Social Butterflies

Last night, BluePoint in conjunction with North Bridge Venture Partners hosted an intimate round-table discussion with experts and up-and-comers in the social media and social networking space to discuss what’s worked and what challenges they are having trouble overcoming. The event was held at Tavern in the Square in Cambridge.

Sam Clemens, VP of Audience Retention from BzzAgent, and Dries Buytaert, original creator of open source social publishing system Drupal and co-founder/CTO of a Drupal professional services vendor Acquia, headed up the panel.

In attendance were BluePoint clients PeopleAhead – an intelligent career advancement network – and soon-to-be launched Currensee – a global decision making platform and community for foreign exchange (FX) traders. Also in attendance were folks from:

  • HubSpot – An inbound marketing system to increase traffic
  • InnoCentive – An online think-tank for R&D collaboration
  • Mobicious – Mobile content, services and applications
  • MyPerfectGig – Recruiting and career tools for engineers
  • Sermo – Online community created for physicians
  • SpringPartners – Launching an online notepad organizational system
  • StyleFeeder – Personal shopping engine and social shopping community

Some common challenges that were discussed included:

  • Getting pass the gatekeepers – whether that’s parents, administrators, etc. – and getting them to endorse the community to their constituents
  • Figuring out what the right incentive/motivational system is
  • Keeping members engaged and active on the site after they join

Some best practices and tips that emerged included:

  • Community members are motivated by competition
  • Focus on one core niche first; if it takes off, then explore other areas
  • Highlight exciting things that are already happening in the community, and communicate that out to prospects or inactive users to increase engagement
  • Don’t be surprised if your “power” user ends up being someone totally different than you originally thought
  • Build the community piece by piece, keeping the big goals in mind but testing and revising all along the way

While there was an ongoing conversation about where and how to start, whether PR drives more traffic than direct marketing, just how much trial and error is normal (answer: a lot!) – one common theme kept emerging. For those that have lived – and struggled – through launching a successful online community, it’s all about that magic mix of transparency, waiting and luck. Each had a similar piece of advice: don’t force it – get out of the way and let the community flourish at the rate it’s meant to. As long as you’re “feeding” the audience the kind of “food” they want, the site should and will grow organically.

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