Wouldn't it be great if random strangers showed up and created dynamic, relevant content for your website? Without being paid?
Yes, that's a thing. And it's called a branded online community.
Establish a "home base" on your corporate domain where your fans and customers can rely on direct, two-way communication with you and your team. If that trust relationship is established, the magic happens. It's like a barn-raising, with everyone working together to build a reservoir of value.
Give them a way to share photos, videos, ask questions, answer each others' questions, share their opinions in polls, and get to know each other. All of that back-and-forth, and all of that meaty information feeds the search engines' hunger for useful, recent content.
And search engines hunger for content because humans hunger for information.
In the recently released book Absolute Value, authors Simonson & Rosen use the term “couch tracking,” accumulating lots of information over time, even before the need for a product is identified. Marketers need to focus more attention on the couch-trackers, who frequent online communities and forums as they have a certain product or brand “on their radar,” because they are likely to make a decision before marketers are even aware of them.
Gini Dietrich also recently wrote on this subject as it relates to brand journalism. Your PR team can leverage your guest bloggers, Q&A topics, and visual content to support their efforts.
If you want to leverage user-generated content, bring together your community in a space you control. Raise a barn together.
The content of uploaded documents (including PDFs, Word documents, spreadsheets, and more) will now be indexed, which means they will be searchable!
2. Search Engine Spider/Robot Throttling Option
Some sites get hammered by search engine robots trying to index their content, especially older sites that have lots of content. In some cases, a high percentage of overall traffic to the site can be attributable to these search engine bots.
Thus, we have added a new tool to allow you to tame these bots, if necessary. If your billable page views are getting close to your plan limit, this option may come in handy.
On your site Control Panel's Statistics page, you'll find the new Throttling option right below your billable page view stats. You can even see the current percentage of traffic attributable to these robots.
You have three choice- No Throttling (default), Standard Throttling (which limits the bots to approximately 20% of your overall page views, and Custom Throttling.
Most sites will never need to use the "throttling" option, but it's a valuable option for sites that need it.
Please note of course that throttling search engine bots will prevent your site from being updated as often, which may negatively impact your SEO, so definitely consider the pros and cons before you enable it.
Each year, they seek input from professional community managers across a wide array of organizations, in order to produce an inside look at how brands and businesses are advancing the practice of community management.
I did a summary of key takeaways from the 2013 State of Community Management here, and there were a lot of fascinating insights that emerged from last year's report. For example, community managers emerged as the silo-breakers within organizations, often pulling together resources across multiple departments to support community-building efforts.
The Community Roundtable also runs an amazing year-round program of members-only and free webinars and content. I highly recommend checking them out if you're interested in continuing education as a community management pro. And tell them Rosemary sent you
Warning: this post might make you start craving FROYO...
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Mills from the PR team at Orange Leaf Yogurt. He's responsible for heading up OL Insider, their thriving intranet community. He spilled his secrets for getting engagement going, measuring success, and communicating across a broad spectrum of corporate and franchisee participants.
1. First, please tell us a bit about your community. Who are your members, and how are they using it? Is it completely private?
Our community is called the OL Insider. I will describe OL Insider as the internal Orange Leaf intranet or community platform that brings everyone affiliated with the brand from an internal perspective together in one location. We have corporate employees on the intranet, franchisees, store managers, some store employees and even Reese Travis- the Orange Leaf CEO. Our community is private in the sense that it is integrated with our marketing portal. Our marketing portal is where we house all materials stores need, and we ensure that we monitor login credentials and reset them often. This means, if you don’t have access to our marketing portal, you cannot access the OL Insider. No one can access it through the URL.
2. What made you take the leap to Hoop.la?
About a year ago, we really started looking into ways to improve our communication structure. My goal as the one in charge of corporate communications was to ensure that we weren’t becoming one-dimensional
by just sending out mass emails to store operators. An essential part of brand success for franchises such as Orange Leaf is to establish a system where there is dialogue amongst corporate members and franchisees/managers at the store level.
People communicate in different ways, and it’s not okay to send out communication without giving the receivers of the message an opportunity to provide feedback. Hoop.la provided the platform we were looking for. A community page where corporate can communicate and get instant feedback. It also allows store operators to communicate amongst themselves, share ideas and even ask questions and receive answers in real time. For those who love to communicate through visuals, the photo sharing aspect of the site allows them to do so. Need calendar updates? Hoop.la has all of that. It has truly been a great platform for the brand.
3. Which modules are you using? (Forums, blogs, chat?)
We currently use the Blog feature for communication coming from headquarters, and the Forum module mainly for store operators to start their own conversations. We also use the Clips and Calendar modules.
We haven’t started using the Chat module yet. We plan on using that soon, but we didn’t want to overwhelm community members when we launched the platform.
4. Do you have any key success metrics for success for your community? How’s it going so far?
Our goal is to have 100 percent of stores represented on the platform. It is easy to get stores that opened after the launch of OL Insider signed up, but the difficult part is getting all stores opened prior to the launch
of OL Insider to sign on. The good news is that, we have over 80 percent of all stores represented on the platform in less than six months. This is a testament to our willingness to provide a platform that gives store
operators a voice and an opportunity to share ideas and get the assistance they need to make their stores successful. I think another key for measuring success is to ensure that the platform is being utilized and is active. Since launch, we have been able to maintain an average of 10,000 standard page views a month.
