To those who joined our webinar on Wednesday morning, thank you very much for your time. I hope you found the information that Dawn Lacallade and I presented to be useful in launching, growing, or sustaining your own online community.
To jump directly to the question and answer section from Wednesday's webinar, click here.
In this blog entry, I will reiterate the key points that were presented in the webinar and address the remaining questions that we didn’t have time to answer. I will also highlight Dawn’s Top 5 Lessons Learned, which were omitted from the webinar due to a last minute glitch.
Here’s the summary slide from the webinar.
Dawn made an excellent point that launching a community should not be the end goal of any community effort. I’ve seen too many companies fall into this mindset. The end goal should be aligned with company objectives like increasing sales revenue, reducing support and R&D costs, or improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. It’s important to keep the Community Life Cycle model (shown below) in mind when you’re planning your community efforts (especially when you’re trying to get budget for it), because the level of effort needed may vary greatly depending on which phase of the life cycle you’re in and how many MVPs you can get to help you.
The best success comes from balancing company needs with community member needs. Dawn presented several groupings of company goals (listed below) that you should always consider when faced with requests from the community such as, "We need a wiki," or, "We need a place to share ideas." The worst mistake is to treat the community as a silo. The most successful community is one that acts as an integrated extension or channel to your business.
You must measure what you intend to achieve. Moreover, you should report only the metrics that are relevant to respective business groups within your company. Dawn presented the following practical examples of measures – grouped by business function – that she uses at SolarWinds.
The final key point: Find, engage, and leverage your influencers, because only they can help you achieve a sustainable vibrant community. I use the terms "influencers" and "MVPs" synonymously, because influencers are truly the most value people in your community. They will have the most impact during the critical Grow phase of your community. Remember that these influencers aren’t only amongst your loyal customers. They could be some of your most unsatisfied and irate customers, who have the potential of becoming your company’s or product’s biggest advocates. There could be influencers amongst your employees, who have established a loyal following on their personal blogs. Business partners could also be influencers. The fact is that today, practically anyone can be influential to some degree, so you’ll need to focus your energy on finding and engaging the people whose scope of influence best aligns with your products and services and within respective target markets. These people will help grow your community better than any form of advertising!
But every community will peak at some point, and yours will be no different. The key is whether or not you’ll be able to sustain or renew the vibrancy of your community without continuing to expend vast amounts of your company’s resources. Ideally, during the Sustain phase of your community life cycle, of the level of effort will drop off rather than stay level or worse, go up. And this is where your earlier efforts and focus on MVPs will pay off big-time. With their help, specialized areas such as Q&A forums, tips and tricks knowledge bases, and focus groups can be maintained that are “sticky” and relevant to their respective members. And some MVPs may even be able to help you with moderator duties and spam control during the Transition phase of your community life cycle, where you’ll want to delegate some responsibilities and share a bit of stewardship in order to reduce your level of effort in sustaining a vibrant community. Then, the life cycle typically iterates to coincide with the next release of a product or service, but the next go-around should require much less effort on your part because you now have MVPs as key resources to help.
Dawn’s Top 5 Lessons Learned
Lesson #5: Ignorance is Not Bliss. Not participating in the conversation does not make the conversation about your brand go away; it just means you are no longer a part of the discussion. Regardless of where the conversation happens, you can listen and participate. In addition, do not embark on building a community if you have an existing corporate communications policy of not accepting or considering unsolicited ideas or responding to questions outside of official support channels. Coincidentally, Lawrence posted a blog entry a month ago about this topic: Evolution and convergence of corporate communications and corporate community strategies. While you’re there, you can also check out his 2 part series on the elements of a vibrant online community: triggers, catalysts, lubricants, flows, and containers and audience segments and user types to get additional context for other related topics that were presented in the webinar.
Lesson #4: Be Transparent. Community is about showing the world the soft underbelly of your company. Don’t be fake or phony. Make sure people understand that this medium is intended to be casual, not overly press release-like. If your company is sponsoring or involved with a community, tell people. Be ethical first, and you never have to worry about being “found out.” If you’ve given your MVPs “stuff” or other rewards, make sure that they properly disclose that when they are promoting your company or product(s). On October 5, 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials, and it’s definitely a must read for every Community Manager. Moreover, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) is currently working to finalize a set of explicit best practices for disclosures that you should consider following.
