It was interesting to read this post by Ben (another Ben) who details the rise and rise of Vodafone’s community forum site.

Ben says that there is a reluctance within corporate New Zealand to invest the time to build web communities – possibly due to a fear that they’ll build it and no one will come.

Ben reports on the results that Voda have had;

launched an online forum at August 1st 2008.

Investment was:

  • $150 for forum license
  • 3 people engaged over a month, checking in every now and again to keep an eye on it
  • Link under Help on Vodafone website and a mention on Geekzone

Results:

  • 250,000 visits with an average time of just under 4 minutes.
  • That’s a whooping 1 million minutes/ month.  Or the equivalent of 697 days (back to back) of attention.
  • 356 registered members and ~3000 posts (till Sept 17th)

From other forum’s Vodafone has run, they have found only 1 out of 5 questions requires an official response.

Over time the forum will build a repository of information that will provide answers to users without ANY extra work by Vodafone.

I’m involved in a project that’s building a community of interest in New Zealand – we’re getting closer to going live now (a couple of months away) and these results are the sort of thing that are music to my ears – it’s not necessarily about the traffic (although traffic is good). It’s about the level of engagement, the efficiencies gained by conversing directly with your customer base and the credibility gain that comes from being out there and prepared to talk.

Of course the real test is what happens when the conversation on the forum takes an unplanned for, and uncomfortable turn – will Voda still be happy to invest the time in it? I certainly hope so.

We’re all to prepared to say that the online community is only a small proportion of the total population. While this is true the results above show that it’s a proportion that is more than happy to engage – and engagement is an exceptionally powerful driver.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

6 Comments
  • I’ve been following the blog Community Spark for a while now and it has some great advice for running online communities. Building community is hard, for every success such as Vodafone’s there are a ton of communities sites with tumbleweed blowing through the forums. It takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the company to build the forum and administer it. Also there is an ongoing need to make sure it runs properly and to keep the content fresh and on topic.

    I do hope more companies provide these forums for people but I also hope they take it seriously and get people to invest time in nurturing it.

    Glen

  • The Vodafone experience is a special case – it has 2m customers of which a very high percentage already interact with the company online for account and plan changes. as well as mobile data. It has a high share of young professionals (better international roaming, a strong brand, and iPhones being just 3 reasons), and mobile is a hot area for many techies. Few other corporates would have that context So it’s hardly surprising Vodafone got off to a good start. Perhaps it should have done better.

  • Thanks Ben (fine name btw), glad I was able to share this with you and others.

    You mention “what happens when the conversation on the forum takes an unplanned for, and uncomfortable turn”. This is the same fear every organisation has.

    It stems from the traditional view that we can push a message out through our intermediaries. The real question is how can you react. If you react in a proactive way you can actually help bridge the gap between your intended message and what has been received.

    You will find amazing things will happen.

    As I’m sure you will find, with communities, the direction is bottom up fed, and your initial focus is guaranteed to change over time. Imagine for Vodafone in 12 months they have a huge catalog of issues and market feedback. The community will emerge and grow from which your strategy needs to as well.

    Very interesting and exciting times to be operating! I love it.

  • Hi Ben (and Ben), Just thought I’d jump in here to tell you about what we’ll do when someone asks an uncomfortable question.

    We will answer it.

    It’s that simple really. I’m not interested in patsy, easy questions. If someone’s got a beef with the company, for whatever reason, I want them to a: have a place where they can air it and b: get a resolution for them.

    I’m a former journalist. I am not interested in censoring views or removing unpleasant comments. I won’t accept straight outright abuse, but if the customer has an issue that needs addressing, the post will stay.

    I’ve already had to point out to someone on another forum that we won’t be deleting posts we don’t like (I will delete spam, I will remove customer’s sensitive information if it gets posted in the public forum and if all you want to do is shout and rant and swear there are other forums for you).

    A couple of examples from the forum already – one customer signed on to demand answers about why Vodafone is charging $1/call for prepay customers. He was furious. It turns out he sells burglar alarms, each of which has a Prepay SIM in and he was trying to manage hundreds of devices using his own Prepay phone.

    Once we’d got him calmed down and figured out what was going on, we passed on his details to the business management team and he now has a business account manager who will take care of all that for him.

    From abuse and screaming to happy customer. We really couldn’t have done that without the forum I don’t believe.

    We’ve also solved some technical issues (around fixed line stuff) that could have taken months of calls to the call centre but which we got fixed in 48 hours which is nice to see.

    Cheers

    Paul Brislen
    Vodafone External Communications Manager

  • Thanks Paul, thats the best approach and it’s fantastic Vodafone have taken that stance.

  • @Paul – an inspiring answer – other corporates could and should learn from your example.

    Well done!

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