Friday, March 23, 2012

Backplane: Should Companies Create Private Virtual Communities?

It has been years now that Facebook interests companies in order to bond with their customers/communities. Marketers have understood how powerful social media could be to create brand awareness and to reach their customers in a unique way.

But Facebook almost monopoly on social communities bring some questions: Is it a good thing that companies rely on a private company's tool to connect with its customers? Indeed, it is a normal behavior for a company to want to master and control what it is doing. Indeed, Facebook can whenever it wants change its policy which could have great impact on people's community.You should see what is going on with Google's decision to charge company using Google Maps: People are moving away from Google's tool, which can have many consequences.

Also another important question is: Is Facebook really the best way to connect with my customers? Facebook has a specific way to create Facebook pages, and it is not as easy to customize the page.The main strength of Facebook is that it has already a large number of users, and it is therefore easier to grow a community quickly. But afterwards comes the will to animate this community, and maybe there are better tools than a Facebook page.

This is the reason why, a lot of companies are willing to create their own social media, outside of Facebook. And this is where comes Backplane. Backplane is a company which has built Lady Gaga's virtual community.The famous pop star is known for having a large community following her both on Facebook and Twitter. The Backplane's ambition is to leverage the know how brought by the Lady Gaga's experience to other companies willing to create a similar link with their communities.

"Backplane is exploring the possibilities for mainstream brands, from Nike to ExxonMobil, to create virtual communities that foster deeper relationships with customers. (In the case of ExxonMobil, the likeliest passion for the firm to tap is not for petroleum itself, but for the different brands of car it powers.) The trick is to find those key influencers and amplify their voices. Mr Carter says that experience with Lady Gaga has taught him that what a super fan says can sometimes have a bigger impact on fellow fans than a word from the Lady herself. "

It reminds me sort of of Tripnity, a company which has developped a long time ago now (at least 5 years) a community for Air France's passengers to connect with people taking the same flight at the same time (bluenity). The community is still on, but I am not really sure about the success.

The question is, should companies try to create their community outside of Facebook, and use the service of a company like Backplane?

I am not sure about the answer: I think it is risky to rely on Facebook, because Facebook could decide soon (as they will become more eager to generate profits as they will be in the stock exchange market) to charge professional use. We all know that, at the spike of the social commerce hype Facebook asked for huge commissions in order to use Facebook for selling purposes.

Now Facebook knows how to create powerful communities, as they have a long experience on it.Also, you have now a lot of people with the expertise of communities on Facebook (advertizing agencies, companies...) because they took part of several of them. It is therefore easier to leverage this expertise.

But I believe that the main strength of Facebook is that people are already registered in Facebook ,and entering a community is much easier for a user than to register on another service.I believe that the registering process is a real threshold, and Facebook has the chance to have people already on it.

Nevertheless, I think the question should be asked depending on the budgets and the ambitions of the brand.

What do you think about it?