Friday, 18 July 2008

Brands investing in their own social network communities

During my usual morning scan of posts out there in the blog land I came across a good article by Brad Hinton also discussing social networks who pointed me off to Dell's online community it has set up called IdeaStorm to provide a platform to interact with their consumers and offer the chance for feedback on their products.

So I went and had a look and was pleasantly surprised. It appears to be a success. You get the feeling that as the forum has been developed and managed directly by Dell that your opinion can be heard and your views could make a difference. It is quite an empowering feeling. There is an option next to the posts to either 'promote' or 'demote' it depending on whether you value the subject, a bit like 'digging it' I should imagine and like threads on other social sites you can post replies and develop discussions about the topic. Some of which I found quite amusing, such as .

I hope Dell uses it constructively to direct feedback into the design and development stages to improve its customer focus and monitor any negative views which they may be able to address either by getting involved in the discussion, changing their behaviour/ products or developing relevant PR campaigns to manage the problem. Don't put the Dell logo upside down on the Mini Inspiron

All in all I think its a great idea and think more companies should follow suit. Developing their own rather than relying on pre constructed social networking sites is pricier but I think it gives a more professional and caring perception rather than just doing it to be seen to be doing it.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Brands interacting on social networks

Primarily social networks are made by people for the people. They're a place where members can make new connections and interact with each other about common interests. From my experience they are generally really friendly and welcoming environments presumably as everyone has the same motive. To exchange ideas, share knowledge and advice and also get a sense of belonging in a close community. This obviously becomes harder as network sites grow in members though threads are a good way to keep the feeling of a small community.

Brands need to take into account this type of environment when they look to get in line with the social network trend. Any attempts to use them as just another advertising space to sell their services direct to people will almost certainly be met with a hostile response as they are not respecting the site or the members who use it.

Instead of being a corporate mouthpiece for the brand, marketers need to think about using more personal tactics. They are more likely to be accepted if they come as individuals with their own contributions to the discussions.

Most networks like new members to introduce themselves to the group and reveal a bit about themselves. This is because users value transparency and are looking to build valuable long term relationships rather than be hit by various impersonal sales pitches.

Spam as its referred to, is negatively received by the majority if users yet brands still insist on posting them. Surely this is bound to have a negative effect on their image. Though as long as people are still curious enough to click on the links, they are still likely to exist but I think e-marketing should hope to take the long term view more seriously using the principles of relationship marketing, building a reputation of original thinking and expertise in problem solving through as they partake in these forums.

Social networks, contrary to popular belief, are here to stay. User generated content has taken off and shows no sign of slowing down. Consumers are liberated and are not likely to hand back control to brands easily any time soon so it is time for brands to wise up and play by consumers' rules and become TRULY consumer orientated.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Lively interaction

Second life has been around for a few years but only now has google got round to creating an equivalent, 'lively'. Lets hope it lives up to its ambitious name.

I've had a go myself at creating a room and trying to add furniture and and create a person though sadly experienced a few technical problems. All i managed to end up with is a basic shell I could zoom in and out of. Though I have faith these problems will be ironed out eventually. It is no suprise therefore that the program is available for free at the moment.

So assuming this program does get up and running properly and people actually overcome the frustrations of trying to work out how to use it, what does this mean for online social interaction. IT seems to be a step up from conventional social networking sites as you can personalise your own character, your own music that plays in your presence and your own room complete with decor. So yet another way that we can exercise our right as a postmodern consumer to be playful with our roles in society.

People can invite people to visit their room, via google mail of course (yes you guessed it you need a gmail account to set this up) and you can also go find other rooms to join. Some of them already created by users actually look quite appealing if you allow yourself to postpone disbelief and induldge in the fantasy of you actually being in a futuristic sushi bar or lazing by the pool on a roof top terrace.

If people have time to go beyond being a citizen designer and turn their attention to interacting with other users the program can be quite clever, enabling users to chat using an instant messaging service and have their characters talk also through speach bubbles to create a more cartoonish feel. It combines social networking and computer game conventions that will be interesting to observe over the next few months to see what type of interactions prevail. Whether this will be a space for intellectual discussions or an extention of 'pub talk'.

It seems like an ideal platform for brands to extend their presence more physically online and for consumers to interact with their image, personality and products, they can almost create an authentic user experience with the brand online that couldn't be done before. I hope to see brands take the iniative to get involved in this new medium as I think it could open up many opportunities for brand awareness and engagement.

There are tv screens to input into rooms from the 'shop' and I'm sure I saw one room had youtube. Could this be the next generation for online tv? could we next be watching our favourite shows in our virtual living rooms online? Nowadays any wacky ideas seem possible!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Facebook creators as persuasion masterminds?

I recently read a very interesting article on bbc news which raised the possibility of Facebook creators being persuasion masterminds as they have created a social networking site which relies on friends' persuasion to use the features of the site.

Among its youth following, users encourage each other to upload their photos the next day after a social event and engage in a dialogue about it by posting comments on each others' photos.

Users are encouraged to constantly update their profile pictures, status and comment on each others' walls by ther peers raher than Facebook having to provide incentives to do so as users want to project a social persona of themselves, one which shows them interacting with other people to improve their image of popularity and pictures them doing things they like doing to contribute to the self image they wish to portray.

Therefore it is no wonder that Facebook boasts 8million ACTIVE users with little effort on their part. A person's image and online persona needs maintained on a regular basis. The downside to users being if they aren't seen to be using the site regularly friends won't attempt to talk to them as they will assume they don't check their wall reguarly. Alternatively they could be perceived as being anti-social or a bit of a social outcast. Either way, there is fear that they may be left out of the social loop.

Those who update their profile regularly have more social currency to interact with others and initaite interactions about their latest activities.

Not having an active role in the persuasion process to encourage usage of the site and its features gains the site respect from users as they feel they have chosen to use it. Whilst in actual fact it is the way the site is set up and its role in social communication that persuades users to interact reguarly. Good news for owners, advertisers and users alike though for different reasons.