This post is the second half of the article on the 9 primary community management-related reasons that private online customer or member communities fail. The purpose of this series is to help marketers, membership managers, and other social business professional to learn how to create sustainable successful online communities by looking at the reasons why online communities don't make it and how to avoid the same fate.
These are not best practices for in-the-trenches online community management. This list outlines the strategic, organization-wide community management decisions that can play a big part in whether an online community thrives or fails.
Online community metrics are your community management street signs. Great online community managers are not magical creatures born with an innate connection to a community. They are personable, empathetic people who understand how to read online community analytics so that they can address individual or small group concerns while successfully steering the entire online community toward sustainable growth.
Ignoring your online community analytics can leads to alienated customer segments, as well as a shortage of information that your target customers find valuable. Here is a good starting point for understanding online customer community metrics from Vanessa DiMauro at Leader Networks. Staying on top of the metrics from day one can help you avoid having to work 10 times as hard to get customers or members to re-engage your community after losing interest, being alienated, or not seeing the value for them.
Though most online community platforms are mature enough to have developed into usably social platforms, this enterprise software must combine the complexity of your products, the needs of customers, and the customer engagement requirements of your marketing, support, and product teams.
In the same way that you provide an online customer community to help your customers get the most out of their relationship with your organization, you must provide upfront, as well as ongoing training, to members on your private online community to help them get the most out of the community. Webinars, content posts in the community, and live training all help your members or customers stay active in your online community and become more successful with your products and services.
It is not enough for only community managers to know how to operate your online community software. Enterprise online community platforms span across multiple departments within an organization. They often touch customer care, marketing, sales, and product management professionals. The functionality ranges from traditional online community features such as online groups and discussion forums to event management, customer marketing, and product features prioritization tools. Make sure key members of all relevant departments are trained on your online community software and fully understand where their effort fits into monitoring and managing the community.
Engaging customers or members in an online community takes time. Assume that the planning, in-the-trenches decision making, and tactical execution to launch and manage an active private online community successfully take more time than your think it does. This is a big problem with smaller organizations where the staff and budget are already stretched thin.
The best advice in avoiding this pitfall is to seriously think about whether you should launch an online community for your customers or members now, or wait until your budget and resources have more flexibility to give you the time needed to maintain a successful private online community. The wait will be worth it in the long term if you avoid a very public and brand-damaging misstep in the short term.
By now almost everyone involved in building and growing online communities is familiar with the Field of Dreams scenario (see #17) – believing that "If you build it, they will come." This pertains to the need for adding original content and engaging members in your online community, rather than putting up a platform and waiting for the peer-to-peer interactions and ideas sharing to catch fire (this does not work).
However, you need to take it one step further. Develop a promotional strategy for you online community to market that content through email and social channels to make people aware of your helpful information and establish your private online community as a valuable resource. It is important to promote new content to those customers or members who are active in your private online community as well as customers, prospects, and other stakeholders on public social networks to drive customers into your community. This will get prospects and other stakeholder curious about what they are missing.
We have discussed the strategic, organizational, and community management-related decisions that can impact the success or failure of your private customer and member community. As you have seen with the first three parts of this series, technology and your online community platform only make up part of your private social network's success. However, once you get the right strategy in place, your organization's management in alignment, and your online community management plan developed, the role technology plays becomes critical.
In the final chapter of this series on why online communities fail, I cover the primary technology-related reasons online customer and member communities fail. In the comments below, feel free to add to the list above or discuss your experience with how your online community platform has helped your organization succeed or contributed to a failed online community.