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November 21, 2012

Internal Strategy for Your External-facing Online Community

by massmarotta
Leveling Tool

Level-setting Your Organization

Your online community will ultimately have two strategies, a community member strategy; what’s in it for your members, and an enterprise strategy; what’s in it for you as the organization. I am going to address the latter with this blog post. Not so much the importance of having a strategy, but more of what it should contain. I think we can all agree that by definition, strategies are important, duh.

The strategy doesn’t have to be, nor should it be this long winded document with a bunch of legalese. Make it straight and to the point. Since online community interaction spans all departments, it needs to be easily understood by all levels of your organization; from senior executives to the most recent hire. It should aim to level-set your organization and take away the guess work and assumptions your colleagues may have of why you have an online community, what you’re trying to achieve, and how you’re going to get there.

Here’s an outline of what your internal strategy document should contain:

  1. What is your online community? – This should be your elevator pitch. A short summary that defines your online community and its value proposition.
  2. Why an online community? –  Address why you’re establishing an online community. The community must satisfy a need. Were your customers, internal or external, asking for one? Are you looking for support cost savings? Do you want to connect more closely with your customer-base? List all those needs as if you’re building a case.
  3. How did you get to this point?  – Somewhere along the way, you did your homework and surveyed your customers on whether they are or would participate in an online community. Take this opportunity to back up your strategy with some key points from that exercise.
  4. How will your online community complement your business? – Online communities won’t entirely replace existing processes. In most cases, they’ll act as an additional channel for you and your customers to interact. You’ll need to communicate how an online community will not cannibalize certain job functions and instead, complement them.  
  5. Who will benefit? – Obviously, the answer is your internal and external customers. But be specific. Identify the exact department and an ROI metric if possible.

Do you have an internal strategy document? What would you add to this outline?