Are big brands right to leap into the social network building? Should they create community sites and encourage people to converse under their benevolent auspices?
There are some people who are mad keen on social media. They love it with a passion. They really truly believe that brands should engage in this form of pull marketing. On some occasions these people are also content creators or agencies who get paid for making and then maintaining these communities.
The NMA estimates that some of these big brand social networks could cost up to £1,000,000 a year to build and maintain. That's about $2,000,000.
Let's take some examples. Doc Marten's freedm2 site has less than 4,000 users. Pedigree's site has about 12,000 users. That's less than the number of cans of dog food a single supermarket would sell in a month. More Th>n's Living has had 4 comments for the last 40 posts - and most of those are from staff.
So, is community building working for brands? It might look as if these cases are desperate failures.
As it happens the brands are defending their work so far (and when an agency is responsible for the strategy you don't necessarily expect brands to defend the work).
Fiona Hall from Waitrose said;
As far as numbers go we have nothing to compare this to, and we wouldn't, we just wanted to give customers the ability to communicate with us online as they do offline. Taking interaction online was a natural progression for us.
I don't think these communities are failures. If the communities are achieving what their founders had hoped for then it's a success. Pedigree cite their community as a great source of customer information.
I do think brands need to be cautious. It's not the case that "if you build it - they will come". It's ironic that the best social media marketers fully understand the war for attention and still guide their clients right into the heart of the battle. It's a big risk.
I recently defined social media as ethical manoeuvres in a people generated landscape to a client. I think that sometimes a successful social media campaign is simply making the most appropriate manoeuvres rather than trying to own a chunk of the landscape. I will admit, though, that in some cases community building is exactly what a site should do.