Online communities ignite business - and creativity

They're a growing area, reports Darren Greenwood

For Elizabeth Vaneveld, The Big Idea is the community website for the creative sector.

The website claims to be the “online home of New Zealand’s global community”, and “the space where creativity, innovation and enterprise ignite”. It boasts 16,000 registered members, over 23,000 unique visitors a month, with half of those visitors coming back.

The Big Idea contains creative industry news, topical interviews and informative columns, job and opportunity listings, career development tools, profiles of industry workers, forums and a gallery where members can showcase their work.

Vaneveld, its executive director, says such features are what bring people of a shared interest together, though words like “community” don’t matter as much as what sites offer and what drives people to them.

“Over time it becomes clear whether there is a profile and brand developing around that community. They live and die by their engagement,” she says. “The business case is more in knowing your customer base,” says Vaneveld.

She says the site will be expanded to engage with a wider community.

Motherhood is another wide community, served by OhBaby!, which has 12,000 signed-up members.

Marketing manager Vicki Febery says community sites need to be in an area of interest to users and offer great levels of community interaction.

For OhBaby! That includes databanks of information on motherhood, expert feedback and community messageboards; and the sharing of information and experiences, so members can learn from each other. The more posts a member makes, the higher status they gain within the community.

The website led to OhBaby! launching a quarterly parenting magazine, with subscribers gaining access to “Max” content. Febery says OhBaby! members spend more time on the website than other parenting sites and such traffic has been a catalyst for online sales.

“Our users are also happy to provide their opinions for research and they trust OhBaby! to share information about products and services of relevance to them. Our instant access to this strong and responsive community of users ensures we are able to deliver impressive results for our advertisers,” she says.

Financial investors, including those at home, can sign up to the CMC Markets online financial trading system. Subscribers gain access to a Trading Social Network (TSN) of blogs, message boards, charts of member performance, scorecards, star ratings of members and search utilities for watchlists and members.

The network allows new users to find mentors to learn more about the financial world, says Sargon Elias, general manager New Zealand of CMC Markets.

“Trading is an exciting but can be a lonely occupation and it is hard to find like-minded people. We as a business don’t offer advice and we have too many clients to provide one to one support. So we had the idea why not get our traders together and they can help each other. This was how the TSN was born. By being part of the community, members can find information and follow the most successful traders. These people can add blogs and info about their trading,” he says.

Elias adds people become emotional and egotistical in their community, which drives them to put in extra effort.

Voeveo is an online community of mobile phone content providers. Community director Annabel Youens says communities need shared ideas and interests and forums are critical to providing vibrant communities.

Voeveo is made up of people who love their mobile phones and mobile content, she says, and members are regularly involved in site improvements and campaigns with active sellers.

Members thus feel valued and tell their friends, who sign up as well, and growth of the community continues.

It is hard nurturing a young community but you need to build trust with them and share ideas, Youens explains, and you need to implement those improvements. Eventually, you will have a vibrant community of members who love your site and want you to succeed.

“My advice to internet entrepreneurs is build your business model first, then look at how you can integrate community elements into it. You can always have a successful ecommerce site but I think to differentiate yourself from your competitors you should think about involving your members,” she advises.

Tradebox started late in 2007 as a means to bring trade professionals qualified leads they wouldn’t normally receive; and promising trusted service to customers. Director Anne Casey says community involves shared interests and users and suppliers working together and using self-regulation.

The site doesn’t claim to be a community yet but says its network of approved trade professionals, who can be rated by their customers, is moving in that direction. Casey says such involvement will eventually lead to emotional attachment and loyalty from both suppliers and customers.

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Tags Special IDThe big ideaelizabeth vaneveldmychillybinohbaby!

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