_This article is by Guest Contributor Kate Trgovac, reporting from the “BlogOn”:http://www.blogonevent.com/blogon2005 conference._
This was an exceptional panel chaired by Susan Mernit, Partner 5ive and former VP from Netscape. The panel centered on a conversation about online communities and how companies can successfully interact with them. The net-net – engaging with communities in the blogosphere can be a tricky business.
First, you have to find them — a potentially difficult prospect because the nature of the medium as well as the advent of audience tagging (and other Web 2.0 technologies) allows for emergent communities – communities that form and disperse _naturally_. These communities are freed from top-down taxonomies and programming structures.
Second, you need to identify the leaders and influencers in a community. Bill Schreiner, VP Community Programming for AOL shared that one way to find the leaders is to count the “thank yous”. Generally the most helpful people are the most influential. And they are often not the person who talks the most.
Third, you need to be able to have authentic conversations with them. Not spin, not marketing-speak, And this is something that most companies and brands are loathe to do. The key, Peter Friedman, Chairman & CEO of Liveworld says, is to realize that your brand actually lives in the voice of your customers. Interact with them and you are protecting your brand. Jeff Jarvis, Consultant for the New York Times Company echoed this sentiment – “Enable communities. And lose control of your brand to the community.”
_Kate Trgovac is currently Manager, Web Evolution for Petro-Canada. Prior to joining Petro-Canada, Kate spent eight years developing user experience strategies for clients at several interactive agencies in Toronto. She writes about technology, branding, user-experience and other topics of note on her blog “mynameiskate.ca”:http://www.mynameiskate.ca/ ._