Lesson #3: Address Problems Quickly. As the Web has become pervasive, customers expect companies to respond quickly – not in days or weeks, but in minutes or hours. Make sure that your community strategy calls for tools and resources to detect problems quickly and for an escalation process that can address problems expeditiously. Not responding can take a small issue and give it the time to become a huge one!
Lesson #2: Don’t Be a No-Show. Even if all you can do is to post a short response such as, “We are aware of the issue, but we currently don’t know when we’ll have a resolution,” it’s much better than letting a complaint in your community or on someone else’s blog linger on with hundreds of comments or replies. Let people know that you’re at least listening even if you’re not able to fully engage them at the present time.
Lesson #1: Make Sure It’s a Dialogue. Whatever community channel you choose, make sure it is a dialogue. If you are the only one talking, then there is no community. Do not start a blog that doesn’t accept comments. If you do, then don’t call it a blog. Likewise, do not start a forum unless you have the resources to monitor and participate in it. Inevitably, people will have conversations about you, your company, or your product(s) elsewhere. A blog or a forum is one way to bring some of those conversations closer to you, where you can more seamlessly integrate them with the rest of your online community environment or corporate Web site.
Questions and Answers
1: Where can we find the disclosure rules?
2: What is the best way to engage and promote your MVPs without rewarding them?
3: What is the best way to initially create community influencers and MVPs? Is it better to offer them rewards for participation beforehand or is it best to encourage participation through other means and then reward your top users?
4: Does SolarWinds use this tool as their intranet? Is there any experience using any of these tools to build an internal company community?
5: Have you ever had to censor and/or censure community members? If so, what were the violations and how did you handle the member?
6: How do you get good community feedback?
Answer (Lawrence): The hyperlinks are provided in Dawn’s Lesson #4 (Be Transparent) above. Also, the Social Media Business Council has a Disclosure Toolkit that is well worth reviewing.
Answer (Lawrence): There are many kinds of viable rewards that MVPs will cherish beyond money or gadgets. By far the simplest way to reward them is to say “thank you.” This can be in the form of a simple email or video, a site profile of the “best” members, or even public awards thanking the top contributors. Recognition in the form of online badges on your community as well as their blogs can be simple yet effective. Involving them very early in the product cycle and having them speak at conferences or other company events provide them with the feeling of being an insider. And having periodic special events just for them (here’s a fun example) will not only build a stronger bond between them and your company, but also with one another.
Answer (Dawn): There are several considerations when deciding which way to approach the creation of MVPs instead of finding existing MVPs. When a site is new and has not had the time to grow these high participants, being very active in thanking people that have high initial participation is critical. For example, if you take the time to thank and introduce yourself to all people who post more than 10 times in a week, you have created a connection that begins to grow these users. You can absolutely publicize small tokens as a part of this process. I would stay away from anything that costs much, as this might drive the wrong behaviors. A great example of this is ittoolbox.com - when you create a profile, it tells you what tasks you need to perform to get different site badges.
Answer (Dawn): I assume this question is referring to using Telligent products as the intranet. No, we don’t use them at SolarWinds. While I was at Dell, we did use all of the same tools internally as we did with customers. We had internal blogs (written mostly by executives), employee storm (ideas site for employees), forums and wikis. We had great success both with sharing knowledge and improving global team communications.
Answer (Dawn): This is an excellent question. I firmly believe that you should never change the words that were written by someone on your community or remove them simply because you don’t like what they say. You must, however, set rules and guidelines and then enforce them. This is a more lengthy discussion, so I have posted some guidelines in an entry called "Enforcement" on my blog.
Answer (Dawn): I think there are several key parts of having the customer relationships that end with having "good" feedback. The first is having participants within the community that are visible, participate often and are approachable with their interactions. Asking directly for the feedback is great! Being crabby or defensive when you get it is one of the fastest ways to get no more feedback. I have also found that getting "good" community feedback is directly dependent on how well you listen and what you have done with the previous feedback. Make sure your active listening and the actions you have taken are obvious. I also absolutely have found that in some situations, it is critical to move the discussion out of the community and onto the phone. Talking in person can allow you to get to a level of detail, diffuse frustration, and even give "your side" of what is going on. I have found huge success with this method.
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