King Arthur Flour - Background:
To establish an online community from scratch may seem like a huge task, but for King Arthur Flour, this could be a piece of cake. On the Web since 1996, the company has built a strong presence through its solid reputation for product quality.
Starting out with a great product is a basic tenet in business and has been King Arthur Flour's call to fame. Google has made a TV commercial about King Arthur Flour and its rich 220-year-old history. Martha Stewart mentions using King Arthur Flour in her recipes.
So, what is the magic or secret recipe that makes an online community thrive? Business gurus point to the combination of people, process, and technology.
What King Arthur Flour has to say may surprise you. "The online community is collaboration among members," offered PJ Hamel, Web Producer, and employee at King Arthur Flour for 21 years. "Our goal is to have people talking with us about baking. It's like crowdsourcing of baking instructions."To learn more about the members and get a better understanding of PJ's insights, read these practical tips as well as lessons learned, sandwiched in from our friends at King Arthur Flour.
Summary Tips of Successful Online Communities:
- Know Your Site Traffic Generators
- Ask for Feedback
- Engage in Members' Interests
- Educate and Connect in Many Communication Channels
Four Practical Ways to Build Collaborative Communities:
1. Know Your Site Traffic Generators
Often we're reminded to stay focused on the right things at the right time. For King Arthur Flour, member visits is only one half of the statistical equation. According to the company's site monitoring numbers and internal tracking to gauge customer interests, e-commerce is the engine that drives traffic. King Arthur Flour refreshes the site with plenty of baking products, kitchen tools, and fanciful decorator supplies.
But recipes are the language they speak. In conversation with Terri Rosenstock, PR Coordinator, she said, "Our external engagement on Google+ and Facebook show people are responsive. There is passion there and people want to talk back with us."
Early in the morning, much like a baker's schedule before dawn, recipes are being prepared by the Web community team. Delicious looking chocolate cupcakes adorned in fluffy white icing are readying for photo shoot. In the kitchen or on the front line, many people and departments within a company, like King Arthur Flour, play a part in building and maintaining the community, both online and offline. Everyone seems to share the same sentiment of the tremendous level of effort involved--but a vibrant, energy force is at work.
Assessing these traffic factors, including a combination of community engagement, Google Adwords, and organic search, it is no wonder that Website traffic has grown from 200,000 to over one million visits per month.
2. Ask for Feedback
King Arthur Flour knows the extraordinary value of instant feedback. As the company developed formats for recipes online, questions arose about site redesign. The previous recipe format showed unit measurement by volume and ounces. Then, King Arthur Flour asked a couple of basic questions to identify customer interests, for example 'what do you like' and 'what change would you most like to see'.
Immediate feedback opened international community doors. Good cooks and bakers know, aside from the approximation of a handful or scoopful, that measurements do matter.
Outside the U.S., the rest of the world is accustomed to using metric units. As PJ says, "We ask for feedback, review with our entire Web team and then implement where our customers need these changes the most. We added a third column for metrics." In essence, your customers shared knowledge can be vital in developing your business.
3. Engage in Members' Interests
Since recipes are the universal language of members, talking online (minus the spam, which requires a site moderator to step in) about cream puffs may spark sweet dialogue. Recently, PJ polled King Arthur Flour friends on Facebook, like this "Have you, would you, or are you interested in making cream puffs, chocolate éclairs, or profiteroles (ice cream-stuffed puffs)? I'm thinking of doing a blog post on them and want to gauge your interest first… LIKE this post if the answer is yes. Thanks - PJH."
The same morning, over 900 friends "liked" the idea, and 125 avid readers posted personal experiences, like "mine never make it to the dining table." And readers spontaneously add suggestions, for example, "stuffing with real whipped cream only, please" or "questing for real moussey filling that won't sog the puffs."
4. Educate and Connect in Many Communication Channels
King Arthur Flour has really worked the Web site and all its encumbrances, much like you would knead a ball of bread dough, prepare the pan, set the timer, and let the bread bake. Some of King Arthur Flour's key ingredients to engage and inspire bakers are quite visible, like the Baker's Hotline. Depending on the time of year, the staff of up to 5 bakers in customer service are answering baking questions, 12 hours a day. The Baking Circle for consumer members, is devoted to sharing family baking recipes and recent baking experiences. Caring members graciously inquire about a fellow member, "where is Lois, I haven't seen her in awhile." There's also a professional side of the community, for bakery owners and caterers, where tips, sources, and recipes are exchanged.
Inspiration runs deep into the joys of baking through the King Arthur Flour's Baking Education Center, which offers onsite baking classes. The Life Skills team visit middle schools and presently has touched ground in 32 states, offering baking programs in schools science, skills enrichment, and simply sharing the joys of baking. My nephew in middle school was most interested in French cuisine that became his most popular class (of course before algebra and composition). These lessons are applicable for future generations of bakers and collaborators to learn about social collaboration, who will venture beyond into new dimensions to apply people, process, and technology in the world of baking.