There has been renewed interest in the issue of community “walled gardens” - corporate owned and managed customer community web sites. I was thinking about this issue on a recent trip to Brazil. The Autodesk Brazil Community has approximately 4,000 registered members - not too bad considering the short amount of time that it has been in existence. But then I checked on Orkut, the Google-run social networking site which is very popular in Brazil, and it has several Autodesk product-based groups including an AutoCAD group. The AutoCAD group has over 30,000 members.
Similarly in CIS/Russia, the Autodesk CIS/Russia Community has about 4,000 registered members. But checking out some of the Russian-language 3rd-party Autodesk product-based community sites, there are many with tens of thousands of members.
In China, there are 3rd-party forums with over 750,000 member strong Autodesk product-based communities. Yes, that’s not a typo – 750,000 people asking questions and talking about Autodesk products. Take a look at JXCAD.
Try searching on Yahoo Groups: the term “Autodesk” brings up 190 groups; “AutoCAD” reveals 985 groups; “Revit” displays 73 groups.
Obviously it would make no sense to try and get these customers and potential customers to abandon their loyalties and adopt the “official” corporate sites. Why would any customer do that? But what should companies do in relation to these sites that are totally out of corporate control? Are walled gardens dead? Should “official” community sites die and wither away?
I don’t think so, not when you look at the total inter-connected community ecosystem.
There will be some discussions that community members feel they can have unfettered only in a 3rd-party or grass-roots community. There will be times when corporate sites will be there to provide content that only the corporation can provide in a setting that it feels is more appropriate for the corporation .Also, I think that customers would think it strange if a company had no garden at all where they could play. The garden can be walled but there can and should be plenty of gates both into and out of the garden, and plenty of parties to go to whether hosted in the walled garden or hosted elsewhere by others. For companies, in community just as in life, the important thing is that you show up. It should not matter where.
I’d be interested in hearing how other people interact with groups, forums, and other forms of community outside their corporate community walled garden. What have been the approaches, the challenges, the successes, and the failures?