Portal traffic fosters the perfect environment for ad hoc communities.
This morning I was watching CNN’s coverage on the wild fires in California and throughout the segment they kept referencing the I-Reports coming in from people caught in the fires, family members, and people that just want to lend a hand. At first I was impressed by the integrated citizen journalism feature on CNN.com and the content crossover from digital to broadcast. However, the truly innovative aspect was the ad hoc community that emerged in a blink of an eye.
When marketers talk about online communities many times they are referring to robust communities built around various topics that they can nurture over a period of time and build a base of people to target messages toward. There is a long term ROI built into this model as considerable time and money is spent to build these communities. However, when dealing with time sensitive scenarios, such as major catastrophes, people find ways to communicate with each other, share experiences, console each other, and provide aide by building ad hoc online communities.
This is where news portals still hold a great deal of power. Ad hoc communities primarily emerge for the purpose of information dissemination; thus, news portals are the perfect environment to foster such communities. There are two important factors that give portals power:
In times of crisis people will be drawn to trusted news sources, like CNN, and by integrating a tool for contribution and communication into the articles people are more likely to contribute.
The shear volume of traffic means there are more contributors, which increases utility to other readers. In addition, although it may spike for explosive stories, the traffic is more or less consistent, thus little effort needs to be invested in developing the critical mass necessary for a community to be a valuable information source.
So how can marketers harness ad hoc networks?
Ad hoc networks need to be low involvement and facilitate information exchange. As they are short lived and focus on time sensitive events, ad hoc communities could be a great way to extend the reach and increase the value of content. For example imagine if Ad-Tech created an ad hoc community around one of its tracks and people throughout the day could contribute comments, post questions, brief points from a presentations, and aggregate relevant blog posts. This would build greater utility into the content itself and extend the reach and exposure.
Twitter being used to disseminate information about the wild fires. Platforms like twitter, jaiku, pownce, etc. are great tools for enabling ad hoc networks; however, to reach the critical mass in a limited time frame it still needs to be attached to source that is trusted and has exposure. Thanks to Chris Brogan for bring up the Jaiku angle.
To be realistic though the audiences for these types of communication are quite limited and I’m skeptical to the stat that was recently released claiming 6% of the online pop. is on Twitter.
Now if CNN had a TXT feed that you could just input your cell # and be good to go, that would be interesting.