Monday, January 14, 2008

Social Networking and Private Communities

Been doing lots of thinking about online communities and where we've come from to where we are today. To my delight and surprise, an article in the WSJ today has an article about about how some communities are using private networks for market research, ad testing and product opinions.

The article points out that Del Monte tested and launched a new breakfast treat for dogs with the help of their 400 person "I Love My Dog" community. What strikes me about this is how small the community is - only 400! My god any decent sized non-profit could build a community of donors, employees and others who care about the cause, can't they?

Update: I was reading 1to1 magazine shortly after I posted this and learned that Del Monte partnered with MarketTools and pulled the 400 users from a research panel of 8,000 and used a non-branded site to do the testing. This is really interesting... the WSJ article wasn't entirely accurate. While in a general way it is "community building," it's a stretch in my way of thinking.

I've built a few of these sorts of "panel communities" and think they are worth their weight in gold. At a past job, I sent out an e-mail to about 10,000 users and got more than 1,000 opt-ins to be a part of our research community. I think what's interesting, and what may trip some people up is trying to keep those users engaged. Once you get them to sign up for something exciting, you need to deliver and engage them occasionally.

These private communities aren't talked about much, but on reflection, perhaps this is a better use of your time than fighting with broad community outreach programs on sites like Facebook and Myspace. Interestingly, the article points out that myspace is in fact looking at building functionality for brands to launch privatized spaces.

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