Actually, I believe there are three types of communities: external communities, which are comprised of customers; internal communities, which are comprised of employees; and hybrid communities, which are comprised of partners and suppliers. Since most discussions are focused around either customer or employee communities, that is what I want to focus on here.


A few days ago I tweeted out a question to my network asking, “If you had to pick to either invest in customer engagement and collaboration or employee engagement and collaboration, which one would you invest in?” Everyone that responded back to me said that they would invest in employee engagement and collaboration. I don’t really think there is a right or wrong answer, so instead let’s take a look at both.

Why Employee Communities Are More Valuable

Employees are essentially the lifeblood of any organization: they are the ones who come up with ideas, build products and make the business operate. Employees are also the people who are talking to customers on a daily basis. As Frost & Sullivan have shown in a report they conducted a few years ago, collaboration has a 36% impact on overall business performance. Emergent social software greatly helps facilitate this collaboration across the enterprise. Furthermore, it just doesn’t make sense to invest in social for customers until you invest in social for employees. You have to become social internally first before you can become social externally.

While investing in customer communities may bring about some great customer ideas and suggestions, ultimately it is the employee collaboration side of things that is going to make sure these customer ideas are executed effectively. After all, the employees need a way to take the customer feedback and actually act on it.

If social is really an organizational-wide initiative, then it needs to begin…from inside the organization. Corporate culture is one of the core things that needs to change within organizations that are looking to invest in “social.” The best way to help change the corporate culture is by starting with the employees at any organization. This is the only way to allow social to scale and to really penetrate the entire enterprise, otherwise these initiatives will just be owned by marketing, PR or communications, as they are now.

Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading Jacob Morgan's Employee Engagement Affects Collaboration.

Why Customer Communities Are More Valuable

Customers are the ones who actually keep the business going; they are the ones who purchase products, provide feedback, tell their friends about products and services they like and basically keep the organization making money. Employee collaboration and communities have a ceiling, which is the number of employees that an organization has. For example, if an organization only has 100,000 employees, then that is as big as the community is going to get. However, this is not true for customer communities. While an organization may have tens of thousands of employees, the number of customers can be exponentially higher.

A company with 5,000 employees can have a million customers. Since the customer communities have great potential, reach and more impactful revenue opportunities, it only makes sense to invest in them first. A small team can then manage the customer data and feedback, and this can gradually grow to encompass the rest of the organization. The possibilities and opportunities for organizations to change and adapt to the social customer are endless.

There is a lot of discussion around this “social customer” and how organizations are supposed to become customer-centric; this is the ultimate form of business transformation and evolution, and the only way this can happen is through customer communities.

So Which is Best?

So which approach or community is more valuable? I will ask you the same question that I asked my online network. If you had to choose between investing in either customer communities or employee communities, which one would you invest in and why? Do you think customer or employee communities are more valuable?

Personally, I think they complement each other quite well, and at the end of the day you really need both. There is a bit of overlap between the two, and both arguments above make sense to me. But we have seen some companies invest in customer communities first, and we have seen other companies invest in employee communities first, so which approach is best?

Editor's Note: Jacob's company Chess Media is conducting a survey on Enterprise 2.0. Interested in participating? Read the details.