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ON DIGITAL-First Fridays: The Experience of Community


All it takes is a single tweet or post and a groundswell of followers—or detractors. The Experience of Community can build brand loyalty almost overnight, and it can tear it down just as quickly.

Remember “United Breaks Guitars”? A Canadian songwriter wrote a trilogy of songs about how United Airlines broke his guitar during a flight and the videos went viral, receiving 15 million views on YouTube. The songs were a public relations fiasco for United, who failed to respond quickly enough to undo the damage to its image, demonstrating the power of one disgruntled digital customer.

Or how about the Lululemon SNAFU? One of the co-founders blamed women’s bodies for a dysfunctional product line, causing mass outrage from female consumers and contributing to a 20% drop in the company’s stock.

But what happens when a brand is able to harness the power of its community? Using the #AirbnbHV hashtag, the Airbnb Hollywood & Vines campaign collected more than 750 global submissions in a video contest. It then edited the top picks into a short film about travel and adventure. As a result of the campaign, Airbnb received 75,000 Twitter impressions with 10,000 new followers in only five days. In the analog advertising world, these results would have come with a hefty price tag, over a considerably longer timeframe.

Instead, they used digital to get big results at very little cost. These results aren’t limited to business-to-consumer markets. Companies like GE, Deloitte, and InVision are using the community experience to share ideas and engage with their consumers.

While Digital provides new opportunities to connect online, it’s about the people, not the platform. In successful communities, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Choice flourish. And this is a good thing because feedback allows for better content, better products, and better services. Control should be minimal. Allowing a community to self-direct leads to greater interaction and innovation. If this is not part of the Experience of Community, members (and potential brand advocates) will leave. In the old days, if a customer was dissatisfied with a product they would speak to a manager and get their money back. Today they post blogs, comments, ratings, or reviews. And the moment a tweet, video, or post goes live, users can comment and share. This happens faster than companies can respond, and when they do respond, the story has spiraled out of their control into a PR crisis. Once customers complain, they can move on. Your competitors are just a click away.

In the digital world, community building is a necessary component of a digital business. So is building and maintaining trust. If your user base cannot trust your services, you will not succeed. In my next post, I’ll explore the concept of digital trust and security in more detail.

For more thoughts ON DIGITAL, download the book.

Mark Barrenechea

Mark J. Barrenechea is OpenText's Vice Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer. A prominent thought leader, he has extensive experience in information technology and his vision is to enable the digital world to help transform organizations.

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