Let's start with two grounding statements for context: markets are communities and communities are markets. And from an open or social business perspective, a customer community does not necessarily mean it's a destination on the web, computers or mobile devices that's only accessible with personal IDs and passwords. 


Sure, there are many outstanding software, cloud and open source platforms covered by CMSWire that enable marketing, product management, IT and customer service teams to create and manage gated and open community experiences. But for the purpose of this article, let's focus on what I refer to as a community practice strategy with four core programs, as seen above, to discuss how to attract new customers and keep current ones.

Five Point Plan

1. Begin with a customer success manifesto including details by vertical, geography and/or persona segmentation; tweak annually based on new insights.

Too many organizations apply a vanilla strategy to attract and serve a wide variety of customer segments. Commit to the reality that your customers -- current and future -- place a premium on their unique needs and success outcomes, when and where they choose.

Business model, products, services, customer experiences and ecosystem innovation should embrace target audience diversity. No longer is customer satisfaction the goal, as this is now the minimum expected result. Instead, customer segment or persona-oriented success is what we all should strive for to delight connected customers.

2. Enable current and future customers with content and experiences that span many segment lifecycles and meaningful stories.

Prospective customers want proof your company can solve their problems and enable their desired outcomes before they consider doing business with you. What can you do with content and experiences that help prospective customers feel like -- while associated with your community -- they will be more successful? It's not a manipulation, rather a preview of their story to come.

Create and implement a content strategy, cross-functional team and resources to support prospective and current customer enablement while also immersing these groups in appropriate storytelling. All employees should be tuned in to customer stories and lessons learned, and be able to make adjustments as necessary since every employee plays an active role in various narratives.

3. Build, continuously improve, and empower your advocates with a resourced community hub and spokes operation. Weave in some fun with gamification.

If you haven't already done this, please define community or social business metrics that align with business processes and goals. Last year about this time I met up with Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. and we discussed taking social media from cool to critical.

After a number of years of dabbling, social media spend in the U.S. alone is expected to increase from US$ 2 billion in 2012 to nearly US$ 5 billion in 2016 -- it's time to apply some discipline. And you're always going to have a percentage of advocates or super fans that raise issues and seek out opportunities to create value in and for your community. I recommend organizing a "Community Inner Circle" that leverages gamification and helps to mobilize and respond to super fans and subject matter experts.

4. Cultivate, harness and share thought leadership from within your organization and outside via the community.

Good thought leadership simplifies complex topics and shares forward-looking ideas that prospective and current customers care about. Consider the Forrester report about organizing a thought leadership program including a four-step “IDEA” framework.

To be effective, focus on issues that members of your community can contribute to as practitioners and evangelists. Surveys can help with collecting input and the community will be more inclined to share thought leadership content if they have some ownership in its creation.

5. Real-time business now requires a Command Center, reporting systems and dedicated staff.

Don't skimp here if you want customer success, company growth, and to be prepared for crisis management and response. Brian Solis wrote a while back about moving from community management to a command center. This doesn't mean you have to invest in a large team of people and equipment that are on 24/7. I’ve seen a part-time team of two people working in shifts and supporting one another to be quite effective with monitoring, content development, escalation and periodic analysis.

Collaborate and Innovate for Your Customers' Success

Regardless of the company size, businesses are often challenged with customer community and social business initiatives because classic functions like corporate communications, product management, demand generation and customer service have blended in recent years with the growth and acceptance of social, mobile and cloud. But many department heads continue to operate with traditional thinking that doesn't serve today's needs.

This is where a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or a progressive Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) can help to bring other teams, charters and processes together with customer success criteria and performance metrics. It's not really a technology issue given that everything under the sun -- including content management systems, enterprise social networking, listening and reporting solutions, etc. -- is available with reasonable access and integration. The key is commitment to collaborate and innovate for today's customer success demands and opportunities.

Editor's Note: To read more from Erick see his The Art of Storytelling in Our Digital Age