Showing posts with label Collective Intelligence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Collective Intelligence. Show all posts

Friday, 4 December 2009

ONLINE VOTING CONTESTS AND MECHANISM DESIGN IN SOCIAL MEDIA


In the UK talent contest - X-Factor - the twins pictured above did spectacularly well despite their lack of talent. Jedward as they became known were voted through week after week by the public even though the panel of experts headed by Simon Cowell implored the public to vote them out. Punk legend Johny Rotten even got involved saying "They're just lazily untalented. It's not fair, it's not right and a perfectly good singer gets voted off while that dopiness gets promoted. How is that singing?”

The Jedward Problem is an example of mechanism design gone wrong. Lots of what we do in social media involves promotions, competitions, games, and other forms of mechanism design. Purists dislike using these techniques. They see them as downmarket, and a form of attention cheat. They say brands should invest in long-term brand building, and application development. They are of course right when you view this issue from within the social hive, but in the broader world of business there is no more complex set of challenges than those in mechanism design. The 2007 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Leonid Hurwicz, Eric Maskin, and Roger Myerson "for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory". It's complex stuff. Let me explain with the help of Wikipedia.

The distinguishing features of these games are:
  • that a game "designer" chooses the game structure rather than inheriting one
  • that the designer is interested in the game's outcome
The designer of a mechanism generally hopes either
  • to design a mechanism that "implements" a social choice function (e.g. high bid, low bid, no bid, or cheat)
  • to find the mechanism that maximizes some value criterion (e.g. profit)
Hurwicz, and many others have used complex maths to analyse everything from elections, to financial markets, and this thinking is at the heart of the Google AdWords auction system. Bloomberg quoted Hal Varian, chief economist at Google as saying "We are one of the most active users of mechanistic design,''. In the auctions, advertisers place bids to have their messages displayed on search result pages, but their final positions in the auction are not calculated purely on price, but also on what Google calls a quality score. Improving quality scores is a type of game. Deciding an advertisers position in search results is a mechanism design problem.

These games, incentives, and mechanisms are all over the web. In a previous post I wrote about Keynes' idea of the beauty contest and I have also previously written about what I call message, medium, and modus. For me, modus - the mechanism design you choose for your idea - is frequently more important than the creative proposition in the diffusion of your idea. If you can engineer the mechanism to be social and contagious then you can achieve your goals. But beware of online voting cheats, fake email addresses, and many other devices.

This approach basically means you can use other people's social ties to propagate your ideas. The strength of their social ties, their trust relationships, and their influence becomes the fuel that drives your campaign. Jedward have been voted off X-factor, but now they are free I'm sure they will be willing to share their knowledge of mechanism design.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

CONCEPTUAL CONSUMPTION AND THE BATTLE OF IDEAS

I recently found this clever infographic at thisisindexed and it got me thinking about information, and how we use it. Too much information is bad. Equally, too little information is just as problematic.

A recent paper published through Harvard Business School argues that "As technology has simplified meeting basic needs, humans have cultivated increasingly psychological avenues for occupying their consumption energies, moving from consuming food to consuming concepts".

The things we consume conceptually are memes. They are everywhere as we seek more and more conceptual consumption. There are more ideas out there than brains that can host them, which is why some ideas prosper and flourish, and others fail, and die. There is an evolutionary battle of the fittest happening on the web, and elsewhere everyday. We can now see what ideas are on the up, and which are on the way down using data visualisation tools, and even search traffic. Product lifecycles are much shorter now, musical sub-cultures come alive and then fade quickly, and fads and fashions disappear at the blink of an eye.

Is there an upper limit to how much, and how quickly we can process all these memes? There are more memes, and more people to connect with than ever before. Kenneth Gergen in his book The Saturated Self argues that we have reached a state of social saturation.

