Social Media Week: “Forget Communities of Fans. Get Partners.” Debrief

Does LEGO have any enemies?

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:

"What consumers are doing with Lego is far more interesting and popular than what Lego does." @VirtualPeter #smwgetpartners
Michael Monello

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:

Every1 wants the results of having a vibrant community of fans. Very few r willing to put in the hard work to achieve that. #smwgetpartners
Rick Liebling

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.

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  • Kristen Taylor

    Thanks, Rick! So glad you came, and excellent summary of the most important points here, a great resource–

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  • shaun abrahamson

    rick, thanks for joining us on friday.

    I think part of this has to do with the lens that is being used – when you listen to kristen and peter talk about what they do, there is no “targeting” or “offers” there are discussions around things like: values, respect, transparency etc.

    in part this may be pressure to show ROI in the short term. much like different hires withincompany, it may be possible to demand sales from a sales person in the first few quarters, but if you were talking to a product or engineering person, you’d be prepared to invest for longer before expecting a return.

    tough part is getting organizations to see the potential in partners (longer term investment) versus just a short term oppty to build a new direct marketing channel.

  • Rick

    @ Krisen – No thank you, great job on Friday.

    @Shaun – Thanks for adding some additional thoughts. You highlight a great distinction in the words used by Kristen and Peter when discussing communities.

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  • Laura

    Spot on with the Like issue on Facebook. Yeah, that’s one metric but it doesn’t really tell you anything and those numbers can easily be bought or manipulated. Ditto with Twitter. If you want 10,000 followers, they are easy to get. The problem is when you drill down into those numbers, many of those followers are useless: They don’t live in a place you can monetize, they follow so many people that they won’t see your brand messaging, they follow so few people and update so infrequently that it suggests they aren’t using Twitter. And yet, people still are YAY! I HAVE 500 FOLLOWERS ON TWITTER!

    Numbers need to be understood in context to the data that surrounds them. That data isn’t always as easy to get and it can be pretty hard to understand.

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  • warcraft

    I dont think Ive seen all the angles of this subject the way youve pointed them out. Youre a true star, a rock star man. Youve got so much to say and know so much about the subject that I think you should just teach a class about it

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for the good resources.

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