(and I’m not talking about Ruby on Rails)

I’m currently in the throes of doing some work around creating a business community (more to come on that one) and in my research I came across The Ruby Connection, the network set up by Westpac Bank in order to create a forum for dialogue amongst and between women in business. The idea of TRC, in the words of Westpac’s Head of Women’s Markets (and as an aside I’d be very surprised if they had a head of Men’s Markets!) is to;

inform, educate and provide online networking opportunities for today’s busy women in business

Which is a pretty commendable aim to be honest but the work I’ve been doing around social media has led me to a few conclusions about their method.

Make the dialogue constant

In her “blog”, the Head of Women’s Markets announced TRC on 12 May as her first post. The post was well thought out (actually felt like it was written by a PR staffer somewhere) but that was the last we heard of her. This is a major failing. There is no feeling that the offering is dynamic, rather it is a static (and ever more dated) location which gives a perception that the information contained within is also similarly out of date.

Have an ambassador

There is no feel that visitors to the site are really connecting with anyone. Had the Head of Women’s markets kept up the dialogue, and actually taken an active part in the Forums, there would be a feel that we were actually entering a community that someone was facilitating. While ambassador’s become less important once a community has gained sufficient momentum, they are critical in the early stages.

Neutrality is everything

Let’s be clear here – TRC is sold as a place where women can come to talk about being in business, it’s not sold as where women can come and be assailed by Westpac branding. Clearly it’s a difficult concept for marketing folks to understand but in order for a social network to have any semblance of transparency and neutrality it needs to meet certain tests;

  • The site must be branded neutrally (sure a “sponsored by” logo is fine but that’s about it)
  • The site must have minimal (or no) sponsor editorial control. I’d suggest creating a touchstone document at inception which lists the expectations of the sponsoring organisation – thereafter the ambassador should have editorial control

Dynamic, dynamic, dynamic

While there is some solid content TRC. It seems pretty static – there is no thought given to creating the dynamism of the forums for example within the content delivery of the “how to” sections. Again it’s a major limiter and does nothing to make the offering feel active and busy.


TRC did pretty well – there offering looks good and looks fun. The areas they’ve failed however are pretty important.

I tend to come back to a couple examples of social networks in various sectors that follow all the rules for effective community creation.

Vorb, New Zealand’s favourite sporting community site has a massive following, total neutrality and a passionate ambassador

Geekzone, has cornered the tech community, the founder/ambassador has given some control over to the community moderators and the neutrality of the site is unquestionable

The Ruby Connection isn’t a contender to the crown, kudos to Westpac for seeing the value in communities and hopefully they’ll have the vision to keep it going long enough to get some momentum.

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.

  • Ben, I can;t remember if I saw this link on one of your posts or not, but geekgirl mentions here how we can’t build communities willy nilly but rather need to allow them the room to grow.

    You’re right about fostering the spirit of the community outside the branding and sponsorship PR nightmare, but I think there needs to be an organic need that’s met by the site for the community to build by itself

  • I agree with the failures you have pointed out here – it says to me that someone has said ‘ Hey lets have a blog about women as a marketing tool’ as opposed to ‘what if we created a deep relationship with female customers to help the sove business problems’.

    Taking the first view will give you what we have now – a static site with no engagement . My guess is that is the vision – until it changes to the alternative view then this will be a poorly made investment.

  • So I’ve had a look some more and can only conclude that the cold front is getting to you Ben!

    It looks like they paid some people to write some blogs but there is zero interaction with the writers. You can’t leave a comment, there is no way to anonymously contribute to the various fora. Considering the view from Larke’s intro ‘blog’

    “Women also flagged the lack of time to network with like-minded business women. With all the demands of running a business, looking after family and doing community activities, there was no time to look around for opportunities to share experiences and to develop business opportunities. Having Westpac establish a group that could meet their requirements was a key issue.”

    Westpac have not listened. Their site most certainly does not address the lack of time women have to network – the amount of effort required to share experiences is greater than any other web based community. I am also struggling to see the connection between not having enough time to connect and why Westpac was in a good position to establish this group.

    This site does not encourage dialogue- its a monologue. Sounds like traditional marketing and PR trying to be something different. My pick – gone in 6 months

  • Miki – there is the ability to reply on the “forum” tab – funnily the forum thread “knowing your audience” has zero entries

    go figure!


    but yes – that is the only area that welcomes true two-way dialogue

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