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The State of Enterprise Online Communities [Transcript]

Written by Joshua Paul | on July 19, 2012 at 2:10 PM

In episode #2 of our' podcast, ProCommunity, I spoke with Rachel Happe, Principal at The Community Roundtable. We discussed where organizations are in their use of both internal and external online communities to drive real business results.

The conversation also included the characteristics of organizations that benefit from a community, the evolution of online community management, and how to find the right balance between strategic planning and community management.

ProCommunity #2 Transcript: Enterprise Online Communities

Josh:Welcome to Episode 2 of ProCommunity, the show where business performance meets online community. I'm Josh Paul.

I'm very pleased to have with me today, Rachel Happe, principal at The Community Roundtable, one of my favorite places to go for online community research and advice. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel:  Thank you, Josh.  It's great to be here.  Thanks for having me.

Josh:  So Rachel, I was recently recommending The Community Roundtable to a Socious customer, and I described it one way, and then, later on I went to your website, and I found out that you not only do the one that I described, but you do about ten other things.  So, The Community Roundtable is a membership organization, it's an education organization, it's an information service.  How do you describe The Community Roundtable?

Rachel:  So, our tagline is "advancing the business of community," because what we do particularly well is understand business and understand how communities fit in to business versus online communities for fun, online communities for all sorts of other things, and the way we view ourselves is as an information services business.  Really targeted at education, training, peer connection, all the things you need to understand how communities work in a business setting. 

And, what you've probably noticed is, we started The CR Network, which is really this peer organization that average members, at director level, a person that's been charged with translating a social business strategy into an operational and execution strategy, and then hiring out the teams and the resources and acquiring the technology to go and do that. 

And that's really where we started, because, at the time, when we started three years ago, those people were very isolated. We knew a set of them, and they were learning by themselves in a very isolated setting, and oftentimes, their bosses didn't really fully understand what it was that they were doing, and so they were re-explaining themselves a lot. 

And we also felt like adoption of technology was taking off, but people weren't really thinking about the management implications of that.  And so, we also saw the need in the market to educate the market, generally, about the human aspect of what is now known as social business, but at the time was social media, primarily, or I was an early advocate of calling it "the social organization." 

And so from that base, we've developed some advisory services, we've developed on online training class with [Walma], and so we have a training class for community specialists, for community managers, and community strategists.  That's very, very helpful for just setting the contacts for the role. 

We also do executive education series; we're expanding our research services. As you know, we've done "The State of Community Management" for a number of years now, it's our annual compilation of everything we're learning with our members. 

We're going to get into more quantitative research as well, targeted at a variety of different audiences, meaning, there's everyone from the hands-on community managers and moderators all the way up to senior executives that need to understand a different slice of the community puzzle, so that they can put that in appropriate context.

Josh:  That makes sense, and . . . I love the focus of the business of online community, that, in some ways, inspired the production of this web show and podcast.  Really there's a big difference between online communities for fun and for hobby, and achieving business goals using online communities.  As The Community Roundtable has grown up, have you . . . do people get it?  Do people get that there's a business element to online communities versus social media for fun, or . . . ?

Rachel:  Absolutely.  In the core of the people that we work with, absolutely.  I think it's still unclear, all the ramifications of that, meaning that's largely what our members are working through right now, which is, "What does it mean for support?  What does it mean for marketing?  What does it mean for HR and hiring?  What does it mean . . . or what are the implications to organizational structure because of this change in the information environment?" 

Information is power and so is . . . and structure is a part of power, as well as information, and so, how do the two play together?  I think we're just seeing how that plays out, particularly in organizations that existed long before the changes in the information environment. 

We're seeing a lot more innovative models in newer organizations, which makes sense, because they're really taking advantage of some of these new mechanisms.  So, yes, and the hype around community management has certainly increased in the last three years, meaning, it's used broadly, and I think, often, kind of casually. 

And I'm not sure that everyone that uses the term really understands what it means, but for a core set of individuals, they really do understand how adding that to business structure is different.  It's not the same as an emergent community that rises up because of an interest group. 

