The Fine Line Between Community And Conversion – Lessons From

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Digital marketers need to get their house in order.
That was the key take-home I had after spending three days at the Online Marketing Conference which took place in Hollywood, Florida from Wednesday night until yesterday afternoon.
First off, a special thanks to Pinny Gniwisch from and Michael LeBlanc from CanWest Interactive for recommending me as a speaker to the group. Because of their recommendation, I was asked to keynote the Online Marketing Workshop this week.
The biggest challenge I faced when walking the two hundred and fifty online marketers through my Six Pixels of Separation presentation was how to build community and content around a working model that is strictly focused on conversion.
And that’s where we need to build the most important bridge (challenge) that faces online marketers today: how do you build community and create content when the main driving force of the website is to focus the consumer on the purchase… as quickly as possible?
Amazon does it well – leveraging consumer reviews and other enhanced features while always making the process of ordering as simple and effective as possible. eBay does this incredibly well as the community actually “is” the reason we buy (if the community thinks a seller sucks… they’re done, no one will buy from them). Then there are websites like Lego (I had a chance to speak with one of their online marketing people at that allows individuals to engage the brand in a whole other way, join their community and still have the ability to buy.
In a world where the “commerce” is more important than the “e” in “e-commerce,” these online marketers are open to social media. They are actively working it and trying to figure out how to do more of it. They’re aware that the Google AdWords could one day dry up and that, in the end, their brands must be connecting to their consumers and allowing their consumers to connect to each other.
It was interesting. In most scenarios, we’re trying to figure out how companies can get online and leverage social networks. In these scenarios, most companies are online, robust and converting millions of dollars online and scared of the implications on those bottom-lines by adding in more community and content.
Speaking of bottom-lines, is an extremely dynamic organization. Great companies – all focused on the online space by engaged Marketers who are passionate about the opportunities and potentials ahead. They’re focused on communities of people who are looking to buy and, hopefully, after this week’s Online Marketing Workshop, they’re also looking at other ways to engage through different kinds of content and social media tactics.


  1. One potential role of community in commerce-focused sites is to create a space which encourages community to flourish on its own, with or without your intervention, and as a result, when people congregate there, you’ll have additional audience exposure. This is something I advocate for a lot of companies to try, and it’s what the Student Loan Network is doing with podcasting and PodCamp sponsorships – provide a social space, and then let people do what they do best.
    One example was our sponsor table at PodCamp NYC. PodCamp’s audience tends to be very wrong for the Student Loan Network – relatively affluent professionals between the ages of 25 – 40, statistically, when we’re looking for lower middle income students 18-24 and parents 40 – 50. What we ended up doing was sharing out our table to Uncle Seth and Natalie Gelman to sell their CDs and perform live, as well as a few other community-focused things (Bobbing for Business Cards, Mashboard, etc.). The net effect was that it created a small mini-community space that also built brand awareness, and even got a couple of loans, making it worth every dollar of sponsorship. Had we gone sell, sell, sell with a super-hard sell, I doubt we would have generated the same results. Instead, focusing on community first also drove some sales, and helped build our brand in an industry which desperately needs the trust of the community more than ever.

  2. Thanks Chris.
    That’s certainly one direction to go in.
    I had not focused on that area. When I think of communities around e-commerce sites, I tend to focus on what industry there serve or what their values are, and if there is content that could compliment either both or one of those.
    I think Whirlpool “is” American family values, so the content they created for their Podcast was needed by the community and aligned with their values.
    Your way works well too 🙂

  3. Hi Mitch,
    It’s a tough conversation justifying additional marketing spend for activity that is not as accountable (yet) as Pay-Per-Click. Online marketing has fought hard to earn it’s reputation as a ‘cost effective’ acquisition channel, and for some companies that can become a drug that’s hard to kick.
    I see parallels between social media and TV Brand advertising. The effects of TV Brand Advertising is difficult to measure accurately, but there is an over-riding belief that it’s is the right thing to do for the following reasons;
    * It’s gives the advertiser reach to a broad audience
    * It can communicate quickly who you are and what your values are
    * It casts a positive ‘halo’ effect over direct response channels that improves response rates
    Social Media can also provide these three things, but the real opportunity is in what else it can add on top, namely;
    * Cost Effectiveness – It doesn’t cost a million pounds to enter a conversation online. It could. But it doesn’t have to
    * Accountability – tracking tools and analytics will continue to improve in this space giving Marketers an unprecedented amount of useful data
    * ….and most importantly communication with social media is a conversation, therefore by it’s very nature it’s two way. This is the real opportunity
    Marketers are increasingly understanding both what conversations that are relevant to them, and how they should take part in a credible way. The ‘dad on the dance floor’ gaffs of brands who got it wrong should become fewer and fewer.
    Drawing similarities between the online & offline world, like the example above, can help more traditional marketeers see through the hype and identify the opportunities.
    By the end of 2007 I hope there are some great examples for us to talk about.
    (…I’ve posted and amended version of this comment on my blog)
    Thanks and keep up the great work on Six Pixels..

  4. Thanks Steve Jay.
    There’s one more huge component that was not on your list. What about the fact that social media also allows your consumers to talk to each other?
    How huge is that?
    How much impact could that have on the lifetime value of your consumers and on your product development.
    I see so many additional strategic by-products to social media that we have not even begun to scratch the surface.
    Think about the legacy (or Long Tail) of content that you (and your consumers) are creating. This will live on (in infamy 😉 forever.
    I think we’re all being a little short-sighted here and simply looking at quarterly ROI – which is silly. You see, when an ad campaign ends, it’s over. With these new channels, it just keeps going and will live forever.
    Very powerful.

  5. Hi Mitch,
    Really interesting article. One segment that doesn’t get much attention is the fundraising sector. Many of the fundraisers I have spoken to are really trying to engage their supporters more and more through their web sites by offering diverse offerings such as education, advocacy, events, and of course the hands-on opportunity to offer peer support and volunteerism. The struggle they have (like so many other organizations) is getting a 360 degree view of their supporters with so many touch-points. It’s expensive and really does require the ultimate pay-off of a donation or better yet, a long-term financial commitment. How do you think social media will evolve in this sector?

  6. Don – I think if there is one sector that can truly benefit from community building and the power of social media, it is the not-for-profit sector.
    With some many channels and opportunities, I’m shocked that they are not diving deeply into this space. From Facebook groups to flickr (to share images of their events) to starting a free Blog over at WordPress or Blogger…. it’s all right there for them.
    I also think that many of the orgs got in too early on the shopping cart phase and are now stuck with some not-so-great technology.
    The Web enables every single person to take part and become either a giver of money, time or insights (or all three). I can’t imagine a better channel than social media and online community to build that.
    Let’s still not forget that anyone who wants, should be able to give money online as well.

  7. I think WWF Canada is a great example of an organization making use of social media for things such as “education, advocacy, events.” Check out its blog and see if you don’t agree:
    After reading An Inconvenient Truth (and getting all hot and bothered), my 13-year-old niece searched the word “climate change,” found the WWF Canada website/blog and in the process discovered this Saturday’s CN Tower Stair Climb. She then mobilized a team of four to register and participate. (They have already surpassed their fundraising goal.)
    (And a minor point re: terminology: charities are non-profits. Organizations like associations are not-for-profits. It may seem like semantics, but the difference is actually quite significant when it comes to income tax status.)

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