Will Your Company’s Online Community Fail?

In many instances, a company-created online social community for current and potential customers is a recipe for disaster. For instance, here is a good four-part series outlining the many reasons online communities fail by Joshua Paul. However, in certain circumstances, a company-created online social community can be a positive resource and provide both customers and the company with what they are looking for.

Before delving into the reasons a private community can benefit a company, it is important to note that communities created by businesses are judged critically from the start. Customers are getting keen on the fact that businesses want their business, and will do almost anything to get it. Therefore, businesses that build a community with the sole purpose of getting sales will fail miserably.

Companies that see a need for a place for their customers to get together– companies that are just as passionate about their products as their customers are — are the ones that need to build communities. Coincidentally, these succeed. After all, passion is the greatest fire.

Niche Interests Grow Communities

Does your company create materials for miniature landscapes? What about one that manufacturers scissors? This is how Fiskars reached out to the very demographic that uses their scissors: They created an exclusive community called the Fisk-a-teers. (Note: Jason Falls first turned me onto the Fisk-a-teers when I saw him on his No Bullshit Social Media book tour this year).


Screenshot from the Fisk-a-teers website taken on 10/25/2011

The Fisk-a-teers community gives crafters and scrapbookers a place to talk about what they love. The community is exclusive (requiring an invitation from one of the four crafting ambassadors) but has grown past anyone’s expectations, especially the team at Fiskars.

Jason talks more about this case study in his book, but it is just one example of a private social community that is flourishing. There are several others — just check out ning.com and other social networking site builders. However, companies don’t need case studies to prove they can succeed at building a social network. They just need understanding, genuine compassion and the commitment to build a community for their customers, not for their own focus group.

The Importance Of User-Generated Content

From a self-serving standpoint for businesses — besides user-generated content benefiting the users themselves, it also provides SEO value to the business’ website, building more internal backlinks and more content overall, which will be picked up by the search engine spiders. In addition, content that is driven and created by the community members themselves, not the business, is a great place to research customer sentiments and interests.

However, going back to the first few paragraphs, it’s important for users to connect with each other on their own, not because of pushing and prodding by the company running the network. Your customers are not cattle. They do not want to be pushed into a social network that doesn’t have content generated by their peers. They don’t want company employees forcing them to answer questions.

It is key to always keep this in mind. Company employees need to be silent spectators — helpful when customers need them, but otherwise letting the network grow organically.

Unless a company has the passion about, the commitment to and the understanding of how a social networking site can flourish, they are destined to be cautionary tales. Do research, ask the customers what they want and concentrate on building a cohesive and fully-functioning social network.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing Column


About The Author: runs her own social media and search marketing business, MoxieDot, where she helps clients grow their online presence. She was voted one of the top 100 marketers of the year by Invesp in 2009 and has worked for Yelp, Run.com, and Bounty Towels.

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  • http://twitter.com/Webprotech WebPro Technologies

    Thanks Kelsey for sharing the article on 
    reasons online communities fail by Joshua Paul.

    I have been observing the rise and fall of the online communities since early 2000.  I have been a member of some good online communities since quite some time now and I have observed that communities usually start off with a right attitude of sharing and discussing to create a good member base and thereby create some valuable digital asset in the form of UGC But, after sometime when a certain brand building is achieved they become more of customer forums and communities where customers are given more preference and their voice is heard more. That is where the actual downfall starts because all member may not become customers for various global implication reasons and valuable input and UGC gets lost due to the change in attitude of  the community manager or the Company policies. 


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