One part of today’s marketing is involved with web marketing. And in web marketing, an understanding of Online Communities is very crucial. I summed some important issues together, so that corporate bloggers don’t end-up in the wrong territories.
Online Community 101
When someone enters into an online community (be it an e-group, a web forum, a bulletin board or a blog site), sometimes things might seem blurred.
In order to grasp what is going on, I first advise everyone to understand some common online community member types and some new marketing techniques. This terminology and the view point which comes with it is important. I hope it will be helpful for creating better online communities.
Some Common Online Community Member Types :
? Internet sock puppet
? Straw man sock puppet
? Meat Puppet
? Internet troll
? Online Bigot
Some Marketing Techniques related to Online Communities:
? Viral marketing
? Undercover / Stealth Marketing
Below you can find definitions of these from wikipedia.org:
Internet sock puppet
An Internet sock puppet is an additional account created by an existing member of an Internet community. This account allows them to pose as a completely different user, sometimes to manufacture the illusion of support in a vote or argument. Other reasons include a desire to support or vote on an issue coupled with a desire to have one’s “main” account stay away from the issue. This behaviour is sometimes seen as being dishonest by online communities and as a result these individuals are often labeled as trolls. This is often done on sites like eBay in order to bid on one’s own auctions, although eBay forbids the practice.
Another type of sock puppet is an account created by the manufacturer of a product or the author of a book for the sole purpose of recommending the product/book by posing as an enthusiastic consumer or reader (a crude attempt at do-it-yourself viral marketing).
Straw man sock puppet
Another type of sock puppet is sometimes referred to as a straw man sock puppet. They are created by users with one point of view, but act as though they have an opposing point of view, in order to make that point of view look bad. They will often make poor arguments which their opponents can then easily refute. This can allow them to essentially make straw man arguments. Such sock puppets thus become a personification of the straw man argument which their creators argue against. They often act unintelligent or uninformed, and may behave in an overtly bigoted manner. The effect is often to obfuscate the debate and prevent a serious discussion of the arguments from each side. Suspicion of such sock puppets is often harder to verify though, as there are often people who naturally behave in such a manner with the same effects.
A meat puppet is a variation of a sock puppet; a new internet community member account is created by another person at the request of a user solely for the purposes of influencing the community on a given issue or issues. While less overtly deceptive than sock puppetry, the effect of meat puppetry and sock puppetry on the community as a whole may be similar.
In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts inflammatory messages on the internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants. It can also be used as a verb, meaning to post such messages, and “trolling” (the gerund) is also commonly used to describe the activity.
Self-proclaimed “trolls” may style themselves as devil’s advocates, gadflies or “culture jammers”, challenging the dominant discourse and assumptions of forum discussions in an attempt to break the status quo of groupthink the belief system that prevails in their absence.
The Troll culture seems to have gone beyond the vague Scandinavian mythological identification, and includes some elements of Celtic culture, including a sort of status for the more effective poets and rhetoricians among them. The “Wikipedia red faction” was a notable group of this sort, employing largely Marxist rhetoric. The Anarchopedia similarly employs some anarchist rhetoric, and seems to actively encourage self-identification and factional expression among trolls. To a lesser degree, so has consumerium.
The long history of trolling, and the strong support for anonymous and pseudonymous discourse on the Internet, suggests that the story of the “anonymous troll” is only beginning. Whether there can be a “culture” consisting of people who do not know each other, except through a common experience of being bounced from Internet forums, is questionable, but some do claim it is possible and already occurring.
There is strong evidence for this in the existence of forums that claim to exist specifically to support trolls and trolling, to exchange troll tips, and to identify targets that other trolls might fruitfully bait or debate.
Trolling culture is best observed in trolls, who do not know each other, working together. Because the common methods of creating inflammatory posts are well known, and a subject of jokes in many places on the Internet, it is sometimes possible for a troll to identify another troll at work. A troll, trolling another troll, often creates massive amounts of pretend drama between them that are taken seriously by non-troll observers (especially if they take sides). The end result is that the two trolls can work together to force a conversation to go off topic, or center a forum’s discussion around themselves, more effectively than on their own.
Nekama is a Japanese term used to describe a kind of internet sock puppet used on dating and personal sites. The word is a combination of netto (internet), and okama (an effeminate gay man; a male cross dresser), and means a man who posts a personal advertisement using a female identity.
Nekama range from the blatantly obvious, for example those using a photo scanned from a men’s magazine and a sexually provocative message, to the subtle and hard to spot. There are many Japanese web sites dealing with nekama and how to spot them. A web search for nekama in katakana on the Google search engine in October 2005 gave over three hundred and fifty thousand hits.
Nekama may be gay males, but this term also refers to heterosexuals who attempt to form friendships with females by pretending to be women, and people who simply enjoy tricking others.
