Building Communities to Promote Collaboration #gilbane2012

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The development of social media and other leading edge communication and collaboration technologies is creating a “perfect storm” of change, and social communities are the best means of surviving the weather. This was the main message of both presenters in a session entitled “Collaboration from the Inside Out and Outside In” during day one of the Gilbane Conference in Boston

Complexity Requires Community

According to Rachel Happe, co-founder of social community advisory firm The Community Roundtable, the pace of human brain capacity is not changing at the same pace as technology and business. “We have built complex organizations to deal with a relatively simple market, but the market is now complex, creating flashpoints,” said Happe.

Many of these flashpoints are directly related to humans, who Happe called the “weak link in the chain.” Social online communities can help organizations and consumers deal with these flashpoints by letting people share and develop information collaboratively, “compounding rather than recreating value.”

When creating an online social community, Happe advised organizations and community managers to follow five steps :

Learning Opportunities

  1. Find the Sweet Spot -- A Venn diagram of the organization’s needs and target audience’s needs will reveal the community “sweet spots” in the areas where needs overlap. “Engagement for engagement’s sake is not necessarily useful,” stated Happe.
  2. Start Simply -- Happe said the ultimate goal of a community is changing behavior to lower costs or drive innovation. “it’s not just doing something better than before,” she said. “It takes time to make something habitual.”
  3. Understand Dynamics -- Online social communities grow geometrically rather than linearly, said Happe. “It costs a lot upfront and provides incremental return. It’s not about content but people. Don’t try to engage everybody at once.”
  4. Not Everything is a Nail -- “Deploying social software doesn’t make a community,” warned Happe. “Social media provides marginal value alongside traditional media. Don’t get that value and say you’re done.”
  5. Define Success -- “Do you want to get married or live happily ever after?” Happe rhetorically asked. Communities with vaguely defined goals produce internal power struggles and ultimately fail.

Avoid the ‘Flavor of the Week’

Jerry Silver, product marketing manager for EMC Documentum Development Community, gave a community manager’s view of creating and maintaining online B2B communities. “Companies jump quickly into launching a community with the idea it’s the flavor of the week and then lose patience quickly because the manager cannot demonstrate its value,” he said.

To avoid this situation, Silver said community managers must align the structure of the community with customer needs such as support and research, as well as higher-level needs such as networking, knowledge and status. “The higher you go, the stickier your engagement,” said Silver. “You can turn customers into advocates who evangelize your products if you align with their needs hierarchy.”

In addition, Silver advised community managers to define success metrics early on, fully engage executives rather than simply obtain their approval, use the right platform for the specific community’s needs, and align the community structure to both customer and company goals. “Users may want to rate content with likes,” he said. “The company may want to generate lead referrals.”