This all sounds pretty depressing, except for one silver lining, which is that we can now - more than ever befeore - process these memes collectively, using collective intelligence, and distributed brain power. Social media allows us to share and process memes. Think social boomarking on Delicious, and Digg, or Yahoo Answers, think Google search algorithms based on link popularity, think ratings, user reviews, and voting. These memes have forced us to our next stage of social evolution.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

KEYNESIAN BEAUTY CONTESTS, REVERSE POP IDOL, AND ONLINE VOTING COMPETITIONS

When thinking about incentivizing online participation its rare that the name of John Maynard Keynes, the Economist, is raised in conversation alongside that of Simon Cowell of American Idol and X-Factor fame. Simon Cowell wasn't the first to do it, but he has taken the idea of a popular vote in a talent contest to a new level, and with the assistance of his panel, who act as 'advisor' to the voters, he has devised a winning formula.

However, this approach does not always work for all those involved. In the UK recently, Strictly Come Dancing, a TV dance contest, created huge public controversy because the panel wanted a political reporter (pictured above) with two-left feet voted out, whilst a sympathetic voting public wanted him to stay in.

This advisory panel plus popular vote model doesn't always work on TV, and presents serious problems for online. People cheat online and it is not always the best entrants that win. As social participation becomes more important the mechanics by which these games are governed becomes more importanat. Site's such as Digg have had to change because of the wrong mechanics:

It has been reported that the top 100 Digg users controlled 56% of Digg's frontpage content, and that a niche group of just twenty individuals had submitted 25% of the frontpage content. A few sites have raised the problem of groupthink and the possibility that the site is being "manipulated", so to speak. In response to this question, the site's founder Kevin Rose has announced an upcoming change to the site's algorithm.

I am recommending two other models now, rather than just a 'Pop Idol' model for online voting contests.

These models are:

1. The Reverse Pop Idol - Where the public vote on their favourites - acting as a type of advisory panel - and then the judges choose from the candidates with the highest votes

2. Keynesian Beauty Contest - developed by John Maynard Keynes, Wikipedia describes this as a concept, where in a fictional newspaper contest, each entrant is asked to choose a set of six faces from photographs of women that were the "most beautiful". Those who picked the most popular face are then eligible for a prize. In my version of the beauty contest, if you vote for the same faces as the judges finally do then you win. I think this model reduces the chances of cheating on one level (through fake accounts and multiple voting), creates more community through anticipating and studying everyone else's voting patterns, and it makes it a more unpredictable game because the judge's choice needs to be guessed at as well.

Keynes (pictured above) said “It is not a case of choosing those [faces] which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.” (Keynes, General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, 1936).

"Keynes believed that similar behavior was at work within the stock market. This would have people pricing shares not based on what they thought their fundamental value was, but rather based on what they think everyone else thinks their value was, or what everybody else would predict the average assessment of value was."

For me Keynes is talking about a mechanism that establishes the wisdom of the crowds. In my last post, I said that 'process is more important than proposition', which is why in addition to thinking about message, and medium as classically done, we now also need to think about the process, or what I'd call the modus by which we organise participation. This type of thinking has typically been the preserve of game theorists, but now its another issue digital agencies will need to take on board.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

DON'T WORRY ABOUT NEGATIVE USER REVIEWS AND RATINGS

I've used this phrase - STRANGERS IN A COMMUNITY OF THE LIKEMINDED - before to describe the concept of likeminded people gathering together on websites but who are completely unaware of each other due to a lack of social and community features. Now this shouldn't be in an era of countless tools, and widgets, and open APIs. The ability for visitors to leave a review or rating is one such feature that every site should have.

One company that offers an off-the-shelf solution for this task is Bazaarvoice. They have Bazaarvoice Ratings & Reviews™ which brings customer reviews directly to your product pages, allowing customers to hear from people like them while they’re making buying decisions. Your customers can rate your products on a 5-star scale, write honest product reviews – and all the while, they’re helping you drive natural search to your site and helping you build an online community.

What I found interesting on their blog about this product was the distribution of ratings. Many marketers don't open up to reviews and ratings fearing negative feedback. But in addition to my theory that birds of a feather fly together, what Bazaarvoive have also found is that mostly positive singing birds flock together. An insight corroborated by the distribution of ratings that Bazaarvoice has aggregated together as shown in the “J” curve distribution below.

Across many clients in diverse industries the average rating is 4.3 out of 5 stars. The distribution looks like a J, where there are more 1s than 2s, but far more 4s and 5s than the lower ratings.



