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Here’s my crap, please talk about it

I’ve listened to a lot of companies talk about their strategies for building an online community and unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot of them say something like this:

We have a ton of (documents, marketing materials, assets, whatever) and we want to get that stuff out there so that other people can talk about it and make it better.

I get why this is attractive but it never ceases to amaze me. The strategy of moving the same old stuff into a community is a failing strategy. Have you ever been to a community filled with documentation and marketing materials and loved it? No. We can get that same stuff in a million other places, we don’t need another one.

Companies need to spend a lot more time thinking through why they’re doing the community, to begin with. The problem is, it’s much easier to justify hanging your laundry out for other people to clean than it is to get people to think differently.

Behind the Scenes

I usually tell people that one of the first places to start is to consider a “Behind the Scenes” strategy. Communities are a human channel. They’re supposed to give us a new view into your company and provide a deep place for us to connect with not only specific, passionate people at your company but other people like us who share the same interests. There’s no question that exposing reality is big business. And your company has no reason it can’t offer us new perspective.

Recently I met with a mid-sized shoe company. They have very cool shoes and have seen that there are a lot of Flickr groups where people are sharing pics of their shoe-laden feet. This woman worked in the Marketing department who was pressuring her to launch an online community. It was part of, and budgeted for, an ensuing product launch. The Marketing people just wanted to “get it out there” and thought that populating it with the tons of photographs and other Marketing assets that they had would be enough. Her Advertising Agency was telling her that they could hack together a community out of some freeware and code.

I was impressed that she came to chat with me and was worried that they didn’t have a solid strategy and that she got that jumping into a frankensuite of technology could end up being an expensive choice later. Hopefully, more folks like her are questioning the “let’s dump our crap out there” strategy and are pushing for more meaningful efforts.