I was a guest speaker last night at Emmanuel College in Boston, asked by a friend to talk to her feature-writing class about B2B publishing (hey kids! consider a career writing about refrigerated transport, microprocessors or food service!). One of the things we discussed, in the context of the print-to-online overhaul of the industry, was how trade publishers are in a great position to take advantage of social networking on the Web. When you think about it, the concept of community is nothing new to trade magazines; they have been engaging with highly targeted groups of readers for decades, first through controlled-circulation print magazines or newsletters, then through their websites.
In the print world, the cycle went like this: reporters would interview readers, distill their thoughts, pick the best quotes, and write a story reflecting their views, which then would be slotted, packaged, printed and disseminated in magazine form to the rest of the community to consume, passively. The Internet introduced the concept of instant feedback, in the form of a comments or “talkback” box at the end of a story.
Now, next-generation tools and Web 2.0 concepts such as RSS, tagging and user-generated content allow communities of like-minded individuals to connect and interact more freely, effectively flattening out the publishing model. While that scares the bejeezus out of some editors, it also creates an amazing opportunity for trade pubs to really get to know – and interact with – those readers they’ve been serving all these years. In general, I think the community play of the future will revolve around these types of smaller, targeted groups, as opposed to the YouTubes, MySpaces and other mass-oriented social networking sites.
The benefits of smaller sites are that members will be more willing to participate, instead of just watching others. Communispace addressed this issue in newly released research in which it looked at behavior among 26,539 members of 66 private online communities. From its press release:
Results indicate that 86 percent of the people who log on to private, facilitated communities (average community size: 300-500 people) made contributions: they posted comments, initiated dialogues, participated in chats, brainstormed ideas, shared photos and more. Only 14 percent merely logged in and observed, or “lurked.” In contrast, on public social networking websites, blogs, and message boards, this ratio is typically reversed, i.e., the vast majority of site visitors do not contribute. In fact, in a typical online forum (e.g., wiki, community, message board or blog), one percent of site visitors contribute and the other 99 percent lurk. (Source: McConnell & Huba, 2007. Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message. Chicago: Kaplan Publishing). This disparity suggests that the more intimate the setting, the more people will participate and get involved in the community.
Community development holds potential not just for publishers, but for any company that wants to organize groups of individuals – customers, suppliers or employees – in order to share ideas and get feedback. Online community platform providers like Communispace and Leverage Software are gaining a lot of traction with corporate clients eager to dip their toes into the social networking waters.
Paul Dunay addresses the topic with a post and a podcast on building a B2B community. He interviewed Mukund Mohan, CEO of the Canvas Group, who cites InfoWorld as an example – an indication that trade publishers are indeed warming up to the idea of full-on community as a way to stay connected, and relevant, with readers.