This is how they explain it:

Why is this? Aren’t people more likely to share their word of mouth about bad experiences? Perhaps they are more likely to share negative opinions when they have personal experiences with a company (service, sales) than the product they buy?

And perhaps customers are interested in sharing their opinion about great products they buy, because there are so many mediocre products. So there’s some satisfaction in sharing the news when we find a product we love.

We’ll learn more and share more here. But in the meantime, this “J” curve is part of the answer to the concern: “What about negative reviews?”

Saturday, 29 November 2008

GROUP POLARISATION AND SOCIAL MEDIA

I think one of the most under-explored ideas in social media is group polarisation. In Wikipedia it is roughly defined as a phenomena that has the effect of transforming people who have mild views, who then participate in a discussion group, into advocates with more extreme positions and call for riskier courses of action when compared to individuals who did not participate in any such discussion. For example attitudes such as racial and sexual prejudice tend to be reduced (for already low-prejudice individuals) and inflated (for already high-prejudice individuals) after group discussion.

The last time I wrote about this I posted that if as IDC forecasts, 70% of content will be user generated by 2010, then even the most controversial brands will have to hand over power to their audiences, and let them talk on their sites. I've worked with several brands that are understandably nervous about this. My stock answer attempts to reassure on three levels: 1) if they don't talk on your site, they're going to keep talking in a place where you don't have any control; and 2) if they are talking elsewhere then bring them to a place where you can effectively give your perspective to them, but in front of the Undecided (so you at least convince the Undecided ); and 3) if you don't open up, it looks like you are scared of talking and thus guilty.

I'd now like to add that the Obama social media success story adds a type of delphic validity to my views . My strategy was not about those on either extreme of the argument. My approach was about the Undecided. Obama's strategy was also about the Undecided, not the people who would never vote for an African-American, or who were die hard liberals. The now infamous Undecided voter was the focus.

If you check out the comments on the BarackObama.com blog you see that it became a meeting place for the die-hard activists and loyalists to share their experiences, rather than a place for debate between people of diverging views. Even on his Facebook Wall the comments are about support and sometimes adulation. It seems his critics just never visited. The site was for the Undecided and the loyalists. Thus if group polarisation was in operation then the net result would be to shift the waverers towards Obama even more.

The chart below (chart 1) confirms this with data from Google Trends for Websites. It compares people who searched for barackobama.com (in blue) and johnmccain.com (in red) and looks for what sites they visited in common.

Chart 1 - The sites also visited by those visiting barackobama.com (in blue) and johnmccain.com (in red)

In chart 2 below you can see that the sites that McCain supporters visited were very different, and had little overlap with Obama's.

Chart 2 - the sites also visited by those visiting johnmccain.com (in red) and barackobama.com (in blue)

Obama's main website barackobama.com was an interesting strategy, but it mainly attracted his fans. The most interesting strategy was fightthesmears.com which was developed to counter smears and 'to discover the truth about Barack Obama'. Obama is quoted on the site "What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon -- that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize." Chart 3 below shows that the strategy worked as it attracted audiences that wouldn't visit barackobama.com

Chart 3. Sites those who visited fightthesmears.com (in blue) also visited and johnmccain.com (in red) comparison

You can also see in chart 4 what those who visited fight the smears searched on versus those who visited johnmccain.com

Chart 4. What those who visited fight the smears searched (in blue) on versus those who visited johnmccain.com (in red)


The issue of Obama's place of birth and birth certificate became a smear that was widely pushed by the right, and fight the smears became a counter for this on the web for the Undecided who genuinely wanted to know the truth. It also seems to have become a place for right wing extremist to check out for ammunition.

The Obama experience and fight the smears confirms my original view when I last wrote about group polarisation. I said brands fear a type of riot on their sites led by a few hardliners who will infect the Undecided and the positive visitors with their negative opinions resulting in everyone becoming more extreme, and suggested the response should be:

"...brands don't have to surrender control to anarchy if they open up to community discussion. Martin Luther King guided a group, and turned it into a movement. A movement that was angry, but at the same time pacifist, a movement looking for change, but driven by age-long ideals. A positive form of group polarisation is possible if it's driven by leadership that shapes the debate, sets the agenda, and moderates the discussion by providing a balanced counterpoint to the opposition's arguments. This also means being open and honest. Show both sides of the argument, compartmentalise the debate into different discussion streams - which you define.