The business is actually promoting the community, and so you have derive and give a lot more value to the community to get it off the ground.  It doesn't just rise out of the ether, typically, for most organizations.

Josh:  Right, right.  And you mention, companies are just starting to understand and articulate what it means, what community means, what customer communities and term communities mean for different parts of their business, different components. 

So let's get into a couple of those.  What do online communities do for businesses?  What are you seeing online communities do for companies?

Rachel:  So one of the oldest use cases of online communities is in the tech space for customer support.  Autodesk, SAP, IBM, some of these other . . . EMC is another example, VMware, Adobe.  They've had communities for 5 to 10 years, maybe longer.  If you look at some of the Autodesk communities, they've been doing this for a really long time. 

And the benefits are huge, because a company can never support content creation for niche use cases.  At the scale of an IBM, or an Adobe, or an SAP, you can't ever address a market of 20 people.  It's just not going to happen.  But, those 20 people can find each other and really share learnings together, and really juice that use case in that they can find other people that also would value from that application of the technology. 

So now, not only are they supporting each other, but they're advocating and building content around that niche use case that attracts other people, and so it really starts scaling how many people you can support, how deeply you can support them, and how many market segments and niches you can go after. 

So on the external side, it really changes the cost structure and the value chain of those business functions.

Josh:  All right.  I like that.  That's what we've seen for the past 10 years, it really . . . Up until recently, it was primarily support communities, user group communities, and the support and the market advocacy can be . . . have grown exponentially using a community rather than traditional, one-to-one call center or ticketing approaches.

Rachel:  And I don't think that's going to go away.  There's always the unique, "I need to deal with my account.  I need to buy a new feature.  I need to . . . ," something very specific to me and my account.  We'll always have that one-to-one, but in the more general . . . and actually, I think complexity really drives it, too. 

On the simplest consumer products, does a community really help?  Maybe.  It gives people new ideas of how to use a pen, potentially, meaning there's a Sharpie community, where there's crazy things that people have done with Sharpies.  But people don't need support around using a Sharpie.

Josh:  Right, right.  And you get into the B-to-B community versus B-to-C community.

Rachel:  Yeah, and then I feel like, on the B-to-B side, you get into really complex things, that if you're a supplier to an automotive company, or you're building big generators for the government, or what have you, and it's really custom complex work, then you're working with a team to co-build that product.  You may not find any help in a broader community because it's so specific and so complex to that one item.

Josh:  That's a good point.

Rachel:  The community's not really helpful.  So there's a middle ground there where communities are really, really useful.

Josh:  So what are some of the characteristics of an organization that may benefit from a community?  Have you been able to identify any of those?

Rachel:  Well, I would say that any company that wants to do more with less, there's an opportunity to use community.  The one caveat, and this a big caveat is you have to have a culture that's willing to give up a little control in order to get that scale.

And that's a big, hard-to-identify caveat, meaning you don't really know until you experiment with your internal culture, whether they can accept or that they can move to accept something like that, because the control culture in most organizations is very strong. 

And to really be successful at community, you have to say, "Okay, well, I'm going to let the community decide to use our product in this way or to talk about us in this way, and I'm going to be okay with the fact that they may not like everything about us."

Josh:  Do you have an approach that works for companies, or that you've seen work successfully to change that culture?

Rachel:  So, what I typically recommend, and this is a good example on the internal collaboration front.  A lot of executives don't want their employees chit-chatting on social channels, meaning sharing non-work stuff, because it looks like they're not being productive and kind of fooling around. 

However, that very unstructured, un-work related conversation really helps people get comfortable with the platform, with the dynamics, with communicating in this networked way, and that's a really important stepping stone to getting at really important work.  Because if you don't have that comfort level in the culture, around unimportant topics, you're never going to get the comfort level in the organization around important topics. 

