Case study: An affordable way to build a social community

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Marketing and brands are relationships between consumers and products, and relationship building is a two-way conversation. It is not the one-to-many broadcast commercial that defines a customer's relationship with a brand. Rather, it's the more informal -- often personal -- interactions with a product or company that result in long-term brand engagement. Technology, specifically the social web, has transformed marketers' ability to run lower cost, targeted marketing campaigns with measurable return on investment. The result is a new category of marketing: social marketing.

Co-author Bryan House is director of marketing for Acquia.

Social marketing is conversational. It's focused on facilitating interactions that are more directly connected to the process of relationship building with customers. And social marketing is, in all cases, propelled by social publishing technologies that turn spectators into member and contributors, and transform websites into community platforms for engagement with customers and future prospects.

Enterprise software vendor JackBe offers an example of this new strategy in action. JackBe sells enterprise mashup software to developers that enables them to use web services to connect internal and external data to create new, loosely coupled (or "mashed up") applications. Because this is a new approach in software development, part of JackBe's marketing agenda is to educate developers about mashups -- what they are, how to build them, and what applications are a good fit for this approach.

To do this, JackBe adopted a social approach in its education strategy by building the JackBe Mashup Developer Community, which targets the developers who will potentially be using JackBe's software to build their own mashups. The community is not about JackBe -- it's about mashups in general. Most importantly, the community is all about the members themselves. They can connect with one another; share ideas, experiences, and even best practices; and ultimately help move the enterprise mashup industry toward maturity.

Technology considerations
In researching available technologies that could be used to build its community website, JackBe considered a number of options, including traditional proprietary software, software-as-a-service, and open source products such as Drupal. Because JackBe is a small, venture-backed startup company, the project's budget was finite, and the company needed to get the most bang for its buck. But JackBe also needed to move fast, with less than two months to deliver a member-ready community.

After much deliberation, JackBe ultimately chose the open source option and built its website on Acquia Drupal, a commercially supported distribution of the open source Drupal social publishing system. Keeping its budget well within range, JackBe spent only 25 percent of what a comparable proprietary solution would cost and was able to implement 90 percent of desired functionality within the same period. Such a project could easily have cost six figures for the software alone if purchased from a traditional software vendor.

The results
JackBe's community site provides the framework to establish a deeper dialogue with customers. The developer community is a place where software developers can converse with each other, ask questions, share code samples, research mashup solutions, and educate themselves and their peers on how best to build and deploy mashup applications.


For example, one community user was researching mashup technologies on the site in preparation for a proposal to his boss. He used the JackBe community to educate himself on the market space in general and JackBe's products specifically. Not only did he use a number of the presentations and videos available on the community, but the community member felt comfortable enough to call JackBe to ask specific questions as he prepared his proposal. While only a certain percentage of members will get to this level of conversation, such interactions are only possible within a social marketing environment like JackBe's community.

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