Start the community on topics peripheral to the brand's core theme, then gradually move towards the core. Use advocates of the brand to be your evangelists, and get them to share their experiences with people in their social graphs. And perhaps most importantly, don't see it as a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser, but instead a mechanism for funneling the collective intelligence of your stakeholders into your brand. There's wisdom in those crowds. "

Saturday, 13 September 2008

BRANDED UTILITIES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

I am a member of the Internet Advertising Bureau's recently established Social Media Council, and thought I'd share a draft of a piece I have written for their soon to be published Social Media Handbook. All feedback appreciated.

Two new forces changing the web

There is fossil evidence that suggests the use of tools has been central to human evolution. Tools help us both consume and produce more. The more advanced our tools the more productive we are and the more indulgent we can be to ourselves. The World Wide Web is perhaps our most advanced tool yet, and is still evolving. The next few years promises to usher in a new phase of change, driven by the emergence and blending of two new sets of tools – the notion of the branded utility, and the use of social media. Both promise to revolutionise the web and the way brands and consumers interact.

Applications in The Cloud

We no longer need buy shrink-wrapped software from giants like Microsoft, but can now instead use them free over the web in exchange for having advertising presented to us on that page. The advances in web technology mean that the differences between a web page and a software application have become blurred. These applications vary from accountancy software, to email systems like Hotmail, through to maps, and Google Doc’s word processor and spreadsheet applications. They are centrally stored in a place that is now being called the Cloud, and can be accessed from anywhere. Thousands of the new applications are being created by firms, such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook that are aiming to profit from the Cloud, through the selling of advertising.

The age of conversations

Brands are now trying to catch up with this new world. We’ve moved from a web where you only read from it, to a web that you can also write onto. This has launched us into an age of conversations, where brands and consumers are talking, and consumers and consumers are talking in communities. The bar has been raised, and old school approaches based on messages are being replaced by brands focusing on helping by creating applications that are both useful and/or entertaining to their audiences. This is the idea of the branded utility. This move is necessitated by the need to standout in a world full of the noisy sound of conversations, where there are billions of web pages indexed on Google, and Technorati tracking 112.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media.

From Head to Hand

Brands are also increasingly creating applications for the Cloud in an attempt to cut-through the clutter and competition on the web, setting out to develop advertising so good, it is a service. The age of conversations moves the focus of brands from the head to the hand, from messages to experiences. Experiences created through branded applications that demonstrate the brand, or enable the customer.

An iconic recent example is the Nike+IPod Sports Kit that allows you to set up music playlists for your running, track your runs, and is fully integrated into a Nike+ website where you can connect with others in a community, analyse your runs, and do much more. There is also the New York City Department of Education ‘Million’ project, which is an interactive rewards program that gives free mobile phones to students who then have to earn free talk time and text-messaging rewards through measured performance in school attendance, behaviour, classroom participation, homework and grades.

Droga5’s Million mobile














Shock news: Being useful is not new

Of course, being useful is not really a new thing, we are returning to the smart things we did before the broadcast age. We’ve kind of gone full circle. Consider Guinness who according to Wikipedia commissioned Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. One thousand copies were printed and given away.

Alternatively consider Michelin, who according to Wikipedia, published the first edition of a guide to France in 1900, to help drivers maintain their cars, find decent lodging, and eat well while touring. This Michelin example is particularly striking when you think of Michelin Stars being the most coveted award in dining from a tyre manufacturer.

The next stage in branded utility, the social utility

The emergence of branded utilities has dovetailed with the emergence of social media, and the two are now blending to create new, even more powerful tools. What has changed with the advent of social media is the ability to harness the power of communities, and thus collective intelligence and resources. This is the notion of the social utility, which is what Facebook calls itself. Facebook’s applications and groups are examples of tools that harness the power of the community to create tools and services. Its applications, in most cases, are only really possible when you have a community of people sharing and contributing.

