With Susan Mernit – Digital Media Consultant and Entrepreneur leading the panel, she recruited Peter Friedman – Chairman and CEO, LiveWorld, Jeff Jarvis – Consultant, New York Times Company, and Bill Schreiner – Vice President and General Manager of AOL Community Programming, AOL to discuss how communities – blogs as well as online communities – can affect brands at BlogOn 2005.
Community online is nothing new, but the way that word of mouth and viral stories are going – the impact – has changed. We can see how things are moving at a faster rate, and have more of an impact and need to be responded to faster.
We have reached the critical mass of people having computers and people having Internet connection. Companies – and PR people – see that there needs to be interaction and a response to the communities out there.
A community is not a place you go, a brand where you go, but it’s a group of people, a network of people that are talking about a certain subject. One point – you need to listen to what the community says.
Are communities about tools, or are an other thing that is out there? Yes, blogs and the blogosphere have offered more control, personal views and authorship. Also, the phenomenon of reader tagging as an enabling notion to have communities form and disperse. The under-30 demographic’s view of Internet privacy does affect how communities are growing. They share information, share ideas, share names and information that other generations would never think about doing. There will be controls – forced by their own experiences – that will change how people are interacting.
Striking difference in the different age groups – and want to be proactive in starting communities – there are things that should be done and not done to build those communities. The community is about trust and people – it’s about listening, and responding when necessary. It’s about empowering, not controlling. It’s about advocating with that community to possibly working with the company. Yes, you need to find the community first – just the location and where the conversations are – but give them information, and open a dialogue.
The influencers are the ones that are helpful people to the community, who are sharing the information and insight to other members, and new members, of the community.
For PR and small business, it is our job to find these influencers and to have a dialogue. Whether we go out there to find people in the community that are speaking/blogging/in online communities already, or if you invite them to speak and becoming a part of the community, such communities and people are a part of the mix that are going to spread the gospel about the company. You are not looking for evangelists, but people that are interested in the business – evangelists are already sold on the company/business, but you want the thought leader, the person that is in the community and is part of the dialogue, but also has no problem being critical.