Live from #SMWF: Customer communities and getting refused a New Look membership

The CRM and community management session in Track one has been pretty busy all day. Uncovering some interesting insight about techniques and approaches around building online communities.

Panels were looking at key questions, like whether an owned community or one on a third party site like Facebook or LinkedIn is better. The consensus seeming to be that, really, a bit of both is the optimum solution.

People go to sites like Facebook to manage their relationships, whereas they’ll go to a community for specific reason; either to talk about something they’re passionate about, or to find some specific advice or information.

These two types of users have very different needs, but both are important factors to consider in designing and managing your community.

Many of the most successful communities aren’t owned by a brand at all. A community like, for example, would be a wet dream for any large brand to have started. Users are good at spotting if they’re in an owned community though, and this could affect their behaviour, especially so if the feel the conversation is being influenced.

New Look owns its own community, and runs it in a way that seems counterintuitive as first glance. Membership is highly restricted. People have to apply to join, and only about one in four are accepted. The community is used principally for gaining insight on the New Look customer base.

New Look head of customer insight Oliver Lucas, said that the vetting process includes a number of open ended questions that allows him to determine how much that person is likely to contribute, and whether they fit the profile of the kind of person they want in the community.

“That first barrier is good for the engagement of people that get through,” he said. “We want them to think that they can have an influence on our brand. We’ll feed results back to them about how their suggestions and participation has been implemented so they feel empowered.”

This feeding back takes time and incurs cost. But Oliver is adamant that if you want a valuable community, you have to be willing to give something back to it. Top users are also invited to fashion shoots and press shows, rewarding them and keeping them engaged with the brand.

Being refused membership to the New Look community, by Oliver’s own admission not one of the most high class fashion brands, has also motivated people to start discussions about the company out on the social web.

“We’re not trying to be exclusive,” he said. “We’re just very specific in what we want to do with it.”