For me one of the best examples of a branded social utility is still Amazon, and although it would not see itself in this way, it continues through its user reviews and ratings to build community, and uses this to create tools that are useful and helpful. User reviews and ratings are partly about teaching Amazon what you like, but the reviews are a form of indirect reciprocity, which evolutionary psychologists would say is an investment into the community, done to build reputation, self-esteem and status, and getting something back in the future. Its user reviews and ratings have also now become a platform for services, such as Pluribo, which is a Firefox extension that automatically codes and summaries the user reviews on any given Amazon page, saving you the hassle of reading through the endless lists. This has been the secret to its success. And it continues to innovate with its collaborative filtering technology with innovations like ‘Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed’.

In Conclusion

Brands from all sectors can engage the social media consumer, and build branded utilities to help them differentiate their brands. It requires a different mindset from traditional broadcast messaging, and a willingness to open up to the collaborative economy, and start to accept user reviews, ratings, and other forms of user generated content. This means bringing down the walls between the organisation and audience, and making them partners, co-creators, and most importantly, genuinely trying to help them by offering tools, widgets, and applications. Being helpful is the most customer-centric thing you can do right now. It’s as simple as that. Thus one of the first tools man ever learnt to use is the now the hottest tool in digital communications

Saturday, 9 August 2008

SUCCESSFULLY USING THE SOCIAL GRAPH TO DRIVE RECOMMENDATIONS


“We give nothing so generously as our advice.” Rochefoucauld

Businesses want us to promote their products. We are social animals, so we share good and bad news when we hear it. There is a herd instinct, but recreating it, or igniting it is difficult, but very rewarding if you can. Many of us don't give our advice online on Amazon with user reviews and ratings, or in video uploads on YouTube, but nonetheless we give our advice. Many advise offline after buying the product, or when their advice is sought. This word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing force ever created.

The social graph is essentially the interlinking of the address book of people on social networks, other social media media platforms, and increasingly everywhere else with the advent of Google Friend Connect. These innovations offer consumers many advantages, but brands also have advantages such as the opportunity to seed viral communications, and word-of-mouth recommendations. But what form will these word-of-mouth recommendations take?

I've identified three types of recommendations:

Active Algorithmic Recommendations: This is when users actively share their opinions in ratings and votes, knowing that they will be aggregated and used to offer recommendations. Amazon's star rating system is an example of this.

Passive Algorithmic Recommendations: This is when users don't actively enter data, but their behavioural activity is used to offer recommendations. This data can be aggregated - such as with Amazon's collaborative filtering technology that aggregates purchase behaviour. People who bought this also bought this. Or the data can be used to present to your social graph recommendations that come directly from you, such as in controversial Facebook Beacon,which uses purchase and visit data.

Active Non-Algorithmic Recommendations: This is when a user produces a one-to-many recommendation such as with a review on Amazon, or perhaps more interestingly on something like lemonade.com, where they users set up lemonade stands of the products they recommend - see a previous posting on this.

The success of the social graph and web 2.0 in general is dependent on finding a business model that does generate recommendations. I'll be exploring this over the next few weeks in more detail.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

TURNING A BLOG INTO A COMMUNITY

You might remember I said in a previous posting that "There are some websites where you go to be social, such as Facebook or MySpace. And there are some sites that are just conversations between the site and the individual. When you visit these type of sites have you ever wondered who else was viewing the same website you were visiting? There is no real community - the visitors are strangers in the dark. The answer might tell you something surprising and rewarding about yourself and your online social identity, and your invisible online community of fellow travellers."

I've acted on this challenge and started to try to turn my blog into a community. I'm talking about my blog, but this challenge would be the same for any website. It's early days in my efforts, but I have done two key things over the last week:
  1. Added the MyBlogLog widget - which you'll see on the right. This has allowed me to create a community on my blog, and it also identifies for me, and other visitors other people from the MyBlogLog social network who have visited. They can contact each other, and read each others profiles. Feel free to join.
  2. Added the Add This widget for social bookmarking, which you'll also see on the right. and at the end of each post. This helps me share more of my articles and hopefully gives them a wider audience.

The interesting thing about these two widgets is that they move the centre of gravity of my readership from my blog to other sites. People can connect with me on Digg, or Delicious, and talk with me on MyBlogLog. This requires lots of maintenance, and manual labour. It's an interesting side effect of the social web, and an interesting challenge for marketers. Imagine doing this for sites across Europe, in multiple languages, multiple platforms, against multiple competitors, and multiple products. The social web throws up some interesting challenges for marketers, but in financial terms it's still getting questioning glances from the finance department.

