Social Media: Create Your Own Community or Use Facebook, etc.?

CH Low.jpg
Companies of all sizes can no longer ignore the power of social media, and more are jumping on board every day. Brands and products have their own profiles on Facebook and MySpace. These companies realize that customers are going to talk about your company and your products, whether you’re participating in the discussion or not – so they are finding ways to engage them.
Very large companies (with very large budgets) sometimes create and host their own communities, where they have more control over the content – or at least how it’s handled. New startup Orbius Inc. offers a more affordable alternative to smaller and mid-sized companies with their white label community platform, at starting prices less than $10,000.
We asked Oribus CEO C.H. Low to share some insight on the differences between this type of platform and a free service like Facebook, and why a business might find it a worthwhile investment.
Why create one’s own social network while FaceBook, Ning and others are around – for free?
Facebook is quite different from Ning.

The main reason you would create a group or a page on Facebook is to go where your potential audience is. You will be limited by what the capabilities are on Facebook are, and you generally have very little control of what can be posted on those groups/pages. But if the features there are limited, you can use the facebook group as a gateway and link to the final destination (which would be your own white label community) where you want your audience to go.
Ning is a community creation tool that is much more complex. Similarly, Orbius is also a social community platform for small-medium brands and businesses but with an approach that allows them more control of the context and content of their community. Orbius, Ning and other platforms are intended to let you create more complex community sites than what Facebook can offer.

What are the pros and cons of creating a white label social community?

The pros of creating your own white label community is that you have better control of the context and content. If the community platform has the ability to let you control and assign different privileges to different users, you can have a community where different users have different rights to create and post content. Those with more credibility or are assigned by you can have more rights to create content while other users can be limited to just posting comments.
The cons are that you now have to work harder market your community to generate traffic to your community. It is easier to market your group/page within Facebook as they are already there!
They also cost more than Facebook and it can be a lot more depending on the complexity desired. But today, small-medium businesses have more choices with platforms like Orbius, Ning and others to create quite complex communities on a more pragmatic budget comparable to those previously only affordable to those with large budgets. These newer platforms lets companies dip their toes into these social marketing projects without the large financial risk.
What important things must a company consider before attempting to create its own social community?
Some of the basic things we suggest to our clients are as follows:

  • Company must be prepared to interact AUTHENTICALLY with their customers/members before you get started.
  • Company must not be afraid of negativity. Users will go elsewhere and post negative comments anyway so it is better that they tell you directly. Users are amazing. If you ask for their help to serve them better, they will generally respond. That’s is when your relationship with them becomes stronger.
  • Allocate enough time/resources to interact and respond.
  • Seed the community with relevant content so that early members get some benefit. But you can repurpose some content you may already have within the marketing collaterals. Just need to make them informational rather than marketing speak.
  • Finally, be patient with the learning and community activity ramp up curve. It can take 6 months to a year for your community to find the “voice/theme” that binds the community and for you to finally “get the tone” right when interacting with the community.
  • So start with some basic interactivity tools first and then expand the scope over time. Most platforms, including Orbius, allows you to simply configure the tools you choose and change at any time. For example, our clients generally choose to start our Ask the Expert capability that lets users post questions that only the company designated experts could answer first to set the context before allowing comments from other users.

Could you give some examples of what features or functions a company might want in their community beyond what a Facebook can offer?
We think it is very hard leap for businesses to go from Web 1.0 (where they have total control to talk AT their customers) to so-called Web 2.0 where they appear to have no control i.e the users have free reign on what they post.
We believe that businesses want to start in small steps when embracing Web 2.0, and can add and change the features over time. So even if they cannot prevent users from posting content they disagree with, and they should not censor negative comments, at least they can put those comments into proper context so that the businesses’ voice/position is more prominent instead of being buried in a discussion forum like thread.
With that, we have designed a suite of easy to use social marketing tools designed for small-medium businesses (affordable and no IT resources required).

  • Our Ask the Expert module (and it can be renamed to anything like Ask Laura or Ask the CEO) will let users post questions or comments to the experts/editor. The question is not posted until the expert answer the questions to set its context. Then the expert can choose to allow comments from all other users. It is a balance to allow free discussion but able to at least control the context of the topic.
  • A business may want to have a wiki to allow collaboration but only amongst a selected set of credible members to develop information. We have a Library tool for the community to post documentation and content. And all of these can be down collaboratively with all or some members depending on the situation.
  • We have Community Blog that allows business to allow only selected editors (which may be multiple employees so that not just a single person has to bear the brunt of the work) to post. But other members can also have their own blogs SEPARATE from that of the community. Businesses have used this as a newsletter tool to allow users to comment on or rate it so that business know how their users feel about the articles they posted.
  • Our Idea Factory tool allows the business to have a feature that is allows their users to post ideas for the business/products, rank them and allow the business to respond. This is similar to Dell IdeaStorm and myStarbucksidea. This is more organized/contextualized than using a discussion forum.
  • We have RSS tools to let the business aggregate information from around the web for benefit of the users. Users can post comments on a wall attached to such and other content to tell the business what they think.
  • Our discussion forum tool includes an ability to incorporate a poll into the discussion thread. This allows a structured as well as an unstructured discussion format on a topic or issue.

Our tools are also suitable for intranets (for employees, departments, projects) and also extranets (especially in B2B). A project for one of our B2B prospects is a social collaborative site for architects/designers of a building material company to share design ideas. A software company is also exploring a community of their ISVs (Independent Software Vendors). These cannot be done on Facebook.
Laura Leites, Assistant Editor,