The engagement on the site has also been great as well. Our goal is to maintain this standard and keep the page active, fun and informative.
5. How did you get the word out to your audience about the new community?
First of all, this is something our franchise system wanted. Our job was to listen to them and to find the best platform to meet their needs. Once the OL Insider launched, we used emails from our CEO, videos, and even hosted multiple webinars to guide store operators on how to use the platform. For the first few months after the launch, I don’t think an email or video was sent to the franchise system without mentioning OL Insider. Once store operators started using the page, they loved it and helped spread the word.
Another tactic we used was to post exclusive content on OL Insider that you could only access by signing up.
6. How is the community staffed? Do you have a formal community manager and moderators?
We don’t have a formal community manager, but I usually manage the site and stay on top of it. We have HQ members who are moderators and others who are super admins. We distinguish corporate members from store operators by ensuring that everyone has their title, department and contact information on their profile. Headshots also help store operators put faces to names. Store operators have their store and location on their profile to help identify where they are and has even led to new friendships for people in the same state.
7. How do you encourage Orange Leaf corporate staff to participate and create content?
The Orange Leaf Corporate staff love the platform because it gives us all great insight into how stores are doing and the great things store operators are doing in the communities. We also ensure that departments are keeping up with the content by placing the responsibility of answering questions directed at corporate on each department.
8. What advice would you give to anyone who is just starting out with a franchisee communication strategy?
Communication was never intended to be one-dimensional, and unfortunately, some companies are unsuccessful because they fail to listen to consumers or their key stakeholders. The best part about OL
Insider for me has been wealth of information and feedback coming from store operators. I work at Orange Leaf because I want stores to do well and be successful. Without store operators, I would have no job.
I would be making a mistake if I didn’t listen and learn from the people who are actually in stores selling yogurt. In less than six months, OL Insider has helped improve a lot of our systems just because of the ideas being shared on the platform on a daily basis. My advice would be to communicate through different channels, keep it simple and remember that the art of communication is not complete without feedback.
9. I always like to ask for funny/unexpected stories...has anything surprised you during the planning and launch of the OL Insider community?
Yes – I have learned that the best way to get people involved is to give them a chance to talk about themselves or share their photos. I was surprised to learn from a recent OL Insider survey that the majority of the franchise system said that the photo sharing feature of OL Insider (Clips) is their favorite part of platform. I really believed the forums would rank higher because of the great ideas we all share on a daily basis. I was wrong. But then I thought about how boring the platform would be without some fun images from stores, and then I agreed with them.
~Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Richard!
Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt is a choose-your-own-topping frozen dessert chain with more than 285 locations across the United States and Australia. Orange Leaf was ranked one of the top new franchises for 2013 by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Anyone running an online community for business purposes should take the time to put together a formal business plan for the community.
Even if you never share it with anyone else, it will help you figure out (in advance, hopefully) how the community will be successful.
Keep in mind that all business plans are meant to be fluid documents; they need to be revised and revisited periodically. Set up a reminder to do a quarterly or semi-annual plan review.
This post will give you some tips for adapting the standard business plan format to an online community.
Elements of an Online Community Business Plan
This is your “elevator pitch” for the community. In other words, what’s your response when the C-suite says “why do we need to do this?” If you plan to share this business plan with others in order to get buy-in or budget, include a clear statement of what you need (resources, funding, staffing).
Show how much work you’ve done to find out about the landscape for your community.
Are there competing community sites?
Are they monetized (and how)?
Who is your target community member?
How many people fit your profile, and how active are they in communities and other social networks?
This should be a brief description of how the community will work, and how it fits into your larger business operation. What components of your community plan will make it successful?
Organization and Management
Describe who will be managing and moderating the community. Do you need internal staffing? Will you incorporate volunteers? What are the skills and experience of your designated community team? How will the community management team interact with the larger organizational structure of the business?
Marketing and Sales Strategies
Summarize how you plan to bring in community members, beginning with the early founding members and proceeding through to the maturity phase. Put in place an ongoing mechanism for attracting and retaining members. How will you promote the community?
Service and/or Product
Do you plan to monetize the community directly? If so, what are the proposed revenue streams and how much do you forecast you will earn for each? What are the benefits from the community for the larger organization? What is your unique selling proposition for this community? Why would your target audience join your community rather than a competing one?
How much budget do you need to get the community up and running? How much do you need to maintain it into the future? Are there recurring costs? Consider time requirements from any departments that may need to be involved (do you need graphics from the marketing department? help with single sign-on from the IT department?)
Unlike a business plan for a startup, you probably can’t include true financial statements for your community, but if you have access to any key financial metrics, you can include them here. Perhaps your community is geared toward support, and you have determined that the community has prevented a certain specific number of phone calls (a cost savings). If you have directly monetized the community (with ads, premium memberships, or premium content), you could include those numbers in this section.
This type of formal plan may seem like overkill, but even if you run through the structure and ask yourself some of these questions, it will benefit your community in the long run.
Knowing the road ahead, and planning for results, will lead to a more coherent community strategy. And if you’re trying to build support from C-level executives, this type of planning will present the community in terms they prefer.