6 posts categorized "Online Communities"

02/03/2009 Can Online Help Solve the Financial Crisis?

As I watch our economic quicksand grow, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about micro-transactions and wondering how companies can provide savings and value. In doing so, I think the Web might be able to play a new role in helping us dig out of our economic meltdown.

One of the biggest problems our economy faces today is that no one is willing to spend money on big, or even medium ticket items any more. Maybe it’s because we realize we have to stop maxing out our credit cards. Or maybe we realize that those items weren’t that important in the long run. One of the problems, though, is that when we stop buying big things, it has some strong ripple effects down through the economy. Circuit City disappearing shows what can happen.

Can the Web help? Here’s an interesting starting point:

The Web is good at is bringing people together like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Others sites like NexTag, PriceGrabber and BizRate help find the lowest prices. The problem now isn’t lowest price, it’s how do you get someone to fork over the money.

Is there a micro payment solution? Probably not, except for an extremely long layaway plan. But if we thought, instead, of how to break up the cost and benefits, maybe we could use the Web to find friends and neighbors to split the cost and ownership of these big-ticket items.

A conversation with a neighbor prompted this. Almost everyone on my street (except for me and one other greenie at the end of the street) has a snow blower. While that’s been good for Toro and the like, it seemed like everyone having one was kind of a waste of money. If we had connected and talked about this, we might have purchased them together and shared them? Same goes for things like pressure washers and other home equipment.

That’s what I think the Web could do. Imagine a family, or two or three, who can’t afford the $500 or $600 Wii bundle. But if you broke that down to $150-$200 among three families, that might be doable. You’d get the Wii every third week, and probably get your kids out of your house for the other two weeks.

How about a system to bring together neighbors to share handymen or contactors for yard work or home improvement? That would be good for both small business men and homeowners. Could we share a broadband connection? If one home got a big broadband pipe and a great Wireless Router, you could probably split the cost pretty easily. While this assumes a reduced consumption, it assumes continued consumption and could help turn around some ailing industries.

Now, all we need is a way to bring people together to break up those payments and share in the ownership.

Businesses like ZipCar or SmartBike already tap into this type of consumerism, but they build from a renting model instead of an ownership model.

A solution could be a CraigsList/Facebook/PriceGrabber of buyers groups (or unions now that Obama says that’s okay again). We talk about how the Web has given control to the consumer, but I think something like this would really give control to consumers while encouraging more consumption which our economy needs right now.

Yup, the ownership thing could get messy. Yes, it is a collectivist solution for a nation weaned on individualism. But in extreme situations, as this financial meltdown, we owe it to each other to challenge and examine some long-held beliefs. And if you really want to own it on your own instead of sharing, you can always do that instead.

When things are good, sharing isn’t very interesting. Everyone wants his or her own. But it bad times, sharing is essential. Maybe its time we looked at this a little closer.

01/19/2009 Online Not So Dangerous for Kids

The Internet seems like a dangerous place. News reports tell us that pedophiles and sexual predators stalk online communities, pose as kids, and lure our unsuspecting loved ones to nefarious ends.

Well, a recent high-level task force created by 49 state attorneys just announced that it isn’t so. They’ve concluded that there’s a lot of hype, but not a lot of evidence to support this fear. Their report shows its very unlikely adults will proposition kids and teens online.

The biggest danger: online bullying between teens.

We had a recent, terrible tragedy in VT last year of a young girl killed by her uncle. The perps broke into her MySpace to make it look like she had been picked up online. The newspapers continued to run with stories of online dangers even after the police debunked it.

Which makes me wonder: Are newspapers and TV perpetuating the myth of online sickos preying on our kids? Are they simply tapping into a parent’s worst fear to paint the Internet as the most dangerous neighborhood?

My young kids are online. My daughter, especially, loves the online social sites. We talk to her about being careful but I’m struck by how with-it she seems. She’s already leaned what to be wary of (asking for passwords) and how the word filters work. It’s amazing to see her calm my wife down, who worries a lot about this kind of stuff.

We online folk have done a sorry job at telling a better story about what kids do online. Just look at a place called Star Doll. What started as a great dress up site now attracts clothing brands with in-game add-ons. It’s one of the most popular sites for teen girls in the world. Maybe there’s an issue with having girls focusing so much on clothes and style, but that’s another issue.

There are more stories of the great things kids are doing online. But we can breathe easier; knowing things are not so dangerous out there.

The kids are all right.

01/13/2009 Sony Wants to Listen

Sony recently announced that in order to better listen to customers, they’re building an online community to hear “unvarnished opinions from fans and detractors.” The site is at electronicsblog.sel.sony.com. They will also start a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and a Flickr page.

It’s great that Sony wants to listen. It reminds me of a discussion I heard back in 2007 by Beth Kim Thomas of Nestle. She set up a number of forums to make her marketing team hear all the feedback, good and bad, about the brand. We marketers are usually bad listeners; we like to think we know everything already.

