Seems I get this question nearly every presentation I give . “Why build a branded community or blog site, why not build a program where the audience is?” It’s a great question. It’s been one of those staple questions for any presentation along with. ”Have you consider GEO requirements?” and ”How are you measuring success?”.
For 2 years now my answer has been the same; rarely should you establish a program that is focused on one or the other. Meaning if you’re building a social media program it should include a branded community component, the kind that has your company logo proudly in the upper corner of the page, AND activity where most the people go, where the logo isn’t on the page. The answer may seem a bit of a cop-out but there is a more to this than just trying to satisfy two camps of thinking.
For most it is fairly obvious that going where the audience already is, is a good strategy. That may mean going to Facebook, YouTube, or well established communities of interest that are more top of mind destinations for your audience. Howevever based on the those presentation questions, I sense a branded onsite strategy is not as obviously understood. I think the conventional wisdom is a corporate branded community site doesn’t guarantee an audience. A “build it and they will come” approach simply is a stretch in logic.
So why do it? Why not always just go offsite? Why establish a corporate branded social program? My perspective is it’s about building social equity for your company and your brand. The best way to build that social equity is a combined onsite and offsite approach to social activities.
By going external you will undoubtedly be in the conversation. You will be able to assist customers and put a human face on your company. For Intel we’ve seen this to be true. Kelly Feller did a great job building trust in our IT and software developer personas by taking them to Ars Technica. We saw the conversation and attitudes turn from mild cynicism to respect. However it is a challenge to build and sustain equity in this kind of activity alone. These kinds of efforts are spread among many sites, and your voice is be mixed among many other personas. You will likely find there area few core sites where you are able to build buzz, search equity and change perceptions and build a following. These sites are where you are forced to build social equity and relevance.
If you take it one step further and build a branded community site your activities and the community’s activities are automatically in context to your brand. As long as you are following good social practices, i.e practicing transparency and allowing differing on topic opinions, then the community can be very relevant. Conversation Matter’s own Michael Brito is a good example of this. Before Michael’s work, there was not an Intel home for consumer oriented conversations. His work to launch Inside Scoop has now established a destination to hear from and respond to the latest things around Intel consumer technologies. This site is organically growing an audience month over month, and there seems to be no slowing down of the interest in this conversation. We are measuring this with Search results as well. We see that sites like Inside Scoop and Open Port are increasingly capturing more of the search audience for Intel. Bottom line, when your brand acts as the host for a variety of subject matter experts to engage on issues and topics, you can attract an audience and build a following, even from your comfort of your own corporate domain.
But just as going offsite alone is not the best approach, so goes the story for an onsite alone approach. Without being involved in the conversations that are outside of your branded site you are sheltered and less relevant. Taking your bloggers and forum participants out to other communities allows you to build their reputation and personas in the wider conversation. Additionally you cast a wider net with Search when you can be found in a variety of sites. Your branded community then becomes your home base. A place where people know to find your experts and know where to find conversations related to your company and brand.
So in the end the answer is a bit boring, there should not be a debate. Involve yourself in building effective onsite programs and constantly look for opportunities to engage offsite. Get your community managers, your bloggers, and your social media program owners to understand you need a good onsite and offsite mix to increase buzz, built trust, and maintain relevance online.