Monday, 24 March 2008

LINKEDIN AS A COLLABORATIVE SPACE


As the chart above shows, visitor traffic to LinkedIn has grown, and even though I have more links than ever before, I had started to lose hope with it. My most recent view about LinkedIn was that it had become a playground/treasure trove for the enterprising headhunter. I logged in recently and had a better look around, and ended up on some pages I never look at when I'm just accepting LinkedIn invitations, and realised that they've stepped up their game.

It's new design means that it's now pulling in lots of display advertising from brands targeting corporate types, and lots of classified advertising. The inbox and the network updates takes a leaf out of Facebook's book, and its Answers section could owe a dollar or two to Yahoo - but you just don't get an equal concentration of brains on Yahoo as you do on LinkedIn. Try posing a question and tap into it's crowdsourcing potential.



I'm no avid user of social networking sites so asking a question to my limited base would perhaps be pointless, but with LinkdIn's Network Analysis tool, I now appear to have access to 627,000 people who are within 2 or 3 degrees of separation from me.


I'm based in London, but I was also keen to see that 15% of my network is in the New York area, followed by San Francisco, and then London, LA, and Boston. It's interesting that I can tap into this network, and also reach the others LinkedIn are suggesting in Bangalore, Malaysia, and the Netherlands.

If the future is about collaboration then there is hidden value in LinkedIn. They just need to find new structures and ways for facilitating these connections, and conversations. It's clear there are people in the system of value to me, and I can see people asking smart questions, and getting smart answers, but success feels a little accidental and chance like - a little like hearing a great stock tip in an elevator. I still feel as if I'm eavesdropping on private conversations, and connecting with someone you don't know in 'real life' is a little stalker-like.

The platform needs to move on, and move on fast. Members should be able to blog on the site, tag people and their knowledge, tag businesses and their capabilities, rate and rank, questions should be asked with cash incentives, briefs should be posted, and contracts should be tendered. LinkedIn should become a collaborative space, or face withering away quietly in a dark corner of cyberspace.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

COMMUNITIES AND GROUP POLARISATION

If as IDC forecasts, 70% of content will be user generated by 2010, then even the most controversial brands will have to hand over power to their audiences, and let them talk on their sites. I've worked with several brands that are understandably nervous about this. My stock answer attempts to reassure on three levels: 1) if they don't talk on your site, they're going to keep talking in a place where you don't have any control; and 2) if they are talking elsewhere then bring them to a place where you can effectively give your perspective to them, but in front of waverers (so you at least convince the waverers); and 3) if you don't open up, it looks like you are scared of talking and thus guilty.

Brands fear a type of riot on their sites led by a few hardliners who will infect the waverers and the positive visitors with their negative opinions resulting in everyone becoming more extreme. The tendency to advocate more extreme positions in a group is called group polarisation. Social Psychologists, Moscovici and Zavalloni, coined the term, and is related to the less rational phenomena of groupthink. So with group polarisation the 'slightly sexist' become more sexist , and 'marginally racist' become virulently racist after participation in a group discussion. Studies have shown that group polarisation is even more extreme online than offline. So some of the nervousness my clients have shown is warranted.

But brands don't have to surrender control to anarchy if they open up to community discussion. Martin Luther King guided a group, and turned it into a movement. A movement that was angry, but at the same time pacifist, a movement looking for change, but driven by age-long ideals. A positive form of group polarisation is possible if it's driven by leadership that shapes the debate, sets the agenda, and moderates the discussion by providing a balanced counterpoint to the opposition's arguments. This also means being open and honest. Show both sides of the argument, compartmentalise the debate into different discussion streams - which you define. Start the community on topics peripheral to the brand's core theme, then gradually move towards the core. Use advocates of the brand to be your evangelists, and get them to share their experiences with people in their social graphs. And perhaps most importantly, don't see it as a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser, but instead a mechanism for funneling the collective intelligence of your stakeholders into your brand. There's wisdom in those crowds.