Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Difference between a community blog, corporate blog & discussion forums?

Summary: What’s a community blog? Give me an example – Check out Netflix’s Community Blog run by Michael Rubin — List of other kinds of community blogs


w/ Michael Rubin at the Web 2.0 Expo

I’ve always spoken about corporate blogs, ranging from a ranking of the Top 10 corporate blogs to running a corporate blog for the company I currently work at – LinkedIn. There’s also a different kind of blog that I’d like to define today, using some examples from the larger community evangelism world.

What’s a community blog?

Community Media: Community media is described by Rennie[1], in a broad sense, as “community communication (p. 7).” Fundamentally, it is elusive to define the term in an absolute manner because it can take so many forms, be applied by so many different groups of people, and be directed at such a wide range of issues. The premise, however, that community media is a facilitative tool for discussion and engagement of the ordinary citizenry has some inherent implications. (Source: Wikipedia)

I’m going to take some liberty in extending the above definition to a new sub-group of corporate blogs, which you can think of as a more public form of Discussion Forums (e.g. SimplyHired’s Simply Forums). A great example of one such community blog, would have to be the one recently started by my good friend, Michael Rubin, the Director of Customer Community Experience, the Netflix blog seems to be a BIG hit if you just count the engagement (# of comments) with the readers/users.

One of the primary differences with the community forums of the past, is that it reduces or removes the barrier to entry of participation. Users don’t need a user name or password to participate in the conversation about product features or feedback for improvement. As can be evidenced from the Netflix blog, the engagement (measurement by comments) is rather high. My only quibble (and this with the Blogger platform) is the way I have to be taken to a new page to display comments is really slow and this is something that I’ve noticed on Mack’s blog as well.

Readers probably know that I’ve posted many reviews of my Netflix user experience, my experimentation with Flixster, and looks like I’ll be participating in the Netflix community blog – moving forward. Even “Hacking Netflix”, seems to have noticed.

List of other community blogs
A cursory viewing of Google search results (for “community blog”) yields a rich diaspora of different communities using blogs — ranging from cities to events. The success of these blogs totally depends on the implementation and as Michael shows, if done right, it could be a worthy replacement for your discussion forums. Here are my Top 5 favorites for community blog examples:

1. Fortune 500 – Microsoft Small Business Community Blog
2. Events – SXSW Interactive community blog
3. Microsoft Community Blogs
4. Cities – Vancouver Community Blogs
5. Countries – UAE Community Blogs

Filed under: Business Blogging

31 Responses

  1. Mario Sundar says:

    Hi Mario,

    Hmmm…very cool. Something to think about.

    Community forums:
    A lot of people keep talking about the death of forums because of blogs. I personally disagree for a wide variety of reason. As you mention, not requiring registration does create an easier flow. Not requiring registration , however, can create some issues as well (see my signature).

    Community Blogs:
    I love the concept & will look into it more. To be honest, my real passion is customer feedback & it has been somewhat challenging doing it in the job search arena. Our forums have largely been relegated to more support-related issues at this time – but they have saved us a ton of money in CS contacts (I also do some social engineering with CS and the forums…will explain more later).

    Thanks for the post! I will thnk about the community blog more seriously now.

    Like

  2. Mario Sundar says:

    Damon,

    your comment says “Mario Sundar”, he he… Yes, and the anonymity factor as well. Agreed.

    However, I’m curious to find out from Rubin if that’s been a major factor of disruption on his blog.

    This will be a continuing theme we’ll address shortly on the blog.

    Like

  3. Hey Mario,
    If it matters, I’d say this about our blog.
    1) I’m making this up as i go.
    2) It’s main role is for me to communicate about the upcoming features and to enlist the folks who care to provide input/feedback to help inform me and our team. It’s mostly about the community features in particular, but its rapidly evolving into all the features on the website. It is not, however, about the company or the service…
    3) It’s also part (a) Online User Manual, (b) Vignette of life inside netflix, to a minor degree (c) a discussion of UI/UX product development for those who care, and (d) discussion forum.
    4) It’s only been about 2 months. It’s style, content, and voice seem to be evolving all the time. I cannot say what it will be like by the end of the year.

    I think people inside our company have mixed feelings about it. Some feel I should push deeper, some feel I expose too much, and some just think it is distracting me from my actual job building the website. In the end, I think folks just think I’m secretly (snicker) working on a book about Netflix for some future date, in the same style as my book about Lucasfilm/Pixar. It’s not true, but it’s a funny running joke around here. It’s just a blog. Glad for your feedback.

    Like

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for the link and mention of Urban Vancouver as a community blog (I’m one of the managing editors). Right now there is a small community there, one that is based on geography more than anything, and one which of course we’d like to grow. There’s lots of good examples of topic-based community blogs out there too, like WorldBeatPlanet’s at http://www.worldbeatplanet.com/blog which uses the same software as Urban Vancouver, i.e. Drupal http://drupal.org/ which makes it easy to setup a user signup system where each user gets their own blog. Thanks again!

    Like

  5. John Cass says:

    Blogs have certain advantages over forums because there tends to be more of them in a community than forums, and the number helps with one aspect of search engine rankings – receiving and sending links to other websites, an important factor in the process of search engine optimization. Blogs help with the process of SEO because the strategy for effective blogging is conversations between bloggers and blogs. While conversations occur within a forum, not between websites. Yet I agree with Michael Rubin, forums are still great places for conversation and content. I know a lot of companies use forums especially for customer service. I think there is a role for both types of website. I think the idea of the community blog makes a lot of sense.

