Want to convince your company to start an online community?
It helps to have a list of top business communities that you can reference. Communities that are differentiated and stand out amongst their peers. Communities that generate revenue, lower costs or in the best situation, do both.
In fact, I won’t sugar coat it. If you are planning to build a community that does not have revenue or cost reduction as its main goals, then you are wasting your time. At least if you are in business for profit, and most of us are.
The majority of the 10 communities listed below are using social approaches to encourage participation and sharing. While they may not all be the most aesthetically pleasing, these communities are notable in several ways. I want to explain why.
(NOTE: not in any particular order)
1. Microsoft Answers
Ask a question and the community answers. What is the ROI of that? There’s remarkably little involvement from Microsoft, just a platform and social currency system leveraged to encourage participation.
I asked Toby Richards, general manager of Microsoft’s Community and Online Support, on the reason for Answers success:
We certainly see the benefit of social as being something that really helps drive the long-term productivity of the site as they continue to interact with people like them. We have what I’d call ‘badges,’ in terms of recognizing your activity in the social support area. Then we also have awards, which we offer at the, what I would say, the highest levels of contribution.”
Why it’s important: Using gamification principles to drive high value behavior to support a cost reduction goal is smart. Moreover, the cost is minimal since the currency are badges, awards and recognition.
2. Dell's Facebook Fan Page
Coupons, ideation, polls and customer support all supported in one community? Yep, Dell masterfully captures the holy grail of revenue and cost reduction objectives in a community of 610,000-plus people.
I asked Jason Duty, leader of Dell’s Social Outreach Services, how he works with the community for product launches:
Social media needs to be embedded throughout the entire product launch process. We’re using social media as the key component. That part was a turning point for Dell. As a result, we’re seeing a rise in customers coming to us through Facebook.”
Why it’s important: Leveraging communities to launch a new product or update an existing one is smart. Especially if the community participated in creating it. Picture offering coupons to community members in order to accelerate purchases, followed by a survey to determine reaction to the product, then finally using the community to support it. Dell does that and more.
3. Intuit's TurboTax Advice Community
Free tax advice from CPA’s, accountants and tax experts? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of selling more of Intuit’s TurboTax software?
The first thing you notice when using the community is how many of the questions are answered. It is also incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Like Microsoft Answers, Intuit uses social currency to reward participants.
I’m told a lot of these participants use this banked social currency to obtain consulting engagements and connect with community members with complicated tax issues. So in theory, Intuit is providing a community where competitors are allowed to poach Intuit customers at will.
Why it’s important: But what’s actually happening is that these experts are building a huge knowledge base on Intuit’s behalf — a niche, social knowledge base that is driving a tremendous amount of search traffic, which is then cleverly converted to TurboTax users. Sure Intuit may lose a few, but the volume more than makes up for it.
(Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading Communities We All Want to Belong, Or Do We?)
4. Booz Allen's "Hello Community (Internal)
Hello represents what SharePoint should be out of the box. Hello is one of the best SharePoint communities I’ve seen. In fact, it is has become a tremendous sales tool for Walton Smith and the Booz Business Development team.
When asked about the competitive advantage of Hello, Walton Smith said:
We have 480 communities up there for everything, from parenting to cyber security to SharePoint. And for us, the fact that we can connect the dots with people who are around the country or around the world is a huge benefit.”
Why it’s important: Imagine the ability to leverage your organization’s collective knowledge to complete projects faster, find the right experts, and close more business because you have the right information and people at your finger tips. I’d bet you’d say Hello to that. Moreover, Hello is one of Booz Allen’s best sales tools.
5. 7-Eleven's Yammer Community (Internal & Private External)
(Note: not actual 7-Eleven site)
What do you do with 3,000 geographically dispersed field operations team members when they need access to critical information to do their jobs? And what if some of those people are in the field using mobile devices? How do they share best practices and gain access to information in real time? Do they pick up the phone? Search a knowledge base?
No, use a Yammer community of course.
When I asked David Sacks, founder and CEO of Yammer, about 7-Eleven strategic use of Yammer, he responded:
7-Eleven chose Yammer to unify its distributed workforce, drive consistency across franchise locations and foster better communication among employees and leadership. Many organizations share the same challenge of connecting a workforce that is dispersed across different geographic territories or business units, and this example demonstrates how enterprises can leverage Yammer to bring together their employees to share best practices and new ideas."
Why it’s important: Connecting field personnel, partners and suppliers with the right people to solve a business issue is challenging. Having a social solution that connects employees and non-employees to further business objectives helps ease those challenges while increasing revenue and decreasing costs. This is an example of a social extended enterprise. Expect more developments in this area.
6. First Round Capital
How many companies proudly display their community right on the home page? Not many. In fact, FRC wants entrepreneurs to realize that they not only get a financial partner, but a deeply connected community as well.
Collectively, their partners have helped fund and start over 200 companies. Multiply that by the social networks of those companies and you have one valuable social graph.
Why it’s important: When you are competing in a commodity type industry (in this example Venture Capital), it’s essential to differentiate your company. Like the famous Verizon commercials, FRC wants to leave you with the impression that there’s a community of experts ready to help you become successful. It’s effective.
[Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading The Role of Communities in Social Business - #SocBizChat Tweetjam Summarized.]