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:
- What is your online community? – This should be your elevator pitch. A short summary that defines your online community and its value proposition.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Soapboxers can be a tricky bunch to manage. They often carry extremely strong personalities within online communities, often replying to every post – possibly multiple times, to really drive home their point of view. Note: They are not to be confused with power users.
Based on my observations, ‘boxers post just to hear himself talk. They feel that they are the resident subject matter expert (which may be true) and all other opinions that oppose theirs are simply incorrect.
If not managed early, ‘boxers can spiral out of control. Often times, they begin to bully other members and use explicit or derogatory language towards them. The obvious outcome? Your members will be stymied (believe it or not, first time I’ve used that word) by this behavior and you’ll see an instant drop in return visits and member contributions.
Be cordial at first. Have one on one communications with the ‘boxer asking them to tone it down and respect others’ opinions. Point them to the community guidelines as a reminder of accepted behavior.
If they continue in their ways, it’s time for some moderation. Have all their posts immediately hit the moderation queue to be screened for a probationary period. This may cause more work for your moderation team, but in the best interest of the community, it’ll be worth it. What if your community platform doesn’t allow such targeted moderation? Suspend the account for 30 days. This will send a clear message that these are serious offenses and there’s no place for it in your community.
Ok, so you’ve tried everything by now and their still right back at it with their antics. It’s time to ask yourself, is it worth all the time, effort and resources to keep this member? And if you are asking yourself this question, you’ve already answered it. NO, it is not worth it. It’s time to cut this member loose and move on. I understand your hesitance, but believe me, more good will come out of banning this member than bad. New members will begin to emerge. Why? Because you once again created a non-threatening environment for all community members to enjoy.
Do you have soapboxers in your community? How did you manage them? What was the outcome?
Having clear and defined community objectives will help guide your members’ actions. They’ll guide your members to the type of content you, as a company, are looking for and the type of actions that are acceptable from your members. Basically, the objectives will define the tone and personality of your community.
These objectives should take the form of verbs to indicate a call-to-action, much like marketing messages do. But these verbs need to be more descriptive than “Start a blog,” “Collaborate on a wiki” or “Upload Photos.” Members ultimately need to know why.
Take a look at these successful communities that designed with this verb-driven engagement model. I purposely left out the “why” so you can view it in context with the respective communities.
iReport: Share – Discuss – Be heard
my Health Communities: Connect – Share – Support
SolidWorks: Discuss – Search – Learn
PlanetPTC: Showcase – Network – Inspire
Topliners: Imagine It – See It – Do It
LinkedIn: Stay – Find – Control
Foursquare: See – Learn – Unlock
Intel: Share – Collaborate – Innovate
Are you using this verb-driven engagement models? What three tenants are driving your community’s participation?
I’m a big proponent of soft launches. Invite your most passionate customers (Evangelists) early and have them test drive your online community before you release it out to the masses. They can provide some great feedback of what works well and where there may be pitfalls.
It’s always a good practice to have content seeded before officially launching. It would be quite embarrassing to drive members to a community where there’s nothing for them to interact with. That seeded content sets the tone for the type of future activity your organization deems acceptable as well as the type of behavior that is expected from members. Have your evangelists assist with this content seeding exercise.
Once you feel comfortable with content volumes, officially launching (hard launch) is a strategic move. Line up the official launch with a major company or industry event like your annual customer conference or new product release to make a big splash. Have an exhibit booth to demo the capabilities and benefits.
What was your approach? Did you skip the soft launch and go straight for the hard launch? Did you tie the launch to a major company or industry event?
As a community manager, you always want to provide your members with all the [right] tools to optimize and increase participation. When thinking about the type of tangible rewards and gifts for your members, it’s better to go beyond the t-shirts, pens, key chains and the traditional chotchkies we’re all use to getting. Instead, think within the context of your community and the goals it’s trying to achieve; things that enable members and elevates their participation to the next level.
Here are a few enablers/rewards that work:
- For a photography community, use cameras, lenses, printers, tripods, flashes, and photography bags
- For a design community, use CAD software, drafting tools, or 3D printers
- For a tech community, use smart phones, netbooks, laptops, desktops computers
What enablers have you tried in the context of your community? Did you see a significant spike in participation?