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.
- Establish a vision and guidelines: You need to establish clear vision and goals, which I’d advise sharing internally/externally in the community. Make sure you are also clear about guidelines of using the community — let members know what behaviors are “frowned upon” and which ones will not be tolerated.
- Seed the community: No community is going to go “from 0 to awesome” in a day. Community growth can be a slow process and needs to be a deliberate one. Before officially launching your community, make sure you open it up to other people who “get” the vision, people who can contribute content that’s both big-picture and functionally useful to the next wave of members.
- Have a community manager: Each active community — whether already robust or hoping to get there — should have a designated community manager. Active community management is imperative because it establishes accountability. This way, both, community members and internal stakeholders know where to address queries, ideas and feedback.
- Facilitate but don’t control the conversation: You should expect that people will come and talk about what they want to talk about. You can and should direct and help structure conversations into productive sharing, but you should never attempt to silence your community. If you do so, you will appear heavy-handed, and your community members will walk away and self-organize into a hate group on another platform.
- Be proactive: Being community-focused doesn’t mean being reactive. Be proactive in starting conversations that you think can benefit the community. By that, I don’t mean hand out marketing messages; rather, focus on starting conversations worth having and helping people do their jobs.
- Help people do their jobs: Even though on the surface it may seem that you are helping your community do something very specific, make sure you also focus on the bigger picture of helping people do their jobs, whether these are jobs in the conventional sense of the word or “jobs of life,” such as decorating a house.
- Work cross-functionally internally: This is probably the hardest part of running a community. Get into the habit of working cross-functionally to ensure that the community doesn’t operate in a vacuum — share insights back to the right team internally and facilitate dialogue. They may not have a starring role every day, but it may be a good idea to bring some execs in to talk directly to the community, as does Molson Coors.
- Facilitate, don’t dominate: Remember that the primary purpose of this community is to connect community members to each other. You need to know when to step back and let people talk to each other, and when your help is needed in making conversations more productive.
- Success breeds success: People love to share and learn success stories. Sharing gives you bragging rights and an opportunity to become known as an expert. Listening to others’ successes helps you visualize your success. In your community, encourage members to share their successes publicly. Make sure to point these stories in the direction of other community members who are grappling with a similar problem.
- The golden rule: This simple rule still means everything in interpersonal communications! Make people feel like they matter, because they do!
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- Enterprise Collaboration: Start Celebrating Adoption, Not Deployment
- First Do No Harm: How Social CRM Can Be a Trap
- 10 of the Best Social Business Communities & Why They are Important
About the Author
Maria Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, the enterprise social network used by over 80% of the Fortune 500. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and Yammer blog.