A bigot is a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from their own. The origin of the word in English dates back to at least 1598, via Middle French, and started with the sense of religious hypocrite, especially a woman. Today, it is considered a synonym of narrow-minded.
Bigot is often used as pejorative term against a person who is obstinately devoted to his or her prejudices even when these prejudices are challenged or proven to be false, often engaging these prejudices in a rude and intolerant manner. Forms of bigotry may have a related ideology, like racism, religion, nationalism, and homophobia. Bigotry is not just intolerance, but rather extreme and unreasonable intolerance.
Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that seek to exploit pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness, through viral processes similar to the spread of an epidemic. It is word-of-mouth delivered and enhanced online; it harnesses the network effect of the Internet and can be very useful in reaching a large number of people rapidly.
Viral marketing is sometimes used to describe some sorts of Internet-based stealth marketing campaigns, including the use of blogs, seemingly amateur web sites, and other forms of astroturfing to create word of mouth for a new product or service. Often the ultimate goal of viral marketing campaigns is to generate media coverage via “offbeat” stories worth many times more than the campaigning company’s advertising budget.
The term “viral advertising” refers to the idea that people will pass on and share cool and entertaining content; this is often sponsored by a brand, which is looking to build awareness of a product or service. These viral commercials often take the form of funny video clips, or interactive Flash games, images, and even text.
Viral marketing is popular because of the ease of executing the marketing campaign, relative low-cost (compared to direct mail), good targeting, and the high and rapid response rate. The main strength of viral marketing is its ability to obtain a large number of interested people at a low cost. The main weakness is that sometimes messages can look like e-mail spam and this creates the risk of damaging the brand. The from and subject lines then become very important in order to remedy this problem (Tell-A-Friend principle); for example, when sending a link or webpage, sometimes the subject line is “(Name of person here) thought you would like this page”. The receiver will then recognize the name and know that it is not unsolicited.
The most difficult task for any company is to acquire and retain a large customer base, through the use of the internet and the effects of e-mail advertising the B2C efforts have a greater impact than many other tools of marketing. E-mail generates 15% of online sales in North America and is on the increase. Viral marketing is a technique that avoids the annoyance of spam mail; it encourages users of a specific product or service to tell a friend. This would be a positive word-of-mouth recommendation. One of the most successful perspectives found to achieve this customer base is the integrated marketing communication IMC perspective.
Undercover / Stealth Marketing
Undercover marketing is a subset of guerrilla marketing where the consumer doesn’t realize they’re being marketed to. For example, a marketing company might pay an actor or socially adept person to use a certain product visibly and convincingly in locations where target consumers congregate. While there, the actor will also talk up their product to people they befriend in that location, even handing out samples if it is economically feasible. The actor will often be able to sell consumers on their product without those consumers even noticing it.
Undercover marketing is also know as buzz marketing, stealth marketing, or (by its detractors) roach baiting.
The goal of any undercover campaign is to generate buzz. Spontaneous word of mouth, or buzz, is free, can reach consumers isolated from all other media, and unlike conventional media, consumers tend to trust it. Marketers find it very hard to predict buzz let alone generate it on demand. However when it works, undercover marketing does exactly that: an ideal consumer from the example above will not only begin using that product themselves, but will also tell their friends about it, inciting a planned viral marketing campaign that looks spontaneous.
It is the consumer’s sense that this recommendation was spontaneous and unsolicited, and the resulting feeling that “one good turn deserves another”, that drives the buzz. So, the “bought and paid for” aspect of the transaction must remain hidden. Overall, the person doing the marketing must look and sound like a peer of their target audience without any ulterior motive for endorsing the product employees of the company cannot do undercover marketing, nor can celebrities (except possibly to other celebrities).
If marketers fail to hide their vested interest in selling a product, they run considerable risk of backlash. Cases where consumers have found out they have been manipulated into liking the product, they generally become angry at the marketer (and by association that product) over being misled. This indignation has lead some to apply more derogatory names to undercover marketing, such as roach baiting, likening the products marketed this way to poison. In some cases, the amount of buzz generated by a failed campaign can exceed that of a successful one, only with the opposite of the desired result.
When targeting consumers known to be consistent Internet users, undercover marketers have taken a significant interest in leveraging Internet chat rooms and forums. In these settings, people tend to perceive everyone as peers, the semi-anonymity reduces the risk of being found out, and one marketer can personally influence a large number of people. During the dot com boom at the turn of the century, stock promoters frequently used chat rooms to create a buzz and drive up the price of a stock.
Whatever the risks, undercover marketing only requires a small investment for a large potential pay off. It remains a cheap and effective way of generating buzz, especially in markets such as Tobacco and alcohol where media-savvy target consumers have become increasingly resistant or inaccessible to other forms of advertising.