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Company-sponsored Social Networks Slow to Take Off

Kim Hart

Shortly after people started flocking to Facebook and MySpace, companies tried to get in on that action by starting their own social networks to connect with customers and employees. The hope was that, by starting a conversation with these communities, the companies' brand names would spread, people would discover new products and the companies would get feedback from real people.

Well, according to survey findings released yesterday by Deloitte, these online communities haven't quite taken off. Most of the social networks have fewer than 500 active members, the survey found. Half of the respondents said getting people engaged with the communities has been the biggest hurdle.

Still, some corporations see it as a worthwhile venture. Thirty-five percent of the companies surveyed said the online communities helped them boost word-of-mouth promotion of their brands, and 28 percent said they've seen their overall brand awareness increase. About 24 percent of respondents said online communities are helping increase customer loyalty and bring outside ideas into the organization.

Other companies are still not investing enough time into the communities to make them effective. Nearly half of the respondents said the biggest challenge is devoting a sufficient amount of time to manage the social network.

The rise of these commercial social networks means more work for today's marketing departments. They're charged with running online communities to drive sales and improve customer service.

Is all this working, in your opinion? Personally, none of these communities has caught my eye or even compelled me to sign up. Are there some thriving communities out there I don't know about?

By Kim Hart  |  July 17, 2008; 1:45 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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i really liked your blog but for my company www.portabledisplaysystems.com online is a good way to approach oversea customers.

Posted by: irene | July 17, 2008 11:58 PM

For our company (www.netcordia.com), we are in the network change and configuration management space and therefore, in order to bring people to our community, have focused on providing free information, via our Blogs and downloads, about networking best practices and tools that people can use to better support their networks.

We had a slow start, but now we've had hundreds of people register and we see our registration volume increase everyday. As a result we see more activity.

On the site we provide networking tools software for download as well as best practices information by the world's first CCIE (Terry Slattery, our founder and CTO).

We've also assigned internal people to participate and post relevant information on regular basis. If you're internal people don't use your community, why would anyone else?

Go to www.netcordia.com and click on "Community".

Sorry if this post might sound a bit like a plug for our company's community... probably is. :)

Posted by: Yama Habibzai | July 18, 2008 9:51 AM

Kim,

Our customers are largely small business and non-profit organizations - people who make their success with passion and energy. Almost immediately after we launched ConnectUp!, our user community, we found that our customers carried that passion into teaching and learning from each other. Our success in getting users - 18,000 and growing - engaged was certainly enhanced by our customers' enthusiasm for learning more about how to better run their operations and digital marketing, but we also but a priority on listening to what our customers wanted out of the community. We sought their input before we started, continually solicit feedback and have appointed our most active users as "ambassadors" that have been central to our efforts to improve the community. ConnectUp! (http://community.constantcontact.com/) is essential to our customer support and we hope it has become an essential part of our customer's efforts to build better business relationships.

Maureen Royal
Director of Customer Experience, Constant Contact
http://community.constantcontact.com/

Posted by: Maureen Royal | July 18, 2008 2:31 PM

Kim, you said it well - it's really about investing enough time into the communities to make them effective. I am Chairman at Mzinga, a business social media company, and we show thousands of enterprises how to successfully implement online community as a means to engage, retain, and empower employees and customers. Communities that have the highest success rates begin with a carefully crafted community strategy, are managed and moderated properly, and offer compelling content to keep participants coming back. Some great examples of thriving communities include iVillage, Disney, Dell's IdeaStorm, and IKEA BUSINESS. If you're interested in hearing about what additional advice I offer, you can see a clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rn8WMTE9wc.
Thanks again for addressing this provocative issue.

Posted by: Barry Libert | July 24, 2008 3:31 PM

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