Over the last month, I've outlined 25 common pitfalls that organizations can identify upfront in the planning process to avoid a failed online customer or member community. The areas we looked at were:
In this final post of the series, I'll cover the ways that your social business platform plays a role in whether your private online community thrives or dies an embarrassing, brand-damaging death.
Category 4: Technology Reasons Why Online Communities Fail
#26) You Offer Too Much Functionality Too Soon
Offering your customers or members the kitchen sink sounds good, but the "look at everything you've given you" model loses its shine when adoption and engagement wane. Start with the online community features that will be most helpful to your constituents. Build trust, value, and internal processes to support those features. Then, you can roll out additional functionality to your customers over time.
#27) Your Social Community Functionality is Not Broad Enough to Provide Value
While rolling out your social community platform out in phases makes sense to help your customers or members understand the support, tools, and collaboration available to them, it is important to pick an online community platform that has enough features to keep your target audience engaged.
#28) Your Member-Centric Features Are Not Deep Enough to Provide Value
If your organization has complexity in its product portfolio, programs, internal structure, or regional components (e.g. chapters for associations), basic private social networks can lead to chaos and customers not being able to find the answers they need. Add different types of customers (executive vs. field specialist) and 3-4 generations in the workforce, and you have a challenge to plan an online customer community that helps your diverse audience become more successful with your products and services.
If this could be your organization, make sure your online community technology includes robust security and segmentation to create communities or groups for specific audiences. It should also engage your customers or members on their terms – online, via email (listservs), and on mobile devices.
#29) Your Online Community Platform Does Not Provide Enough Analytics Data
To your company, the business intelligence about your customers or members is one of the most valuable aspects oF your online community. As you select your technology platform, make sure that it captures, slices and dices, and can output (in a usable format) demographic, transactional, and behavioral data about your members or customers.
#30) Your Social Community Does Not Retain Its Usability as the Community and Functionality Expand
As your organization and online community grow and markets change, so will the collaboration, support, and product needs of your customers or members. In #26, you learned about rolling out your enterprise online community features in phases. However, as new features are introduced, make it a high priority through internal and external user testing to make sure your customer community is still as easy to join, participate in, and find information as possible.
#31) Limited or No Integration with Your CRM or Central Membership Database
Social business technology that brings together customers, employees and partners dramatically increases its value to an organization if it fits into existing business systems and processes. For most of the organization that we work with, their online community software is not their system of record for customer and member information.
These companies and nonprofit membership organizations have a backend database, like a CRM or association management system, that is the hub for all of their customer data. Each department relies on data from that system to serve their target market.
If your online community software does not integrate with your CRM system, you are missing an opportunity to feed customer data to your customer-facing social community for security settings, pre-population, and single sign-on. You are also losing the tangible value that comes with sending behavioral data back to your CRM system to build out customer profiles, give your organization a full view or each member or customer segment, and identify disengaged or at risk customer.
#32) Your Social Platform is Not Customizable Enough to Fit Customers' Needs, Your Community Strategy, and Future Phases
In the emerging social business arena, flexibility is king and one-size-fits all tools are fading fast. Here are just some of the scenarios that B2B customer community platforms need to accommodate:
- Users: customers (at all pay grades), employees, partners, suppliers, vendors, etc.
- Segmentation: product segment, geographic location, customer type, advisory groups, levels of membership, etc.
- Industries: healthcare, finance, technology & software, etc.
- Types of Organization: for-profit, associations, software user groups, nonprofit, government, etc.
As you can see, an enterprise online community must have a certain level of customizable to account for differences in goals, audiences, and organization.
#33) Your Organization Creates Customer Confusion by Maintaining Too Many Separate Systems That Don't Talk To One Another
One of the biggest problems we hear from large associations and corporations are they have too many systems that they need to maintain. In addition, they must get these systems to talk to each other and share data in an environment of evolving requirements.
Many organizations avoid this pitfall by selecting a technology platform that combines enterprise level functionality to replace and consolidate existing systems. This also helps sell the initiative internally since it ends up saving the organization money. For instance, many of the companies and associations that we work with reduce their customer email marketing, survey tools, and event management system costs since those features are now built into their online community platform.
Thanks for sticking with me from the beginning of this series of why private online communities fail and how to avoid the same fate. If you have lessons from your experience with any other technology pitfalls, please add them in the comments below.