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Community As a Marketing Tool: It’s All about the Data

Posted @ 11:27 am by David Kilimnik | Category: Community & Social Media, Education | 1 Comment

Plenty of companies host their own user communities these days. In fact, it’s become something of a must-have over the past couple of years for any company that wants to be seen as “social” and “engaged.” Here’s the “but” (you knew it was coming): Most companies haven’t quite figured out how to get–or, perhaps more importantly, how to quantify–real value out of their user communities. Support communities are a notable exception. Autodesk, for example, has managed to save $6.8 million a year just by enabling users to answer many of their own questions, and our own customers Cisco, Intel, and T-Mobile all have stories of wild success with customer support communities, too. That model is now fairly well understood. Less understood, and far less frequently achieved, is the use of communities for marketing purposes. That’s largely because people tend to get distracted by interesting, but tough-to-quantify, user-generated content, and forget almost entirely about harvesting data from user communities that can be used to drive marketing campaigns and to complement and improve social media campaigns.

Pearson–the world’s leading education company, providing educational materials, technologies, assessments and related services to teachers and students of all ages, in 70 countries–is a notable exception. You’ve probably heard of Pearson via any of its various textbook and curricula brands, which include McGraw Hill and Addison-Wesley amongst many others. I was at JiveWorld last week and had the opportunity to speak with Liz Trimaloff of Pearson about their education thought-leadership community, Teachability.com, which SolutionSet designed and built.

 

Teachability3Create a Community around the Audience You Want to Reach

Had Pearson approached community building in the way that many companies do, it would have built a portal for school administrators. They are the people who purchase Pearson products and building proprietary communities is all about talking to the people who buy your products, right? Except when it’s not.

Education is changing, and while administrators still purchase curricula, they are more highly influenced by teachers than ever before. Pearson has never had a direct line to teachers, so the company decided to create one, via the creation of a new online community aimed at teachers. Teachability.com is not directly tied to any Pearson products, and is in fact separately branded, but it brings together the people who are most influential in the purchase of Pearson products: teachers. To reach teachers effectively, Pearson first spent some time figuring out what teachers needed.

The company discovered that a teacher’s day is highly structured and that they rarely have the opportunity to break away and attend a scheduled event or session.  At the same time, they realized that 90 percent of teachers search online for solutions to classroom issues, such as student engagement, that 90 percent also email with other teachers to collaborate, and that 94 percent seek out experienced teachers for advice on job-related issues. Armed with that knowledge, Pearson worked with SolutionSet to develop an online community for teachers that enables them to interact with each other whenever they like, to easily search for solutions to common issues and to read up on hot-button issues whenever they have time.

And teachers love it. SolutionSet’s user experience team has tailored the site for teachers making it both easy to use and intuitive, with content broken out into two simple categories: questions and breakthroughs. Teachers routinely tout the site via other social media outlets, and the level of personal information and anecdotes shared via Teachability is a testament to the trust teachers place in it. The site has 12,000 monthly visitors and 11,500 members, plus 13 issue communities and 4 product user communities, each with their own members.

 

Teachability2

User-Generated Content Is Great, User Data Is Gold

Pearson wasn’t just smart about pinpointing its target audience and delivering a community that audience would use. It also realized early on the difference between the value of user-generated content and enriched user profile data.

Don’t get me wrong: Everyone loves user-generated content, and Pearson is no exception. The user-generated content on Teachability.com helps the company learn about potential problems with its products, get ideas for new products and stay abreast of the issues that are most important to teachers. That information helps keep Teachability.com relevant and informs Pearson’s product development and customer support efforts. But it’s the user profile data that makes its marketing efforts more successful.

Teachers who use Teachability.com voluntarily share both demographic data–where they live and work, which subjects they teach, and how to reach them–and data about which Pearson products they’re using. That information is invaluable when it comes to targeting marketing for specific products. It’s also information you don’t own if you’re only running communities through Facebook or other third-party social media sites.

Armed with that data, Pearson marketers have been able to generate real sales leads not just anecdotal evidence that Teachability is a helpful marketing tool. A webinar about common core curricula that the company created and then targeted to specific subject-matter teachers, for example, generated 1500 real leads with a conversion rate that was 300% higher than anything Pearson had previously done because those leads were engaged Teachability community members, not cold calls. Pearson marketing staff was able to identify and define an audience via Teachability.com, create a campaign and events targeted to that audience and its needs, and turn many of those audience members into quantifiable leads.

This is the big promise of communities, and the one that few companies have been able to realize. While enabling self-service customer support is valuable, and being able to spy on customers’ (and potential customers’) conversations is interesting, the true value of communities is the cold, hard data they provide. Because SolutionSet understands not just the sexier content piece but also the value of data–and, most importantly, how to get it and what to do with it–we were able to help Pearson turn what would have otherwise been a few interesting anecdotes about what teachers care about into real data that delivered quantifiable financial returns. It’s the sort of community story we hope to be telling much more often in the future.

 

 

One thought on “Community As a Marketing Tool: It’s All about the Data

  1. [...] to tailor messaging, sales and even products. Our own Dave Kilimnik wrote extensively about this recently, using SolutionSet client Pearson and its external community Teachability.com as an example of a [...]

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