The definition of a community has evolved tremendously and will continue to evolve in the future. Communities can be private or public, behind or in front of a paywall, professionally or independently run. However your community manifests itself, it’s driven by its purpose -- was it created to connect your business with your customers or the larger community? Or is it more narrowly defined? Do you want it to be private or public? What is the business purpose -- support, ideation, business process management or something else? Let’s take a look at some common use cases.

Connect with Clients

A very popular use case of a community is to connect with existing clients for the purpose of working on specific business objectives. This is especially useful for any high-touch business model that includes account management. For example, Razorfish, one of our clients at Yammer and a leading digital marketing agency, uses Yammer communities to drive collaboration with clients directly. Because Razorfish is set up in account teams working with global clients, this model lends itself to having client-specific communities. To supplement in-person meetings, Razorfish account teams are able to do informal check-ins with their clients to help drive campaign continuity, generate ideas, ask questions and track success.

Connect the Entire Value Chain

A business community doesn’t need to be limited to the client/provider relationship. A community can easily encompass the entire value chain, allowing your entire business operation to run smoothly and provide insight into the work of others. Expanding on the use case above, you could also help support the client’s value chain in the client-specific community. Imagine if you could create a community where not only your client is invited to participate, but also other providers who contribute to the success of that client. Talk about adding value!

Connect with Fans and Consumers

One of the most popular use cases of a community is a consumer-facing community. In a community like that, a company or a brand interfaces directly with fans and consumers. It can be a community designed specifically for the users of the product (for example, I run the private customer community at Yammer), or a more general lifestyle community that many consumer brands have created. Molson Coors, one of our clients and a leading global brewer with a brewing heritage of more than 350 years, has an extensive network of current and former employees who are passionate about the brand. The Canadian business unit established a Yammer community for its retirees in an effort to maintain a strong connection with its alumni network. Molson Coors is able to share company news, introduce new products, plan social events and seek feedback, directly through the community platform. One of the attributes that makes this community successful is high-level executive participation. As a result, members of this community have become more engaged and true brand ambassadors.

Whatever the business reason for your community, ask yourself, if I were the “end user” of this community, would I want to join it? Am I running it in a way that helps people do their jobs or make their lives better in any way? Here are some tips that can help you navigate the tricky discipline of community management.