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April 20, 2009

How should your brand site share with your community?

by Josh Bernoff

I hear this question all the time, so now I'm sharing it with you to get your perspective.

Your brand has a Web site. Your company may have a customer community. How do they connect?

  • The brand site is the community. Any other corporate  info is just tacked on. (This is the case for social technology startups, but not most brands.)
  • The brand site has a prominent link to the community. (Does the community site share a URL with the brand, e.g. www.brandsite.com/community?)
  • The brand site and the communty are completely separate.

The right answer may depend on a lot of factors including how strong is your brand, does the brand presence enhance or interfere with the community, and does your brand site get enough traffic to make a community link worthwhile?

Just interested in how you make these decisions.

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Comments

Rebekah Donaldson

For B2B firms with highly considered products and services, the brand site should be the community site.

I really want to have a two-way communication with our brand site visitors. But, sans public comments feature on our main site, we’re encouraging… listening. That is, I don’t think that offering a response form with a field for entering comments counts as fostering dialogue; that mechanism sends a private communication to the site owner. What fires people up is playing a part… impacting through contributing.

I’m not suggesting that our main corporate website be a wiki or something. Or that it’s not worthwhile at all without a public comment feature. I am, though, observing that blog-type infrastructure invites public dialogue; a traditional website does not. And wondering if that is ok in the long term.

I wonder: are traditional brand websites *without* community, obsolete?

Benjamin Gauthey

another dimension to explore is even you have a built community in your website, you won't control people to create external community. Should I be proactive by creating the different fan page for my company and be able to control my image on Facebook, MySpace, Facebook... Should I redirect people from external community to my built in community? How empower your visitor to become advocates?

Marcus

We're starting to blend the two together, featuring community contributions right along with our other site content. Here are a couple examples:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista/discover/edit-and-share-photos.aspx

http://www.windowslive.com/Online/SkyDrive

We plan on expanding this to more parts of our site in the months ahead.

Mike Rogers

Our general rule of thumb is that the community should be as transparently integrated with the customer experience as possible.

For example, if your brand is ecommerce driven, then community features should be built into the store experience, much like Amazon's customer reviews, customer pictures and ratings.

The community should certainly be within the same URL or at the very least branded with your brand. Attempting to create the community as a brand in its own right only doubles the amount of brand management and marketing you will need to achieve. Remember the community is there to bolster your brand, not replace it.

Oliver T. Hellriegel

Most brands still have a corporate (product) site and the community separate, if they have their "own" community at all. Most brands still lack knowledge on how to build and maintain a community, despite the fact, that marketing should be customer-centric.
The end of the day the decision is based on factors already mentioned: strength of the brand, existing online brand presence, already existing communities touching your brand.

Karen Lee

The community (or communnities) should be integrated with brand site. The way we see it at Livescribe is that our brand sites and communities are part of an overall communication ecosystem, so we try to cross-polinate them whenever possible. We also know that our customers tend to prefer a particular community to view content, voice their opinions, ask questions, and give feedback to Livescribe.

Here's how the brand site and communities break down:

Livescribe created a Pulse smartpen that records audio and links it to what you write. Brand/product site: www.livescribe.com

We have an online community within our brand site where Pulse smartpen owners can upload and share their notes and recordings with everyone: www.livescribe.com/community

On our brand site www.livescribe.com, we link to our different communities:

YouTube: www.youtube.com/nevermissaword

Facebook: www.facebook.com/livescribe

Twitter: www.twitter.com/livescribe

Michael

Josh (or anyone else that can assist),

Great post. I'm looking for information on the growth of online communities/social networks - not visitors or even free members, but paying members and revenue growth. There's a lot of the first found by searches but I've had trouble locating the second. Any idea where to find this kind of info?

I can email you with more details. Thanks to anyone that can point me in the right direction.

Cheers,
Michael

Adam Zawel

Josh,

Here are 2 data points to add to the collective intelligence.

I'm now building my second on-line community for a "traditional" company. The first was for Idealwave Solutions, a professional search firm (headhunters). We launched the private community as a seperate site entirely ( INmobile.org - the community for senior executives in wireless ). The founders at the search firm enjoyed the benefits in a subtle way - hosting in-person events for community members, launching a job widget on the site, etc.

The community I'm helping to build now is for a consulting firm (The Palladium Group). Here the key question -perhaps not too different for Forrester - is how to mix the thought leadership of the firm's experts with the voices of the practioners. In this case, the community will have a distinct personality - but will also be a prominent link on the main corporate website.

It will be a fun ride over the next ?5-10 years to see how different industries incororate the social web into their businesses.

Vijay Rayapati

Community is nothing but communication + unity among people. Your brand , consumers and products/services are all related so having a community on your brand site is a good idea and adds more visibility into how much you value your consumers.

Jim R.

I completely agree that online communities ought to be seamlessly integrated with brand sights. However, the push-back from the suits can be amazing. I guess I should be thankful that they finally understand the need for a web presence at all!

Adam Mertz

@Michael
If you go to Jive Software's website and resource page - http://www.jivesoftware.com/resources - you can click on the VMWare case study. They charge for various access levels to VMWorld community and have turned that community into a fairly significant revenue generator. I believe some of our other clients could help you as well. You can post a question in Clearstep (Jive's business-oriented community on social business software) - www.jivesoftware.com/clearstep.

Feel free to ping me on twitter (@adammertz) as well.

BTW - 100% agree that community should be tightly integrated into a company's website.

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