I set up a similar experiment for a client in 2007 as well. The problem was, they really didn’t want to listen. They wanted people to contribute, but they didn’t really want to act on or do anything about the comments, most of them personal and valid.

As for Sony, I hope they become better listeners. It seems to me, there should be a lot of opinions out there already out there about Sony. I wonder if they’ve set up any ways to listen to those discussions before building their own walled garden.  When Dell set up their “What Does Green Mean to You” campaign, most of the activity came from Facebook, not the microsite.

The best customer feedback site I’ve seen is still Apple’s support site. Even though it’s on Apple.com, it seems that the customers really run that site, gaining points for helping one another, and providing very straight-forward feedback and opinions about all products. Maybe Apple’s simply in another category when it comes to customer engagement, but it seems to be a good model.

I hope Sony is open about what it’s listening to and what it plans to do with the feedback. That would be something special: actively showing how it’s listening and how customers can impact its business.

11/13/2008 Warning! Sites advocate and market at the same time.

I’ve run into two sites lately, both who are warning of dangers while trying to increase sales. They take very different tacks in doing so. The comparison gets a little challenging, since one comes from a social welfare state and the other comes from an independent profit driven company.

The first is CrimeMedicine.com and comes from the Swedish Läkemedelsverket. It’s the equivalent of our FDA; they approve all medical products for sale in Sweden. “Aha!” you might say. “You can’t compare that with product marketing.” Well, yes and no. You see most, if not all, Swedes buy their medicines at state owned pharmacies. So their FDA has a clearly vested interest in driving sales through the state stores.

CrimeMedicine.com takes you behind the scenes of online pharmaceuticals sales. They do this through one of the best interactive video interfaces I’ve ever seen. At each step of the video story you can click through for more detail, including Google maps of illegal pill making in suburban apartments. It doesn’t look like there’s much there, but I was surprised at the depth of info. And it helps that the video feels right out of a solid investigative journalism tradition.


Of course, if you don’t know Swedish, it’s hard to keep up with the story. But it’s a pretty jarring site to drive home the point that there’s something dangerous out there, even if we don’t pay it much attention. I mean I’ve gotten so much of this type of spam, I’ve never really thought about the seedy underbelly of this stuff. Yuck.

And the intro screen is great. Not what you expect at all.

Seeing the CrimeMedicine site made me think of Seventh Generation’s new campaign at ShowWhatsInside.com. Seventh Gen makes environmentally safe household cleaners and they’ve been the leaders in this space for a while. Now that green is hot, all of the big guns, like P& G, are getting into the game. The new campaign wants people to take a critical look at what’s inside of the competitors’ products, because there are quite a few “green” household products that contain toxic material.

It’s a great idea to promote consumer activism in a way that helps consumers, and sells more products for Seventh Gen. But their approach is almost the opposite of the first site. No jarring realism here, but some very soft ideas, like build a tree, an ingredient widget and a fun customizable tee shirt with your own ingredients. Yes there is video, but it’s the kinder, gentler type.


Both sites have some pretty disturbing stories to tell. CrimeMedicine tells it in a hard-hitting way using some great interactivity.  ShowWhatsInside does it through some user-generated content. Personally, I had a hard time quitting CrimeMedicine; it felt like there were a lot of good layers there. It certainly made me react more in my gut than the Show site.

Surprisingly enough, neither site did a great job in providing tools to spread the word.

10/06/2008 Are you listening?

Cone just released a study showing that an overwhelming majority of social media users (85%) believe a company should interact with its consumers via social media. That’s not too surprising, considering the people asked use social media.

What’s a little more interesting is what they want companies to do:
•    Companies should use social networks to solve my problems (43%)
•    Companies should solicit feedback on their products and services (41%)

I think what they’re saying is that they want companies to listen to them. And then talk back to them, rather than talking at them.

They also feel that they have a lot to contribute to making brands better. That’s a pretty amazing sentiment and one that brands should start waking up to.

Most companies I’ve worked with have a great fear of opening up conversations with customers, especially online. It goes back to the whole KAOS vs. Control issue. The biggest excuse is that it takes too much time.

But the brands that do this, in one way or another, end up solidifying their brand advocates in a win-win situation. Whether it’s Jones Soda, a pioneer in listening online, on Facebook, or Apple letting customers run the support bulletin boards, they show they listen to their customers, that they’re not afraid.

With Twitter and other places, you don’t even have to build your own, you just need to show up and start listening.

You don’t have to be a big brand to do this. What’s your company doing?

09/22/2008 What's the word?


If you’re interested in hearing what customers say about your brand, but can’t afford expensive solutions like VML’s Seer, you should try Twing. There are a number of different search tools out there that have started focusing on this area. Twing is a little bit different.

Rather than look at blog or Twitter posts, Twing searches forum and community sites. In a sense, it highlights discussions rather than opinions. A subtle but not unimportant difference.

If you’re an online marketer, this is a good listening tool to have

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