There has been a lot written on the value an engaged community can bring an organization. There's also a lot of great advice on how to be a great Community Manager. But if you are still struggling to figure out how to do it right -- from the start -- or wondering how your current community stacks up, there's a new community framework available to help you out.

The Community Engagement Project

Mark Miller is the founder of NothingButSharePoint.com, an online community dedicated to all things SharePoint and it's one of the largest online SharePoint communities I know. I expect it takes a lot of time and effort to grow and sustain a community as large as a SharePoint one, which I believe gives a lot of credit to the work Miller is doing on community engagement.

With his new project: The Community Engagement Project, Miller has worked out a framework that will help you analyze an existing community, or help you get started with the planning of a new one. The framework builds on a number of models, theories and case studies from a range of community evangelists including Rob Howard (Telligent), Michael Wu (Lithium) and the Community Roundtable (check out our look at the Community Roundtable's recent State of Community Management report).

And I think it's important to note the Miller does not see this framework as a one off. It's something he is actively working with, and improving based on real experiences and feedback from others who have walked the community management road. So make sure to keep an eye out for updates.

The Social Business Maturity Model

To set the stage, Miller does not differentiate between a social network (connecting and creating relationships) and an online community (a specific objective is sought), instead suggesting that a well run community is really a combination of the two.

Mark Fidelman looked at the various stages communities can be in today, noting that the majority (60%) are in an ad hoc stage where the community is not yet recognized as a strategic asset for the organization.

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Social Business Maturity Model
 

The key point to that infographic is that many organizations have a long way to go before they will have a truly engaged online community. What follows may help you figure out how to get to the Optimized Stage.

5 Levels of Community Engagement

Miller proposes that there are five levels of employee engagement:

  1. Competency One: Content Management: Miller says that content is the foundation of the online community. The Content Management Matrix focuses not only on the creation of content by the organization, but the creation of content by the community itself -- an important evolution in community engagement.
  2. Competency Two: Community Engagement: How do you get people engaged? You want people to not only share information, but create it as well taking them from a consume of content to a valued contributor.
  3. Competency Three: Social Engagement: How do people find your community? How long does it take them to start participating and then actively engaging? This is your social engagement framework.
  4. Competency Four: Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Even communities need an SEO strategy to help them and the content they service be found across search engines, 
  5. Competency Five: Return on Investment (ROI): You can measure return on investment of a community. How you do it depends on your business goals and how you have aligned your community strategy to those goals.

Each competency has its own framework from which you can evaluate where you are today with your community and where you need to go. The horizontal axis shows the key elements within that framework (e.g.for Content Management you look at software, content creation, content curation, content frequency, community growth of that content and external participation). The right axis is the level -- or degree -- of competency you have in that area.

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CEP: Competency 1: Content Management
 

There are sections for each competency in the report that discuss the specific framework and key elements within the framework. Miller discusses not only his experiences but also experiences and views from other practitioners (and there are some great follow on resources in each section as well).

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Competency 5: Return on Investment
 

In reality, you are going to focus on the 5th competency first (as Miller has acknowledged) because you must start with the business objectives and how you will measure that those objectives are being met with the community (determining ROI). None of these competencies happens in a silo, one after the other. You will find that you move back and forth between them as you grow and evolve your community.

Building a Community Takes Time and Planning

Yes, many communities start in an ad hoc fashion. But to make them valuable to the organization you have to evolve them. The frameworks supplied in this report show you the different stages you can plan to grow to. Now, I don't think that means you have to start at the bottom (lowest level) if you are just starting out. I think you could plan to start at a level 200 or even 300, these are great guidelines to enable you to plant a stake in the ground and get to work.

And if you are an existing community, these frameworks will help you understand where you are today and what you need to work on to get to the next levels).

Growing a community takes time and commitment and a desire to really engage with like-minded people. I would recommend you read the Community Engagement Project report, take some time to review the 5 competencies and see where your current community (ies) sit. Then start planning how you move forward.