Social networks boast hundreds of millions of members. When companies create a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites, if even a small percentage of members join it opens up untold amounts of data. Untold, and often unmanageable.
When Adidas developed a Facebook fan page, it quickly attracted 2 million users. The company acquired a proportionate number of followers on its Twitter and YouTube pages, leading to the perhaps surprising question: Are these communities too big?
How useful customer communities are depends on how easily messages can be disseminated and how quickly companies can act on insight. In Adidas's case monitoring and analyzing postings by 2 million members wasn't realistic, so it created a community within a community. The company worked with Passenger to create a private community called Adidas Insiders, inviting only the most active users on public pages to join.
"We're always looking for ways to be closer to the consumer and gather information on what they think of our brand, products, concepts, and marketing," says Chris Murphy, director of digital media at Adidas. "This is a unique opportunity to quickly gather real-time consumer feedback."
To extract that feedback, Adidas hosts conversations between consumers with the Insiders group, starting discussions about brand perception, marketing campaigns, or communications channels. Murphy says one of the biggest challenges has been keeping communication frequent and relevant. "Our community became active quickly, and it's important to keep feeding members information, content, products, activities, and polls," he says. "Our biggest surprise has been how willing and active our community members really are. It's a great help to me spending time with consumers that love the brand as much as we do."
Because members of the Insiders group love the brand, research shows they're more influenced by Adidas' messaging. A report by Forrester Research analyst Lisa Bradner, "Social Brand Strategies," found that certain types of social media were more effective in influencing perception depending on who was doing the speaking. If online reviews or discussion forums were peer-generated, for example, they had a bigger impact than if they were company-generated. However, when a consumers' favorite brand is generating the discussion forums, podcasts, and videos, they're even more effective than if peers created them.
By testing strategies and concepts with the smaller Insiders group, Adidas has also become more responsive to the needs of the larger public communities on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. But the real ROI, Murphy says, is in improvements made by the product marketing team. "We're able to play with colors and materials and get instant feedback from these fans, which allows us to be more efficient in development and go-to-market planning," he says. "We've even asked about things like voiceovers for videos and received surprising feedback that's caused us to alter creative. As a result, hopefully we generate more views, interest, and reach a broader audience."
Adidas found that developing a private community is more challenging than a public fan page, but the benefits can outweigh the added effort. "It takes time to nurture the community, since members are tied to your brand and realize the brand is watching and knows how to reach them," Murphy says. "There's some trepidation that exists in this community that doesn't in Facebook or MySpace where members can be anonymous." But, he says, Insiders are more likely to become brand evangelists. "These are the people we see as on-the-ground marketers willing and able to help promote the Adidas brand."