I may be playing with a lit stick of dynamite here, but I'd like to know what you think of using online communities (whether of interest or practice) for lead generation? Does that amount to little more than prostitution?
Having come from the "purist" days of business blogging, I really don't want to use online communities for such "prurient" motives as driving marketing and sales agendas. Yet, I can't help but believe there can be a healthy balance between community and commerce, especially when it's possible the reason the community exists is for the sake of commerce.
A number of large companies are spending beau coup dollars in building online communities (think millions), some of which have precious little participation. One such community, Visa Business Network on Facebook, is estimated to cost anywhere between $2-3 million!
Jerry Bowles, who runs a number of business-oriented communities - MyVenturePad and The Customer Collective - navigates these rocky shoals quite well. He suggests a maintaining a focus on creating quality content and building relations with members as the way to grow the community. Site sponsors (SAP, Businessweek, Oracle) get the benefit of the good-will and traffic engendered by the members.
Of course, Jerry has his finger on the pulse of B2B communities. They do not exist for "branding or reputation, but to sell the sponsor's product," he says. "It may be conversational marketing, but it's still marketing, just a nicer and more effective way of doing it."
A dissenting view comes from Dave Allen, in his post "Why Does Corporate Social Networking Fail?" Dave asserts businesses can't "build a community no matter how much money they throw at the idea." He suggests that companies go find where influencers are already championing their products and joining them there.
He lists a number of actions companies can take:
- Run a blog
- Ensure the blogosphere is alerted to breaking news
- Be active in customer's online communities
- Work closely with influencers
- Embrace radical transparency
(It's that last point that a large corporations seem to be having trouble with. A study by Burson-Marsteller suggests that "companies are still grappling with how they participate in the conversation when they don't have control over the message.)
Of course, the issue raised at the beginning of this post is not whether to build or join, but the motive behind either.
I don't know that I've answered that question, at least not to my satisfaction, so I'll leave it up to you.
- Is building online communities for the purpose of lead generation a less than ideal motive?I can see many good reasons for doing so, just not sure lead gen is one of them.
- Are there other, more worthy motives which could garner the same results?
- Do I worry too much about scruples? :-)
- If members of a particular community are receiving benefit, how much "promotion" will they put up with from the site sponsor/advertiser? In what forms can a sponsor "intervene" and get away with it?
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