Diane Hessan knows the wisdom of crowds first-hand. As the CEO of Communispace, a fast-growing major player in the brand community creation and management industry, she’s helped drive consumer insight and product innovation for dozens of Fortune 100 companies. Co-author of the book Customer Centered Growth, Diane was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Boston Chamber of Commerce (a town that has one or two entrepreneurs floating around).
An avid (rabid) Red Sox fan, Diane is an interesting, entertaining, insightful force that’s helping major companies meld customer experience and social media. She shared her experience in community building in this live Twitter interview on December 1, 2009.
1. @jaybaer: Should every company have a brand community at this point? Are there company types that shouldn’t be involved?
@communispaceceo: I think every company should be in conversation with their customers at this point. Doing it via a community is one easy way.
2. @jaybaer: What do you find are the primary benefits of brand communities?
@communispaceceo: “Community” means a lot of things. At Communispace, we use them largely to help our clients get insights from customers.
It’s a terrible time to lose touch with your customers! Listening=more innovation, increased marketing effectiveness, increased relevance.
3. @jaybaer: What about ROI? Is the idea that community participation increases brand kinship & loyalty? How is that measured?
@communispaceceo: ROI is TRULY better/faster/cheaper & all can be measured. Regarding loyalty, it is easier to measure in B2B, but you can always ask.
4. @jaybaer: In terms of insights, do you prefer brands ask specific questions of community members, or just open it up?
@communispaceceo: The real breakthrough in using communities to listen is that it eliminates the “ad-hoc-ness” of most corporate listening.
And, listening is a hugely underrated marketing strategy.
If you have a good community, you do both: you ask specific questions, and they talk openly about anything.
5. @jaybaer: How then do you see communities aligning/intersecting with tactics like social media monitoring?
@communispaceceo: Do both. Monitoring = finding trends, knowing who’s saying what about you; Communities=insight/co-creation/understanding.
6. @jaybaer: Do communities need to be branded to be effective? Could you create it here, or elsewhere? (h/t @rustyspeidel)
@communispaceceo: Branding isn’t required, but it’s better! Members will work harder if they know who the sponsor is and it’s transparent.
7. @jaybaer: What about Facebook? A lot of brands are toying with making Facebook their social media home base. Pros/cons?
@communispaceceo: Our communities are private: targeted consumers. The conversation’s strategic: Not what you’d share with competition.
I love Facebook for “energizing your base”, but it’s not structured enough for ongoing insight, (e.g., ideation).
8. @jaybaer: Communispace believes in invite-only communities, right? Who gets invited? How? By whom?
@communispaceceo: We believe in lots that we don’t do.
But we do invite-only and the client drives who we recruit: their most loyal customers? nonusers? mix? A new segment or two?
It’s unbelievable what people will share and what they’ll do for you if they think you are really listening. The value of social media for listening.
9. @jaybaer: Are the members of the communities you manage compensated? Thus, is it more like a post-modern focus group?
@communispaceceo: Lite compensation for lots of hard work. Focus group on steroids (500 people in a room “all the time”.)
10. @jaybaer: Can you explain your engagement principle – why smaller communities are better? This is a paradox for many people.
@communispaceceo: Think about it: Are you more likely to talk/open up in a small group or in a large group? Shouldn’t be a paradox.
Intimacy is so powerful. People feel special, they trust you, & vice versa. Very important if you need game-changing insights.
@jaybaer: I think the paradox is that it runs counter to the “more followers, fans, & friends” is a legitimate success metric.
@communispaceceo: More followers/fans/friends is critical for messaging, energizing, etc. But you don’t need huge numbers to learn how to be relevant.
And, you can have lots of small communities. You know the deal: “Let’s all break up into small groups so that we can talk!”