And so, a lot of things that I try and help companies identify are things like, "Where is a non-business urgent, but slightly relevant conversation going on?" So, a lot of companies have United Way campaigns, of kind of HR campaigns around social events for employees, or what have you. 

They're somewhat business-oriented, in that they're sponsored by the organization, but they're not going to be seen as risky to participate in at the individual level.  So, supporting the United Way campaign is not going to have somebody see that and judge my work or judge my work output, which is what really keeps individuals, on the internal side, from participating is, "I don't see the benefit, and I only see the risks of exposing myself."

Josh:  I really like that idea of kind of a less mission-critical test balloon to build comfort and to show senior management that this is how it would operate, this is how it would work.

Rachel:  Yeah.  And one example, that I gave to an advisory client was, a lot of their constituent base was doing RFPs.  I said, "Well, maybe they're not comfortable discussing the RFP process yet, or collaborating on their responses yet, but can we start a conversation about, 'What music do you listen to, to get through and RFP?'" 

Because everybody knows, doing RFPs is one of the least exciting things that you can do.  So, what are the techniques that you use?  Do you get up every hour?  How do you break up doing an RFP in a way that keeps you energized and engaged and gets you through it?  That's work related, it helps with productivity, but it's not exposing anybody.

Josh:  So, I'm glad you brought up internal communities, because this is a . . .  I want to build on a conversation that you and I had at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.  What are some of the parallels and differences between employee-only internal communities and customer communities that bring customers, employees, and partners together?

Rachel:  So, there are different motivators.  Completely different motivators for participating, and there's different constraints.  So, externally, a lot of the motivation for people to participate is, they either really like the company, or they have an issue.  And both of those can be strong motivators. 

There's far fewer constraints, meaning, now that I have Twitter, I can go out and complain or say nice things about anyone, and nothing's really stopping me, and there's no real social constraint to doing that unless, of course, I have a public persona of some sort.  And when you have a public persona, you're more careful about what you share, externally. But if I'm your average consumer and I want to get an answer, there's nothing constraining me from doing that. 

Internally, all of us are bound by employment contracts, and we're bound by our jobs, and our jobs are very critical to our livelihoods and our lives, and we know that we can get fired, or reprimanded, or that our...how we participate really has implication for our companies. And so, there's a lot more sensitivity around those motivations, and a lot more constraints. 

And culture . . . I find enterprise, and organization culture, is actually a bigger barrier than economic or any other, meaning, if you look weird congratulating somebody on a new baby, internally, you're just not going to do it.  If you get the hairy eyeball from people, that's a pretty big disincentive. 

And add to that, a lot of companies have taken a very black and white approach to social media, initially, meaning they say, "Just don't do it.  We don't know what this is all about yet.  Just don't say anything about the company on social media." 

And then, at some point, they say, "Oh, this might be useful.  We're going to change our minds about that."  But you've already set the expectation with employees that engaging is risky, and so now, you're flipping your mind.  That's going to be a really hard impression to change with employees, and they're going to wonder, "Well, is this the hot new topic for 6 months, or are you really changing this permanently?  Are you committed to changing this permanently, or are you just testing things?" 

And if you're just testing things, it's still risk to participate, because you might change your mind later, and all of a sudden, I've exposed myself.  So, there's a lot of complexity going on, internally, that just doesn't exist on the open web, and the problem, really, is you need to give people permission and a lot of encouragement to participate, whereas online, you still need encouragement to participate in positive ways, but there's less friction there.

Josh:  Right, and there's less chance of it getting back to the people who you work with on a daily basis.  I work in the online community world, and I still find myself, on a daily basis saying, "No, I probably wouldn't share that on an internal online community."  Even if it's part of my job.  I'm still not completely comfortable with sharing everything with my co-workers.  There's a personal branding aspect to it.

Rachel:  It's a personal . . . you know your career's dependent on it, and the other thing that I have found . . . I used to work in management consulting, where we were producing a heck of a lot on a weekly basis for clients.  But, there was a real culture of you completed something before you asked for review, and certainly before you publish it to anybody else. 

