I’ve said it often enough, but as you all know, I wear two hats. I have two jobs that are, in many ways, the same (except I only get paid for doing one). In both jobs, my role is to answer questions, push for community involvement, get people excited and pro-active, and draw eyes to the product being sold.
Yet for all that I am essentially a community manager for both Lubbers and XBMC, interacting with the user base of Lubbers is absolutely nothing like interacting with the user base of XBMC.
For a moment, let’s ignore the relative difference in tech savvy. Obviously, that difference is going to exist and be an important issue. Still, a great deal of people spend just as much time online dealing with Lubbers as they do dealing with XBMC. So, tech savvy aside, how do they differ?
Mostly, they don’t. The people at lubberscars.com are the same as the people at xbmc.org. People are the same everywhere. They like free things. They like sexy things. They like pictures of Natalie Portman… They like being able to show off to friends and wow the community.
In reality, the big difference between the two communities lies in how each respective organization embraces them.
Cars VS Computers – Guys love both!
I’m going into this discussion under the opinion that XBMC is better at social media than Lubbers. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I don’t find the odds of that happening especially likely. The most obvious evidence that they differ lies in the after-effects of posting on their respective Facebook Fanpages. When I post on XBMC’s wall (as XBMC), the fanpage invariably grows by between 20 and 100 fans. When I post on Lubbers wall (as Lubbers), the fanpage frequently loses fans.
You could say the reason for that is exclusively that XBMC gives away its product for free, and Lubbers doesn’t, but I think that’s a false (or at best limited) conclusion. You could say that XBMC more naturally lends itself to an online social environment, but I’d argue that practically since their invention, cars and trucks have been bought and sold almost entirely because of the social values connected with them. “Like a rock” and “built Ford tough” mean things to Americans. Entire families in the upper mid-west identify themselves as “Ford families” or “Chevy families.” As such, I’d be extremely surprised to learn that this intensely social paradigm doesn’t exist on the internet at least as much as the real world.
So let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that Lubbers COULD be as good at social media as XBMC. Let’s presume that a massive number of people out there, guys in particular, but girls also (given that cars are often also marketed to women, unlike XBMC) would actively like to talk about their vehicles. So if Lubbers COULD be a good social media company, why aren’t they?
XBMC – Masters of their Universe
To figure that out, we should start by breaking down what makes XBMC so great on an interactive level.
The members of Team XBMC interact with users on a minimum of six separate levels. Today, I’m going to talk about two of them.
First, there is the front wall, in which the Team gives users important new information, like the release of a new software version or the announcement of a new platform upon which the existing software works. A dealer website, where vehicles are listed and news about the dealer is made available to the public is the closest equivalent to the XBMC wall. Yet even that is a weak equivalent.
There are two major differences between a dealer site and XBMC’s site in this regard. First, dealers don’t get to announce every single car they have available. If they did, potential purchasers would stop paying attention immediately. It’d become ultra-spam. Perhaps a more reasonable method would be to introduce new models or new lines (for new car dealers). Used dealers are simply out of luck for listing vehicles in this way. However, listing new vehicles would really only be part of the reason you’d keep such a wall. XBMC is always free, so we never get to do this, but car dealers have specials that they run, like Ford Truck Month, that would make perfect wall fodder.
Second, dealer sites rarely have any kind of discussion abilities built in. Every wall post made by XBMC is another opportunity for comment and conversation by XBMC users. The solution to this problem is not as obvious as you’d think it might be. Sure, you could add a discussion section under every vehicle and every page and every posting, but you’d need a really on-the-ball backend system to notify you of all new postings. Eventually, the hope would be that there’d be enough cross talk that negative posts could get buried, which is how XBMC often handles negative posts, but on dealership sites not enough users/customers have been trained to comment, so the dealer would have to do all problem management, which, of course, means they’d have to do all searching out of problematic posts: a monumental task without a powerful backend system that alerts about all posts.