    Like

  6. I actually like the community blog concept & will look into doing it where I work.

    The largest forums are the ones where the user id is automatically synced to forum features (think eBay, Yahoo). I think the main benefit for forums is that it is easier to locate all commments by specific folks & that it is easier to follow a threaded conversation & easier to locate all discussions going on at one point. I realize some blogs have similar features – but I haven’t found one that is as good as a service like Vbulletin just yet.

    Any tool that allows you to communicate with customers and/or get feedback is worthy, regardless of the platform being utilized.

    Like

  7. Mario Sundar says:

    Hi Michael,

    My initial reaction on seeing the blog was that it’s more community based-discussion forums, but I hear you.

    What you said is interesting, since at LinkedIn, we’ve divided all content into 2 categories:

    1. LinkedIn News
    2. Using LinkedIn

    and we’ve divided all content in these 2 buckets into 10 sub-categories (more on that later). And, it seems like you’re going through that phase as well. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  8. Mario Sundar says:

    Hi Richard,

    I need to look into a content management system like Drupal as well. Thanks for the link. I also think there are city based community blogs across the globe — from madras in india to san francisco.

    Like

  9. Mario Sundar says:

    I think that blogs are an easier way to encourage user participation and as John says, in the process earning search engine goodness.

    At the end of the day, as Damon says, it’s about a tool that facilitates ease of communication with the customer. A community blog is one of the ways to achieve that and helps share those conversations with the world.

    Like

  10. Hi Mario,

    Yep, any tool that helps customers and/or helps gets feedback is valuable:)

    Again, thanks for the article. Definitely something for me to consider.

    Quick note: Not all forum software requires registration. If I want to leave a specific category free of registration, it is quite posible to do so.

    Like

  11. Mario Sundar says:

    Thanks for the clarification, buD. Given the ease of setting up a blog and encouraging participation, I still gravitate towards a community blog.

    However, there may be certain other qualities of a forum that I quite don’t see yet. Feel free to clarify. Or let’s chat off line.

    Like

  12. Hi Mario,

    A forum can be more structured to actually reducing support costs. If someone contacts me about a specific product, or has a question, I can redirect them to the forums after I address their concerns (additional faqs, etc.). I use it on a regular basis with SimplyHired job-a-matic customers as an additional resource (saved us tons of money, actually; I am still the only support person at SH).

    Community blog seems cool. This is something that I most certainly want to look at as an easy way of getting feedback (I already get a ton of feedback from general contacts).

    How I look at community:
    Public (blogs, forums)
    “Private* (individual contacts).

    I don’t differentiate between how/where I get information from, as long as I actually get it. A good example of how I used to do it at eBay for forums: http://forums.ebay.com/db2/thread.jspa?threadID=1000372575&tstart=0&mod=1185459830967

    Like

  13. John Cass says:

    One big cultural reason for using a forum is because there is the perception that its members own the forum, while a blog’s editorial content is directed by the blogger. Of course a forum owner and post what they want to on a forum, or take down content. But it is the members of the forum who really dictate the content. That editorial freedom is something that allows leaders in a community to contribute a lot of content within a forum and build credibility in the forum. This issue of ownership of content or the ability to build credibility within an online community is very important to building a successful online community, whether that’s a blog community or a forum.

    Intuit is using forums to help its customers to answer their basis questions about Intuit accounting software. Intuit moderators wait for other people in the community, customers to answer questions. This reduces the costs of customer support for Intuit, plus, by having partners and customers answer questions, the answers have more credibility. If the community is stumped the Intuit moderators jump in. I think a forum is a really good resource and works better in this context than blogs.

    However, perhaps there is a role for a community blog aggregator, the aggregator would take rss feeds from other blogs and publish them, including the comments. Macromedia/Adobe’s blog aggregator to me is perhaps one of the best examples of how this might work. Microsoft’s channel9 is another.

    I’ve also looked at the idea of allowing trackbacks within forums, something that is possible and several forums do now.

    Like

  14. Hi John,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Let me say that I enjoy both mediums! But I think forums are stronger from a customer perspective, blogs are better from a marketing/branding perspective.

    P.S. I am aware that Intuit saves a ton of money from forums;-)

    I think the main problem is that bloggers want to write forums off, which shouldn’t be the case. Both mediums have relevant uses to a corporation…

    Like

  15. Mario Sundar says:

    Hey D,

    Bloggers don’t want to write off forums 🙂 I think the last three comments in this post alone are worth a separate blog thread.

    “But I think forums are stronger from a customer perspective, blogs are better from a marketing/branding perspective.”

    The key here is NOT which one communication tool should we engage in — Forums, Yahoo! Groups, blogs, social network platforms, it doesn’t really matter.

    Let’s look at it from a target audience perspective. If your audience is more comfortable with forums, then so be it. “Follow the user trail” would be my mantra.

    The ONLY reason I’d prefer blogs is ease-of-use and there’s definitely the argument of stolen identities or anonymity.

    John,

    Community blog aggregators are great suggestions too. I’ll ping both Damon and you once I revive this conversation. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Like

  16. John Cass says:

    I think it might be that once you have tasted the freedom of owning your own blog, you don’t want to go back to forums. Well I know that’s not always the case, after all most social networking sites have some element of a forum within them.

    Great discussion Mario, keep me in the loop.

    Like

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