In my previous two columns, we examined Front Runner, a pseudonymous consumer brand with a consumer media initiative. (See “First Steps Are Always Critical,” April 2009 and “The Next Step Matter, Too”, August 2009). The first of four Front Runner social media communities went live last week. While it’s too early to provide concrete results, below are some key observations to date.
· Secure community sponsorship at the highest levels
The social media team at Front Runner knew early on that it would be critical to have all relevant stakeholders involved in the community launch. They also knew that they would need to secure sponsorship from the CEO or from one of the CEO’s direct reports.
Here’s an example of why sponsorship is key: at one point Front Runner wasn’t getting timely and sufficient support from their IT department regarding single sign-on as well as graphic support for needed headers and footers for their emerging community.
Fortunately Front Runner’s CEO had signed up as community sponsor, and quickly secured IT’s timely and complete participation. Front Runner found that weekly project calls attended by key stakeholders was the best way to surface potential issues and obstacles and keep things on track.
· Seriously consider utilizing the SaaS model
You may remember that Front Runner opted to go with an off-site, SaaS-based social media platform vendor. To date, this vendor has performed with excellence. By using an outside platform vendor, Front Runner has removed a lot of potential internal technical headaches thereby allowing them to keep the focus on securing active community participation (although they still debated the look and feel of the community’s user interface; in the end, Front Runner opted for a very simple user interface).
· Implement social media best practices
Front Runner built their community around blogs, ratings and polls. Best practice for blogs suggests thinking of community blogs as a newspaper with your bloggers being the columnists, although successful bloggers tend to be less formal and more engaging than newspaper columnists! The writing style should engage community members and solicit feedback, opinions, etc. To keep the community fun and active, Front Runner encourages their bloggers to utilize interviews, pictures, and interactive elements (Flash) in their blog entries. Front Runner also created a blog editorial calendar that extended out 2-3 months.
As a rule of thumb, you want to have 3-5 new blog entries per week across your community, which implies signing up 8-10 bloggers who are ready and willing to contribute when needed. Front Runner found it useful to include internal bloggers as well as partner bloggers. They also found that regular meetings with their bloggers helped build a healthy esprit de corps and secure ensure consistency in their blog posts.
To drive community interest and registration, Front Runner has found that having a contest is an excellent way to stimulate initial community interest. Front Runner launched its contest (which offers cash prizes) out of the gates; during this first week alone, more than 500 people have signed up for the contest!
Front Runner also has included polls in their community site. One of the advantages of polls is that all visitors to the community can vote on a poll; you do not have to register on the community to vote.
· Build a tight linkage Between PR coverage and community launch
Front Runner placed a lot of emphasis on attracting PR early on and this focus has already paid off big time. In this day and age, it’s really difficult to cut through the clutter. Front Runner has learned that being an early adopter in social media has its benefits: because social media is ‘hot’ at this time, the press is keen to cover successful communities. In one city, all four television stations covered the Front Runner launch, which has significantly boosted visitors to the community site.
· Measure your social media benefits
Front Runner has locked on these four community metrics:
– Customer Retention: As a customer-centric organization, Front Runner is encouraging customers to feel that they are truly part of a “club”. They have opened a two-way dialog with their customers, who are now interacting and communicating directly with Front Runner as well as with each other. Customers already have confirmed their willingness to share feedback, complaints, comments, suggestions, etc. on a variety of topics. Front Runner’s community reinforces the ‘club’ concept and serves as an added benefit to the overall customer experience.
– Customer Insight: They are using their community as a cost-effective substitute for focus groups and surveys, while gathering valuable research by listening to customers’ positive and negative comments.
– Innovation: They are encouraging community members to suggest new Front Runner products and services, use the community to introduce new products and concepts, and solicit immediate customer feedback.
– Sales: Front Runner is measuring additional sales to community members versus those customers who are not actively participating in the community. They are also rewarding enthusiastic community members for promoting and persuading others to transact with Front Runner.
In this 3-part series, I have attempted to share with you the actual implementation of social media community from its inception. Given all the hype surrounding social media, including the new ‘Social CRM’ craze, it is reassuring to know that Front Runner has been able to build a successful social media community that has already helped to deepen their customer reach.