Diane Hessan knows the wisdom of crowds first-hand. As the CEO of Communispace, a fast-growing major player in the brand community creation and management industry, she’s helped drive consumer insight and product innovation for dozens of Fortune 100 companies. Co-author of the book Customer Centered Growth, Diane was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Boston Chamber of Commerce (a town that has one or two entrepreneurs floating around).
An avid (rabid) Red Sox fan, Diane is an interesting, entertaining, insightful force that’s helping major companies meld customer experience and social media. She shared her experience in community building in this live Twitter interview on December 1, 2009.
1. @jaybaer: Should every company have a brand community at this point? Are there company types that shouldn’t be involved?
- @communispaceceo: I think every company should be in conversation with their customers at this point. Doing it via a community is one easy way.
2. @jaybaer: What do you find are the primary benefits of brand communities?
- @communispaceceo: “Community” means a lot of things. At Communispace, we use them largely to help our clients get insights from customers.
- It’s a terrible time to lose touch with your customers! Listening=more innovation, increased marketing effectiveness, increased relevance.
3. @jaybaer: What about ROI? Is the idea that community participation increases brand kinship & loyalty? How is that measured?
- @communispaceceo: ROI is TRULY better/faster/cheaper & all can be measured. Regarding loyalty, it is easier to measure in B2B, but you can always ask.
4. @jaybaer: In terms of insights, do you prefer brands ask specific questions of community members, or just open it up?
- @communispaceceo: The real breakthrough in using communities to listen is that it eliminates the “ad-hoc-ness” of most corporate listening.
- And, listening is a hugely underrated marketing strategy.
- If you have a good community, you do both: you ask specific questions, and they talk openly about anything.
5. @jaybaer: How then do you see communities aligning/intersecting with tactics like social media monitoring?
- @communispaceceo: Do both. Monitoring = finding trends, knowing who’s saying what about you; Communities=insight/co-creation/understanding.
6. @jaybaer: Do communities need to be branded to be effective? Could you create it here, or elsewhere? (h/t @rustyspeidel)
- @communispaceceo: Branding isn’t required, but it’s better! Members will work harder if they know who the sponsor is and it’s transparent.
7. @jaybaer: What about Facebook? A lot of brands are toying with making Facebook their social media home base. Pros/cons?
- @communispaceceo: Our communities are private: targeted consumers. The conversation’s strategic: Not what you’d share with competition.
- I love Facebook for “energizing your base”, but it’s not structured enough for ongoing insight, (e.g., ideation).
8. @jaybaer: Communispace believes in invite-only communities, right? Who gets invited? How? By whom?
- @communispaceceo: We believe in lots that we don’t do.
- But we do invite-only and the client drives who we recruit: their most loyal customers? nonusers? mix? A new segment or two?
- It’s unbelievable what people will share and what they’ll do for you if they think you are really listening. The value of social media for listening.
9. @jaybaer: Are the members of the communities you manage compensated? Thus, is it more like a post-modern focus group?
- @communispaceceo: Lite compensation for lots of hard work. Focus group on steroids (500 people in a room “all the time”.)
10. @jaybaer: Can you explain your engagement principle – why smaller communities are better? This is a paradox for many people.
- @communispaceceo: Think about it: Are you more likely to talk/open up in a small group or in a large group? Shouldn’t be a paradox.
- Intimacy is so powerful. People feel special, they trust you, & vice versa. Very important if you need game-changing insights.
- @jaybaer: I think the paradox is that it runs counter to the “more followers, fans, & friends” is a legitimate success metric.
- @communispaceceo: More followers/fans/friends is critical for messaging, energizing, etc. But you don’t need huge numbers to learn how to be relevant.
- And, you can have lots of small communities. You know the deal: “Let’s all break up into small groups so that we can talk!”
11. @jaybaer: Great white papers on your site. Interesting concept of community “rituals” Can you explain?
- @communispaceceo: Yes, there is a lot of “secret sauce” to good facilitation, especially because you don’t have everyone online at once.
- Thanks on the white papers. Yes, we have some great ones. Check out the latest on the Sandwich Situation.
- In our communities we average 3 projects every week. Could be different topics or all for one insight.
12. @jaybaer: How do you feel about community managers & humanization of brands? Communispace folks facilitate, yes?
- @communispaceceo: I’m not sure brands need to be human. However, companies are filled with humans and benefit enormously when they leverage that.
13. @jaybaer: Do you proactively seek to make community members the star, rather than the brand?
- @communispaceceo: In our arena, the members are the stars. Our clients want to understand their lives/dreams/frustrations.
14. @jaybaer: Given the emphasis on insight gathering, do you recommend one community per brand, or one per initiative?
- @communispaceceo: Don’t need one per brand if your target consumers buy multiple brands. Typical: one per segment, but we can combine segments.
- I tell people that if you did a big traditional market res project before 9/14/08, throw it out. Learn the New Normal!
- @jaybaer: What is the significance of that particular date?
- @communispaceceo: That’s the day Lehman Bros fell and the world changed. Honestly, things change every day; it’s why you need continuous listening.
15. @jaybaer: You mentioned focus group on steroids. Do you get members that get TOO powerful/influential? How do you handle?
- @communispaceceo: Rarely get TOO powerful like offline. If obnoxious/unprodutive, we can say goodbye. Change their password. Be mean.
16. @jaybaer: Column in Forbes on how you adopted Twitter was great. Your take on state of Twitter now?
- @communispaceceo: I love Twitter. It is my news source, my networking tool, a great source of learning, & I get to meet you, to boot.
- But Twitter is like anything else: you get out of it what you put in.
17. @jaybaer: Should the community be anthropomorphized? Should it have a social media ID – avatar and a Facebook profile, et al?
- @communispaceceo: Our communities wouldn’t because they’re private. In general, anthromophization is a little too cute for my tastes.
18. @jaybaer: This type of community would have huge wins for politics, I believe. Have you done any political communities?
- @communispaceceo: We haven’t done any political communities, but it would be a lot of fun, eh? A great application.
19. @jaybaer: What’s the role of email, or other communication methodologies in fostering the community?
- @communispaceceo: We use email for recruiting members & occasionally for sending updates & reminders.
20. @jaybaer: You guest conducted an orchestra. Which is harder, conducting or running communities 4 Pepsi, Kraft, HomeDepot.
- @communispaceceo: Ha! Well, given that we’ve done 300 communities, we pretty much have them down to a science, but..
- Conducting the BPO was very hard. A friend afterwards: “Diane, I didn’t realize how much conducting is in the hips” :)
Lots of fantastic insights here. I loved Diane’s emphasis on listening, and using communities for a PURPOSE. How about you?