Working out loud is working on in-process stuff and sharing in-process stuff, which is completely different than what most of us have been kind of culturally trained to do in our organization.  There are some enormous benefits, both to us and to the organization for doing that, meaning, it's a little bit the lazy man's approach, which is, you can crowd-source your own work if you do it well.

Josh:  And you're testing and validating...

Rachel:  And you're testing and validating...

Josh:  ...ideas before you get too far down the road.

Rachel:  You're getting buy-in before you publish that thing, so it's actually anticipated and read when it's done, which is huge because so many of our organizations, we replicate work like nobody's business.  And you post it to some content management system, and it sits there.  I worked with a client who deleted something like 60,000 share point sites, and no one noticed.

Josh:  Wow.

Rachel:  This is a huge, multi-national, so keep that in mind, it was a huge scale.  Anyways, but there's so much content that doesn't get used, and it's because we don't market our work internally very well, and what social tools and communities can do is help us gain buy-in and shared value from the work that we're doing, so there's huge benefit.  But it's a completely different way of working, and that takes time to get people used to that.

Josh:  Yeah. I can see working out loud and sharing work before it is production ready and ready to be sold internally is a huge shock to the system.

Rachel:  It makes everybody nervous.

Josh:  Oh, yeah.

Rachel:  Yeah.

Josh:  I want to switch gears for a second.  Talk about some of the research that you do.  You said for several years, you've been publishing the "State of Community Management Report," and you've been on several . . . you've blogged about it, you've released the report, you've been on several webinars and podcasts talking about it.  But one of the things I was wondering is, what surprised you the most about the 2012 report?

Rachel:  Because it was a compilation of what we were learning with our members, the surprise in the content wasn't . . . it wasn't surprising content, but what really surprised me was the environment in 2012 and how the social web changed.  Up to that point, there had been a lot of issues like United Breaks Guitars, or the Motrin Moms, or the Domino's cheese-up-the-nose video, a lot of these individual incidents that caused a huge uproar online. 

What changed in 2012 was communities were recognizing and inserting their power online to make fundamental changes to organizations.  So, the Arab Spring is part of that.  That was major leadership change, if you recall, in a couple of different countries. 

The Susan G Komen Foundation, they didn't have an online community, they didn't test their policy change with their constituent base.  They made a policy change that outraged people.  Two senior leaders left as a result of that. 

The Bank of America policy change about ATM fees, that one person set off a community revolt around that.  It changed their policy.  So when I look at 2012, I see communities understanding and using the power that they have, and that's a really interesting change for companies, because you can crisis-manage an issue with a customer.  You can do it badly, but if you do it well, that's one discreet issue. 

If you've got people that are upset about your policies . . . SOPA/PIPA is another example of that, at the government level.  Now, what the general population is saying, you, as an organization, really don't have control anymore.  Whether you think you do or not, or whether you're participating in social media or not, whether you have online communities or not, we can assert our strength, by ourselves, without your participation at all. 

And I think all of those organizations would have benefited from an online community strategy as a risk mitigation strategy, meaning, if they had tested all of these changes with a community of 1000 people, they would have understood pretty quickly what the bigger reaction might have been, and at the very least, they would have been prepared for that. 

Their decision may not have changed, but they would have been prepared from a messaging and a positioning perspective on, "Why we're doing this, and what the implications are, and, if you have an issue, here is the path to have the conversation."

Josh:  I think that testing element is a big takeaway.  You have a product strategy background and any company, or organization, or government agency can really benefit from testing and validating.  It doesn't have to be a large crowd. 

I mean, look at Netflix last summer.  If they had an online community that they were able to test their changes with, they would've saved themselves a lot of profit loss.

Rachel:  Right.  And the other thing that that does is, if you really have relationships with that community, you're also building advocates.  So now you have 1000 people who can also help respond to some of the issues in their little niche of the web, and so that gives you a lot more scale when you're trying to manage a change.

Josh:  Absolutely.

Rachel:  I'm not saying you don't change, but there's a way to manage that in a better way.

