Shaping the Community frame: Platform – Part 2

large__2815083396In part one of this post, I showed you the interesting perspectives I got from the community experts on classification 1 (UNICEF should build an entire new platform that they own by themselves) and two (UNICEF should use existing social media platforms to build their community on). In this post, I will continue with classification 3, 4 and 5. I will also give an analysis of the results of these different perspectives and give a conclusion on the community platform decision.

Classification 3. Integrate option 1 and 2: build your own platform and use existing social media platforms.

Main arguments that experts/managers gave:

  • Use social media platforms for the broad reach and your own platform to get more depth and higher levels of engagement.
  • A real community should have its own platform but also social media platforms to generate traffic to your community.
  • Use platforms like Facebook to test what works and what doesn’t with engaging this generation. Use that information, learn from it, and use it for your online community.

Examples of answers:

“Your answer could depend on your goal. Going with a strong presence on Facebook will yield you much higher numbers and make your content more likely to go viral on the platform. That will give you a very broad reach, but you won’t get a lot of depth (narrower insights). Going with something on the UNICEF portal will narrow your audience markedly, but will increase the insights you can draw from them. You are choosing between the broad market, and your most engaged community members in that sense. A blended approach would be best. Go with your high level outreach on Facebook and try to engage as many people as possible, and then make a honey pot in the UNICEF space to draw in the most engaged and reward them with higher levels of support. That is a bit of the best of both worlds “(Craig TD, community manager).

 “A real community needs to have a single centralized “home” – and that would be the official UNICEF platform. At the same time, the engagement effort needs to be made throughout the community ecosystem – and this means fishing where the fish are and engaging people wherever they may be. Very often, option 2 can be used to “test the waters” and learn more about the audience in order to determine whether option 1 would be a viable option” (Martin Reed, community consultant).

“I would prefer a combination out of option 1 and 2. In my opinion it is not a black-or-white-question. Grey suits better. Fishing where the fish is, is an argument I could easy agree with, but on the behalf of a sustainable social media architecture I would prefer to have a backup and profile my social media users. To backup social media results and reach and to integrate business processes it needs an own ground. To get engagement and to use the personal social networks of the social media, users on this ground need a strong connection with Facebook as an example” (Wilfried Schock, consultant).

Classification 4. Choose option three: integrate your community with your corporate website.

Examples of arguments that experts/managers gave:

“The biggest advantage of this aproach is that you can benefit from existing traffic that your current website already generates. You have to realize that if you build a community on Facebook, that your target group is not already there. You will also need to invest time and resources to make people visit your community on there” (Grietje Blom, community manager).

“Have your community discussions and news broadcasting on Facebook and Twitter, but frequently drive people from there back to your micro-website to get related value, e.g. more in-depth stories“ (Caroline Bottomley, global brand marketing manager).

“I would suggest that UNICEF should “own”’ the community by hosting it upon their own corporate site, rather than exclusively using Facebook. Subject areas, conversations, and moderation are easier to manage upon your own corporate website – you can control what ads are served to the community areas and you own and can reuse all the content (as long as you make it clear in your terms and conditions). You can feature the content (debates, quotes, opinions etc.) in newsletters (which in turn will attract more traffic to your site and its related campaigns) and perhaps also compile white papers, reports and books from community content. Any articles of interest from the community can also be posted onto Facebook in order to reach even more people – and to bring them onto your site” (Michael Howard, communication consultant).

Classification 5. Choose none of the options above.

Examples of arguments that experts/managers gave:

“I think all of the three options are pretty bad. Option 1 sounds the best, but it’s going to be difficult to make that work. You’re assuming that it’ll be easy to get 18-30 year olds incredibly passionate about your work. In practice, it doesn’t quite work like that.  Option 2 will feel like you’re getting a lot of engagement, but in reality just a tiny fraction of your audience will participate. It will look good to your boss, but won’t achieve anything of importance.  Option 3 will make you hit all the usual bumps when using a corporate website. What can or cannot be said etc. This would be ideal, but it’s pretty much impossible to pull it off. You’re also assuming the platform is the key decider here. It’s not. It’s the community manager’s ability to get people to interact with each other. I say start by using a mailing list or something dead simple to get a few people interacting with each other. Once you have that, grow from there” (Richard Millington, community consultant).

Beth Kanter (non-profit innovator) concludes: “Spend more time on the engagement, less time trying to build software. Many non-profits made the mistake of building their own, and they spend so much time in design and fixing glitches that it prevented them from doing the engagement”.

Analysis and discussion of the results:

It is clear that there are a lot of different opinions on this problem statement. Some experts argue that building a community on your own-hosted platform is the best option because it allows you to have more control, influence, depth and engagement. Besides, an own platform can give you a rich source of valuable insights about your community. Others say it is too risky and too expensive to invest in an own platform. They believe it will be too challenging and probably unrealistic to make these young people leave ‘their’ platforms and visit your platform. I somewhat agree on this. UNICEF will need to invest a lot of money, time and resources to build a platform and manage it well. I think the example of Job de Groot’s STAR community shows us that an own platform can fail. For UNICEF, it is obviously important that they invest their money wisely. They cannot take risks. It seems that an integration of options is maybe better. I agree with Ian Dickson and Patrick O’Kofee. I think, in the end, people will leave their social media platforms and go where like-minded people go. There are hundreds of examples of thriving online communities that succeed. Social media platforms are very popular and these young people do like to hang out there. But still, if they have a specific interest they will leave that platform. Besides that, as I discussed in chapter 3, people fulfil certain needs in an online community. Needs that in my opinion cannot always be met on social media platforms.

It looks that the best option for UNICEF is to start small, with simple collaboration/engagement tools. Social media platforms are a great and cheap way to start with this. UNICEF can heavily benefit from these platforms and use it to “test the waters”. If we look at the examples of WNF and UNHCR’s Blue Key campaign, we can see that using social media platforms to engage people can work out very well. I think UNICEF can use these social media platforms to find out what works and what doesn’t with this young generation. It is a great place to start the dialogue. If UNICEF succeeds on these platforms, they can always decide to invest in their own-hosted platform. This can be either a new platform or a micro-site on their current website. In other words, they could start with a managed community and then later on decide whether a direct community can/will be a next step.

I think that some of the experts are right about the fact that UNICEF will eventually need an own-hosted platform to really foster and sustain long-term engagement among this generation. As Craig already said, an own platform will allow you to get more in-depth conversations with your target group.  I think UNICEF could extra benefit (in the long-run) from more depth. I believe investing in building strong relationships/engagement with a smaller group of people can be a great starting opportunity. If you succeed in creating a new group of enthusiastic brand advocates/super-fans , they can help you in future steps of engaging others, i.e. new ones. I also tend to agree with the blended approach. In chapter 2, I already discussed the value of having brand advocates. Besides, I think UNICEF can benefit hugely from getting very specific insights (data and statistics) from their community members. You will need your own platform for that purpose. Having these insights, can/will help UNICEF in the future to target these people very effectively.

Of course, the final decision on a platform will heavily depend on other factors like the budget that a non-profit organization is planning to spend on engaging the young generation.

Although this post was again very UNICEF-specific, I hope it was helpful for you as well! In my next post I will discuss another important part in shaping the community frame: deciding on the type of content of your online community.

Unti next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc

Photography: César Astudillo

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