Community Speech

Last week, I was in Albany, NY speaking to a group of marketing people about why they need to start thinking differently – namly how to think as community members, and not marketers. The group was about 150 strong, and I nailed the speech. You know those times where you just know you nailed it? You don’t need any feedback, you just can tell from the crowd (at least those up front) that you’re getting through? You’re having a “on” day, you’re hitting your points, making your slide transitions, the whole nine yards. That was me.

The downside, however, was that with about 5 mins left to go in my hour long speech, they fixed the sound and viola! people could hear me in the back. Apparently, the sound system in the room wasn’t working very well, and despite speaking in a very loud voice with the bad mic, I wasn’t being heard in the back of the room. So here I was nailing my speech and most of the room was struggling to pay attention. Damn.

I’m going to polish up my notes from last week’s presentation (and yes, by polish I mean make comprehendable by someone other than me) and post them here. Someone might be interested in seeing what I’ve been talking about, and it was a great overview of our approach to working with community and internal colleagues.

A quick recap of the top 10 list that the speech was based on – the speech was titled “Everybody goes home happy”:

  • Everybody goes home happy – I’ve explained this one a million times, so hopefully everyone is pretty clear. The basic idea is that both fans and TLG need to get something beneficial and satisfiying. If either side doesn’t, something’s wrong with the relationship.
  • Open and honest relationship – In order to ensure that there is a healthy relationship between fans and company, that relationship needs to be based on openness and honesty. Both groups need to feel like they can have honest discussions about anything that’s on their minds.
  • It’s not about selling – Sure, I work for a company that’s in business, and is here to sell product. Sure, all of my efforts, at some point, relate to selling… that’s the nature of working for a company, and that goes for any employee of any company. But my daily tasks aren’t about selling products to fans, or trying to get fans to sell products for me. My focus is on making sure that there is a solid, healthy, happy relationship built up between fans and employees. The rest turns into sales down the road, nearly by default.
  • Be an advocate – As the community liaison, it’s important for me to be an advocate for the fans inside the company, to carry their voice and their concerns to all corners of the company. And of course, it’s part of the task to carry the voice of the employees into the community. But more than simply being a messenger, community liaison types have to be an advocate – willing to be beat up on a regular basis because they see a grander mission of ensuring communication is happy and healthy.
  • Create a team – When working with a community, it’s important to create a “team”, of sorts. To find the key leaders in the community, the key groups, the key Web sites, and really get to know them. Build a “quasi-team”, so that the relationship has a foundation to grow on.
  • If you wouldn’t do it, don’t ask – Seems kinda obvious, but you’d be surprised how many marketing folks say to the idea of working community the first time they really get it “Cool! We can push that project I don’t like off on them”. As the advocate, it’s my role to ever so gently (or not so much when it calls for it) to remind them that … if you wouldn’t do it yourself, don’t ask someone else to do it for you.
  • Secrets and Paranoia – This is a biggie… and tough. Anyone in the business world has been taught that sharing is bad, and any company information is secret. It’s important (again, as the advocate) to push people to answer the question “Is it properitary or uncomfortable?” There’s a huge void between those two. Information is what drives a solid relationship, and secrets is what destroys them. Anyone who’s dated can attest to this!
  • Control through participation (not Control through directive) – The idea of control is fairly laughable in the first place, but in the past, companies have had this idea that they can control consumers through any number of means. These days, that idea is nearly laughable, yet too many companies tend to try to give directives to consumers about what they can and can’t do. Since we all know that that doesn’t work, the idea of control (or really guidance) should come from standing side-by-side with consumers/fans and explaining and sharing why things are important or significant.
  • Formalize at the last stage – Marketers love their formalized programs, campaigns, and projects. Communities don’t. They just like people to show up. I’ve been doing community work for 5 years now, and we’ve only this year implemented our formal programs – the LEGO Ambassadors and LEGO Certified Professionals. Push back the formalization until it’s really needed.
  • Spending money is for fools – If you ever want to wake up a group of marketing people, just say these words outloud. Just be sure you have ambulances on hand, because at least 10% of the room will have heart attacks! Marketers are pre-programmed to spend money in order to achieve results. I keep my group’s budget purposely low (we barely cover our travel costs each year), and focus on talking to the fans about what they really want. Most of the time, it has very little to do with money. Nine times out of ten it has to do with getting free product, respect, interaction, and inclusion. (OK so product costs money, but very little, relatively speaking)

Anyway, more to follow as I get time to actually polish (i.e translate) my notes into something readable. I may even expand each of the 10 points above into separate blog entries. Hell, I wish that I would have recorded the speech in order to turn it into a podcast. Damn, I need to start thinking about that.

Feel free to challenge the ideas above or ask for clarification. I’m always up for a good community-themed discussion.