts that are tied to the products that you’re involved with. Read the blogs, go to Live Journal, go to, you know, all of the other social network sites. You will find activity and discussions spontaneously occurring.

“You don’t need to bring people into your studio and run a focus group now. What you need to do is recognize how this product is used and talked about in the field. Engage with the people, engage with your consumers on that level. But you also are going to need to figure out what’s your value [of your input and participation]? Why should they listen to you? What’s your point of entry into this conversation?

“So when I talk to companies, they often are saying, ‘We’re worried about losing control over our brand message.’ Well, the reality is, you lost control a long time ago. Your consumers can take your brand and do with it more or less what they want. You might stop some of them with cease and desist letters, but you’re not going to stop all of them — and you’d be an idiot to sue your consumers.

“But what you can do is get into the game. By getting into the game, I mean you create a value for that community. You give them something that’s a resource that allows them to talk to each other about the brands that matter to them. You give them things that they can take back with them, back to wherever the communities they’re involved with, and continue the conversation. Sometimes you can become an active part of that conversation. But sometimes, just as importantly, you merely [provide] the resources that is at the center of the conversation.…”

Guest correspondent Susan Bratton is the CEO of the Personal Life Media network. I know her through the time I spent on the board of the Association for Downloadable Media (ADM), where Susan is Vice-President of the organization. She was also instrumental in setting internet advertising standards in helping create the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Susan’s interviews will also be blogged by Aaron Strout, CMO of Powered here.

Photo: “Web 2_0” by Danard Vincente

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One Response to “Highlights of SxSWi: Susan Bratton (part 3) Social Networks and Online Communities”

  1. Annalise says:

    Creating a community around your brand using social networks is very important in today’s marketing world. It increases brand awareness and ultimately increases revenue. Your social networking community increases conversation and creates engagement about your brand. -Annalise, ezanga.com

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