As a father of two, I hear "why" a lot:
"Why do you get goose bumps?"
"Why are traffic signals red, yellow and green?"
"Why does [best friend] have [shiny object] and I don't?" (the Internet can only help so much)
Perhaps that partly explains why the first question I like to ask new customers is "Why do you need to build a new community?"
of the time the first responses I hear are "our customers are asking
for one" or "our competitors have one". And these are indeed very
powerful reasons, but they are not necessarily business objectives that
you can track to measure success. In the excellent book Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, they refer to this in their POST method as your objectives for
creating an online community. I would go even further, that objectives
must be measurable for an enterprise community for them to have any
lasting value. After all, in the enterprise measurable results are
often the only ones that matter.
During our planning for the Lithosphere, we focused on three business objectives we wanted to achieve:
Build customer loyalty: Includes traditional customer satisfaction metrics, as well as others like increased rate of feature adoption. Improve Lithium's products and services:
Both through direct product feedback, but for Lithium there is also the
opportunity to learn lessons from using the products we sell (i.e.
"eating our own dog food"). Increase sales:
New sales are important, but as a SaaS provider we also benefit from
the greater success of our customers' communities through tier growth.
By choosing objectives with measurable success in mind, you can not
only begin to build your case for ROI; you can lean on these objectives
for each decision you make about your community and back it up with a
clear relationship to what you are trying to achieve.
Here are some other objectives we've seen executed effectively in enterprise communities:
Case/Call deflection Increase brand loyalty Strategic savings for multilingual customers & long-tail customer support Discover brand success stories Backup to the standard support setup/Spike handling Track success of marketing initiatives Faster identification of issue clusters Grow 3rd-party development around your platform
comprehensive, but hopefully this list is a good starting point to help
think through what your community success will be. If you can think of
others, or want to share which objectives have resonated most with your
community please let me know! Message Edited by scottd on 06-18-2008 10:15 AM
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The last group I wanted to discuss before leaving the topic of people
in your community is your internal audience, be they employees,
organizational peers, executives or other insiders. Like the previous
groups we've mentioned, you need to understand and plan for these
folks, and the internal team presents it's own unique challenges. There
are two types of activity you must be mindful of:
As active participants in the community As consumers of the community content Regarding
participation, we recognized that the Lithosphere was going to be a
smaller, more intimate community than many of the ones we deploy for
our customers. With that in mind, we expect that we will likely need
more engagement internally than is the norm to sustain a healthy level
of activity. But while we want to encourage employees to participate in
the conversation, we need to be careful not to dominate it. Toward that
end we created an employee-specific addendum to our guidelines that
addressed internal user behavior, while also developing a rank
structure to identify general Lithium employees but visually represent
them on a peer level with other members. We also plan to give employees
additional motivation to come, such as a private area of their own to
discuss internal topics of interest. In short, take a look at all the
ways we can influence community behavior, and then see how you might
apply them to meet the challenges of this particular audience. Passive
activity is more subtle, but more than with any other group this is
where the real value lies. After all, to be truly successful requires
that someone do something with what the community generates at the end
of the day. For instance, one of our main objectives in the Lithosphere
is product improvement through direct customer feedback. The time to
discuss how to address product feedback from the community is not
after the VP of Product Management has received a query from the
Customer Advisory Board! Communicate your message and expectations
clearly and early to internal groups who will be involved. Then develop
processes to escalate requests internally and to communicate back to
the community. The message is not that customer feedback from the
community will be immediately addressed, or even that the highest rated
requests will be the quickest to be adopted; community feedback being
only one factor in a larger process of prioritizing development
resources. But a clear understanding on both sides is necessary so that
the expectations we set are clear and attainable.
This is just one example. Who else have you made sure to reach out to when launching your community?
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Wow, Mark, you have a knack for taking things to the next level! While my intent was to shine a light on the planning process, you have very ably shown where the planning process should lead you. To put all three points you raised in the context of creating your own community, I think part of the answer is in finding a balance between having a broad and inclusive environment vs. one that is focused and exclusive. I don’t think there is an easy answer to this balance because it pits two key requirements for your environment’s success against each other: activity and relevancy. In other words, the environment must be open enough to develop an active community of sufficient size, but it also needs to be focused enough to create relevant content to meet your objectives. Too broad, and you risk watering down the value that you and your target audience seek to gain. Too narrow, and your population is too small to create sufficient content to achieve the benefits you desire. Note that these are extremes, there is no one size fits all method, and there is a whole sphere of topics/groups within a single community where you may apply different methods for different circumstances. What is important, though, is that you think through these questions as early as possible.
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I spoke of
defining your target audience last time, but as was noted in the
comments you should be aware that they aren't the only folks who may
choose to participate. For example, some other
groups we identified as potential visitors/participants in the
Lithosphere with differing needs and agendas are:
Banned users from our customers' communities Community managers for non-enterprise communities Competitors Solicitors/ Spammers Hackers with unlawful intentions
Promotion, structure, policies and procedures -
virtually every aspect of your community plan should take into account
these other groups and their potential impact on your objectives. This
doesn't mean that groups outside our target audience should be ejected;
after all, as long as members' activity furthers the goals of the
community then their contributions should be welcome. In fact, you may
gain powerful insights from outside your main base that would otherwise
have escaped you. But it is vital that those other users not be allowed
to interfere with or derail your community.
Our aim for the Lithosphere is to be the premier place to share
ideas, support others and exchange best practices on community in the
meet our objectives and the objectives of our target audience, we've
sure to: Craft
announcements, board descriptions, promotional materials and blogs (such
as this one) to reinforce our focus on enterprise community Design
board structure to prominently display the most relevant content and
provide less highly-placed outlets for submissions that are not as
relevant, as well as private areas for approved members only Develop and communicate clear guidelines and procedures to empower moderators to keep submissions relevant and the tone positive Obviously
details and execution are extremely important here, but the key point
is to focus on promoting desired behavior and discouraging
inappropriate activity no matter its origin. What unexpected visitors have you received in your community? Was the experience ultimately a positive or negative one?
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Very true Mark, we are often pleasantly surprised (or unpleasantly in some cases) by who our participants turn out to be! And when planning it is good to keep in mind that no matter how much data we have there will always be things we don't know or can't expect. But by the same token, if we don't plan we may be missing opportunities. But you may be referring to a broader topic, which is that your target audiences are not the only ones who may be interested in your community, and you should definitely plan for those members as well. Thanks for your encouragement, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of your insights in the new community!
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