Today, true to Cluetrain form, companies are getting in on the act—creating "branded communities" and increasingly fixing them at the center of the
marketing mix. Consider Mini Cooper's club of car owners, which lets Mini enthusiasts post topics, respond to polls, and share
photos and other artifacts of their auto ardor. The site boasts a 70-percent participation rate among owners and up to 20,000
unique visits a year. In fact, the Mini community is so organized that it holds real-world car rallies all over the United
States every weekend, leading Mini execs to say, "The brand is not the car. It is the entire experience, a lifestyle manifested
in the owner's network."
Our Big Fat Blogosphere: The number of blogs, or user-generated Web sites, doubles every six months—a rate even faster than
that of the national debt
Soup giant Campbell's flies its own branded-community flag. Started as an online recipe exchange, Campbell's Kitchen (
http://www.campbellskitchen.com/) has grown into a full-service social network with thousands of members sharing info on parenting, nutrition, and wellness.
Users provided feedback on the company's planned changes to its most popular soup, averting a New Coke–like crisis. An entire
library of member recipes was catalogued for marketing with new soups, and activity on the site correlates closely to the
rise and fall of soup sales.
A World Wide Web of Health Hunters
Back in the 1990s, a series of online message boards was posted by NBC and Warner Bros. to create buzz about the premiere
of a live episode of the then-hit TV series ER. Broadcast execs were struck by the sheer volume of people wanting to talk online. Even more surprising was the discovery
that what ER fans clicked on to talk about wasn't so much the show—or even George "Dr. Doug Ross" Clooney—but their own medical problems.
Healthcare is an increasingly popular subject for online users. They want access to information on complex and often emotionally
charged issues, as well as an instant pipeline to experts with answers and to other patients who share similar concerns. Every
day, eight million American adults look online for health information—the same number who pay bills online, read blogs, or
search the Internet for a phone number or address. According to a PEW Internet and American Life Project online health search
survey of some 3,000 Web users last year, 70 percent of those looking for answers to health-related questions used search
engines. And the Internet is the second-most important medical source, trailing only doctors themselves. (For more on these
users, see "The Impact of Online Info," and "The Online Health Experience," above.)
Finding healthcare information online not only gives consumers and caregivers knowledge, confidence, and an outlet for exchange,
but also has a significant impact on their own healthcare routine or the way they care for someone else. These facts are why
more and more healthcare companies are monitoring the Web on a regular basis.
The implications of the growing healthcare conversation are significant. Social-networking technology is moving knowledge
about health, drugs, and disease from the specialist to anyone with access to a computer; accelerating physician education;
and enhancing patient literacy. Because the information exchange is no longer confined to medical-education conferences or
pre-op visits, drug companies can only benefit from staking a claim in this endlessly expanding dialogue.