Paul Marshall founded digital catalogue service Lasoo a few years ago, attempting to create a service where customers could search through paper catalogues online. Owned by Salmat, the service has now become a popular shopping destination online with about nine million unique browsers in the year to December 2009 and over 36 million searches.
The site also has a heavy focus on community creation and social networking, with nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook, about 1,000 Twitter followers and a popular iPhone app.
Marshall says businesses must focus on creating a loyal community if they want to survive in the digital age.
How did you create Lasoo around the idea of community creation?
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Lasoo was created to fill a gap in the market where we could show consumers what was being advertised and where, even at what price. We always had the consumers in the front of our minds. The whole portal was designed for the consumer, and I think that’s why we’ve made the switch to social media so quickly.
We always had the idea that we need to be transparent, approachable and fill that gap, and social media is one of the most powerful ways to build your reputation. It is literally the currency of the future.
Did you think about creating a community straight away, or did that come afterwards?
Community creation was part of the plan when Lasoo started. Facebook was obviously around, and we saw that this activity was accelerating. We thought that people would be able to contribute offers and that sort of thing, and that’s why we launched the user-generated and user-voted part of the site.
The discussion internally was not so much why we should do it, but when and how. We are all like-minded here, avid users of the internet, strong followers of trends and we had a good discussion about what needed to go on there, what was the best way to handle it, who’s going to look after, how are we going to manage it, etc.
How did you develop your channels, like Facebook and Twitter, to where you were happy with them?
We’re still doing it today. We just go out there and ask our Facebook and Twitter users what they want to see. There are a few debates going on, if you look at our feeds you can see questions as to whether we are hitting people too many times, and so on, and then we would just ask people what they think is the right amount. By no means do we have the formula right, and it’s deliberately quite lose because if we define our strategy we’re doing the entire opposite of what media should be.
We need to develop a communication path with our users. We need give them special offers, exclusive deals and that sort of thing. We got them to design our logo last year, we also got them to approve our page last year a month before it was implemented.
What is the best way to engage on online community?
I think that’s a question we are always going to be answering, and not necessarily going to be getting it right. If you think about consumers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, they like to be informed about what’s happening.
A lot of the time we are pointing stuff out that isn’t on our sites. We need to know what they are interested in, encourage them to be involved and talk about how we should be involved with them. We offer competitions and so on, not in a gratuitous way, but in a way that stimulates the conversation.
Does having a loyal community of followers add value to your business?
Without a doubt. Our followers are our brand advocates, and it’s extremely important that people spread the word. We are a site that doesn’t charge anything, and we are there to make life easier for the consumer. It’s extremely important we have our followers go out there and advocate for us because it gives our company value.
How should other businesses look at creating a community of followers?
I think each business needs to look at social media and how it could help, because it really ranges from business to business. For instance, some may use it as community support, others may use it just to play and get certain incentives out there. We try things that don’t work, don’t get a response or whatever, and we’ve also done things that work extremely well. The important thing is to just start building a community, because everyday you don’t you are missing out.