Nico Henderijckx, European Forum & Community Manager at Sony, tells us why in-house communities can be the most engaged and explains the value of superfans
In the constant quest for innovative engagement strategies, it’s easy to forget just how fundamental the notion of community is. Yet most of us, these days, are plugged in to so many different online communities that the term itself risks becoming meaningless. If, for example, you’ve ever ‘Liked’ a brand on Facebook or shared a cool piece of video content, does that make you part of that brand’s community? And what’s the value of those glancing relationships, for users and to the brand.
These are the issues confronting marketers and community managers everywhere but, says Nico Henderijckx, European Forum & Community Manager at Sony, by bringing your brand’s biggest fans into the fold – by investing in them and encouraging them to invest in you – it’s possible to create a partnership which benefits both parties and helps spread your message among the people who most want to hear it.
For Henderijckx, who heads up the team that takes care of the Sony Electronics community, that’s meant focussing on internal forums rather than external platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. So why has the brand concentrated on building its community in-house and how effective has the strategy been?
Up close and personalised
“Well,” says Henderijckx, “If you asked me whether places like Facebook and Twitter are the best destination for brands who want to build communities, in this particular case, my answer would be ‘no’. For Sony Electronics, we consider those external social media platforms to be shop windows. People can see what a brand has to offer there, but if consumers want more detail, we like to bring them closer to the brand– into our community where we can really nurture in-depth engagement.”
Underpinning that insight is recognition of the fact that by the time a user has gone to the trouble of signing up to your in-house community, they’re likely to be fairly well engaged with your product or service already.
“Exactly,” says Henderijckx. “If you register, give your personal details, let us know what products you own and so on, you’re already building a relationship. We then send out emails and have various triggers designed to bring people in. That makes the engagement period longer, deeper and more meaningful because we know who we’re talking to.”
It’s the superfans however, who form the community’s heart and, says Henderijckx, their value to Sony Electronics extends right into product development itself. But how do you go about identifying those users who’ll go the extra mile for your brand? “Good question! I’ve been speaking about superfans for a couple of years now and the thing I always say is there’s no automated system to gauge superfans. But there are systems which can provide meaningful data which can make your gut feeling a little stronger and more data-driven. But in the end it does boil down to gut feeling.”
Every week, says Henderijckx, he and his team go through a list detailing the Sony community’s 10 ‘hottest’ participants. These are the people, he explains, whose activity on the site has increased the most in the last month.
“We look at what they’ve done and what they’ve posted. Was it meaningful or constructive? We don’t have a written-down programme, but we might then start private messaging the hottest superfan participants – congratulating them, asking them if there’s anything else we can do to help them achieve more or do it better. We also let them know about new products and so on, and the more we reveal content to them, the closer we are bringing them to our official Super-Users programme.”
For the brand itself, says Henderijckx, superfans play a number of key roles.
“We are a technology brand. We’ve always been very engineering driven. We’re very geeky! We come from an era when we were a ‘loved brand’, in the same way that Apple are. But it’s no secret that we’ve been struggling for the last couple of years. The reason we became a loved brand in the first place was because we had superfans. We had people spreading the word for us and we had a series of historic, iconic marketing campaigns. Those were the two golden factors. Now we’re trying to ramp up our iconic marketing campaigns again. With new products, we want to bring those superfans close and ask them to help spread the word. Hopefully we can reconstruct that golden era for Sony.”
It’s all very well to talk about the love between fans and a brand, but what for Sony is the practical advantage of keeping the community in-house?
“In marketing, we seed a campaign in one of our blogs and also on an external social media platform, because it’s easier to share there. But the value of traffic being driven to a marketing website is less than that which we’re driving from the community. That’s because the engagement level is different. If we build and nurture superfans and have really good content on our own platform, we know that whatever we throw at them, they’re going to eat it, which is different to Facebook. Engagement is just much higher on our internal platforms than it is externally.
Of course, you have to have a go-to channel wherever the consumer sits. But even in a successful Facebook community, people are less engaged. And if people are very engaged on Facebook and willing to consume a lot of in-depth material there, well, an in-house or internal community makes much more sense because you can link it to you CRM system. On the other hand, if you start building your own internal community first, you can still use Facebook to reach out, place adverts and so on.”
Lastly, on the subject of engagement on Facebook, how does Henderijckx judge the value to Sony of those casual ‘Likes’ and comments?
“That’s an interesting one,” he says. “Obviously, having people like us is beautiful, but ‘Likes’ and comments are not part of our KPIs. What we’re really interested in is the reach of the item we’re pushing. That’s really much more important.”
Spreading the love: Nico Henderijckx on how to build a community of superfans
- “Give your community a purpose. Know why your fans are there and what you expect from them.”
- “Don’t think of your community as just ID numbers in your CRM programme. These are real people. Treat them as real people and try to create real relationships with them.”
- “Remember a community expects something special. At Sony we try to bring superfans closer to our top management, our engineers, and we have dedicated information and preferences for people. You should consider superfans as part of the company. Superfans are your future. If they stop what they’re doing, you’ve got nowhere to go.”
Article by Jon Fortgang