Noteworthy addition: If you are paying attention, you’ll realize that I’m advocating a company approach their front page as a blog, rather than as a traditional business frontpage, contrary to the behavior of Gawker and co. The fact of the matter is, 350 million people use facebook. There are an insane number of twitter accounts. From this point forward, people are going to be more and more likely to dislike even a landing page. They will want information the second they hit your site. People like to talk and form communities, but they need reasons to start talking.
Quite probably the most powerful source of communication between Developers (Devs) and XBMC Users (Users) is the Forum. This is an open place where ideas can grow, egos can also grow, and angry people can complain… a lot.
I don’t want to spend too much time extolling the benefits of the forum, but as far as communication and information exchange goes, it simply cannot be beat. Blogs and Wikis have their place. Instant communcation is all good and wonderful. Social Media is neato burrito. But if you want to identify the heartbeat of the XBMC community, it is our forum.
And, in all honesty, this is probably true for nearly every really social website out there not named Facebook and Twitter.
Lubbers obviously has nothing even vaguely like the forum, but the solution to this problem, just like the Wall problem, is not as simple as it might seem. Lubbers can’t just install a forum. Or, rather, they could do that, but then Lubbers would suffer from the exact same problems it suffers from now. No participation. No community involvement. Lubbers is a nice place to buy a car, it is not a car community leader.
Some people, myself included, have tried to band-aid over this problem. We’ve initiated give aways. We’ve recorded some videos, written a few blog posts. These attempts have their place. Even doing so little has caused a massive spike in the number of Lubbers related hits to the website. But in the end these methods remain band-aids. They are an attempt to take the ways of the old media, package them into nice new media gift bags, and try to raise sales.
Eventually, they’re doomed to fail to better methods.
And what are these better methods? Well, let’s consider how Team XBMC interacts with its forum members vs how Lubbers might interact with potential forum members.
No current developer created XBMC or even still works with XBMC. Think about what that implies. It would be as if the people currently running Lubbers were all people who frequently buy cars here. It’s a crazy little stat, but it’s a stat made possible by the incredible Forum.
Every user interested in truly interacting with Team XBMC is required to register on the Forum. From there, they get to ask questions, make suggestions, or discuss random topics typically related to XBMC.
As the user progressing in understanding XBMC, he or she will slowly stop asking questions and turn around and answer questions for others. First simple questions, then more complex ones.
Most users stop at that point. In fact, most users stop at the point of registering. So much discussion has been generated in the past 10 years that almost all questions have already been answered somewhere or other.
From this point, some few users go on to actively help develop XBMC. They code new skins. They create addons. They provide fixes to the underlying code. They help move XBMC onto new, exciting platforms. Or, like me, they become Forum Moderators and Community Managers.
It’s a living breathing community of people, all of whom are dedicated both to the final product of the XBMC Media Center, but are also dedicated to the community itself.
To make Lubbers anything like that would take hard work, dedication, and a LOT of man hours.
First, we’d need a forum. That’s the easiest step.
Second, it would be impossible for a single person to fake an entire team. For one thing, I don’t know everything that the entire Lubbers team knows. For another, it would become extremely obvious, quickly, that only one person in any position of authority was speaking.
To truly create a living environment, we’d need practically everyone at Lubbers to participate in the online forum. Mechanics and Service Advisors would have to become deeply involved in the car Troubles sub-forum. Credit Advisors and the Buy Here Pay Here company would have to answer questions and provide support in the Credit sub-forum. Salesmen would be required to constantly create and update threads about new and used cars that have popped up on the lot. It would honestly take a village, and that’s for the mere 300-500 vehicles Lubbers has, plus Service work. I can’t imagine doing anything similar for a national company like Automax. (Fortunately, I don’t have to!)
If everything went as planned, my job, as Community Manager, would honestly be a pretty relaxed and simple one. I would mediate disputes, get the attention of people in power, remind people that customers don’t automatically have all the knowledge we have, and move questions to the appropriate areas.
Honestly, as I think about it, I feel more and more excited about the prospect of such a system. It would absolutely revolutionize any car dealership with the self-confidence and force of will to pull it off.