The final Social Media Week event I went to was a terrific panel discussion called, “Forget Communities of Fans. Get Partners.” Moderated by Shaun Abrahamson, CEO of Mutopo, the panel featured Peter Espersen, Global Community lead at LEGO, and Kristen Taylor, Adjunct Professor at NYU’s ITP program. Three experts with diverse backgrounds, but all with real life experience in the subject matter.
Rather than do a rehash of the session here, I’m going to point you to a couple of resources then share some of my thoughts. First, I’d recommend taking a look at the #smwgetpartners running commentary. Some great notes and insights from those in attendance. Next, take a look at this video of the event as well as the presentation by Kristen from her blog.
Here’s the key take-away from this session: Many (most?) brands are still engaging online communities within the ‘brand above consumer’ paradigm. It’s a we are the producer, you are the consumer mentality. The result? You end up with a community of fans. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, not necessarily. If you’ve induced people to join your community with coupons, offers, discounts, promotions or contests, the people may be fans of those things rather than your brand. To create fans of your brand you’ve got to engage with them on a personal level. You’ve got to reward them for actions taken, rather than to entice them to join.
Once you’ve established a real community, based on value exchange, then you can begin to develop opportunities for partnerships. LEGO’s Espersen blew our minds with stories of regular people who were using the bricks in innovative ways, sometimes leading to product innovation and creation. LEGO embraced the idea that people would often have more interesting ways of using the products:
Here’s another thing to think about. Having this type of relationship with people is not easy. It takes hard work from skilled people. Unfortunately:
Brands often focus on the quantitative metrics (number of followers or ‘likes’). Numbers can be achieved relatively easily with enough money. But most companies aren’t in the “follower” or “like” business. Their revenue doesn’t increase just because someone has ‘liked’ them on Facebook. These people need to take action (purchase product, go to website, download materials, etc.). That takes considerably more time. While the long-term investment may not be free, the long-term ROI can be considerable.