IMC: Engage Community With Your Brand by William Azaroff of Vancity

In 2006 Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, launched, a social networking site focused on issues of change and is a shinning example of what effective online customer engagement looks like. William Azaroff discussed how the small side project evolved into a diverse hub of customer interaction.

Their secret? Social media.

William directs Online Strategy & Community Engagement at Vancity, and it’s no small task bringing a personal humanized touch to a large corporate credit union. But since the launch of they have created a prime example of how effective use of social media can make a brand more relevant to consumers through engaging the community online.

Three Key Points

By the end of the presentation William connected the success of the project to three key points based directly from the experience of launching the site and monitoring its growth:

  • All social media is inherently authentic
  • The first 500 community members set the tone
  • Think of community engagement…not social media

Let me explain each point.

All Social Media is Inherently Authentic

If you’re going to use social media it has to be authentic. You can’t force it, you can’t manufacture it, and you can’t expect to police it in order to maintain control over the “message. William summed this up nicely with the quote, “Think concierge not security guard.”

A lot of companies are scared of the lack of control they have over real social media. They assume that open forum discussions will require aggressive moderation to insure the project is successful. But that moderation is counter productive to the purpose of social media, which is to learn from authentic customer interactions.

The trick is to set a positive foundation. Vancity did this by listening to various local concerns, feelings and like minded ideas within the Vancouver community, and then providing an online hub to share and discuss them. And of course, organize how to take actions.

By doing so they were able to develop amazing social initiatives that attracted a solid base of key initial users, attracted huge media attention and boasted some impressive user growth numbers. All of this happened practically on it’s own over time with little to no moderation. But how?

The First 500 Community Members Set the Tone

In general, the first 500 members of your online community will set the tone and mood. If the first 500 registered users are yelling, being rude and creating havoc, then the people you really want to participate aren’t going to feel welcome. Fortunately the opposite is also true. If you personally choose your pioneer users and have them pass along the URL to like minded peers, you will being to attract more people who get what you’re trying to achieve. Once you hit this milestone and the masses get hold of it, the foundation will be set and it’ll be far easier to monitor and moderate. In fact, you may find that you don’t have to moderate comments much at all, which is what the case has been with

Think of community engagement…not social media

Add features and functions that make people want to collaborate. Remember, the primary objective is to get people to contribute positively, not to stop people from contributing negatively. Resisting the urge to heavily moderate and police your social media network is a hard one to follow through on. But by providing the community with engaging content, news, tools, and features you might be suprised how little policing needs to be done.

We highly recommend you take a look at and see what’s going on and keep your eyes peeled for updates. William revealed durring the presentation that the layout and design of the site will be updated very soon. The screen shots looked impressive! We are are trying to get our hands on some to add to the post later.