Josh:  You're completely right about that.  And so, with the state of online community management, have you . . . You've been doing it for a number of years.  Have you seen . . . or in what ways have you seen the attitudes of executives...non-community practitioning executives, just run-of-the-mill executives, I guess.  How have you seen their attitudes change towards online communities and customer communities?

Rachel:  So, what's really changed is that, I think social tools and methodologies, including community approaches, are really front and center now.  Nobody...I don't hear a lot of, "This is a fad," anymore, and I think executives are seeing their peers and other organizations be very successful.  There's enough case studies out there where, I think, interest and intrigue is peaked. 

What I think is still lacking is connecting the strategic dots down to the operational, "Okay.  If this is what you want to do, this is how you should approach the problem.  This is what you need to do organizationally to really be successful here." 

And actually, one of the things we're planning to do at The Community Roundtable over the next 12 months is roll out a couple of new research platforms and transition the "State of Community Management Report" into a more quantitative-based, longitudinal study of what's going on, because we feel like the market has matured. 

We've been doing qualitative analysis for a number of years, and now we feel like there are some patterns and practices that all good social businesses kind of deploy in the process. 

And that's largely what a lot of the 2012 report was about, was saying, "This is what companies do at each stage of maturity.  These are the typical initiatives they undertake, this is what moves them into the next stage, and this is typically what the patterns of management are at each of these stages." 

So we know that now, and now we can start collecting data on top of that and say, "Okay.  How many companies are doing each of these things?  And how fast, really does a company mature through this stage?"  We have a lot of anecdotal data, but we need to transition that into actual data.

Josh:  That's really exciting that those are coming down the pike.  So let's talk about the way that communities mature and the life cycle.  You did a webinar with Socious in January, where you and the director of the VMware user group kind of went through your online community maturity model, and you talked about the principles behind it, and he talked about what it looked like in action.  And you have one of the most widely-accepted online community maturity models. 

Can you talk about what, exactly, that is and how it came about?

Rachel:  Well, it came about because I have a background in new product development management, and there's a lot of similar dynamics around management decision-making, in that, in new product development, you're making huge investment bets far ahead of the results that you're going to get. 

And so, you really need to take a portfolio management approach, and there's a lot of risk involved, and you need to understand the boundaries of that risk.  You need to understand what you know and what you don't know, and you need to be open to some of that failing. 

That's very similar in the social environment in that, unlike other process changes, you don't get immediate results when you decide to do a social strategy.  You need to build that community, you need to build the network, and that takes a lot of investment. 

And community management is really, I view it as, a portfolio of hundreds of tools, and the community manager picks the right tools for the right contacts at any particular time, and a tool that is not right to use early on may be great to use later.  It's still a lot of this mix of art and science of figuring out what that portfolio mix of tools is to apply to a community approach to get long-term results. 

And so the decision-making is very similar, and when I did new product development management, we used the capability/maturity model concept and had a new product development maturity model, and I took that concept and said, "It's very similar here." Which is, you have the same dynamic around management decision-making. 

You need to make sure you have all these competencies lined up, and you can't jump to a productive community from a completely hierarchical structure.  There is a pathway to get there.  You need to work on your leadership, you need to work on your strategy, you need to work on your culture, you need to work on your toolsets, you need to work on this community management discipline, internally, so people know how to manage in this new way, because it's not hierarchical management. 

You can't tell people in opt-in environments what to do.  You can encourage them to do things, you can discourage them from doing things, you can kick them out if they're really misbehaving, but you cannot tell them what to do.  So, how do you get people to do something through encouragement?  Carrots and sticks. 

And there's policies, and guidelines, and a governance model that needs to adapt to this, because if there's all these opt-in communities around your organization, how do you stay synced between all those different communities so that your engagement strategy and your corporate voice is the same and consistent? 

So, that's really where that model came from, and what I think is powerful about the model is, it's specific enough that it gives you a roadmap and says, "Okay, here are all the things I should be thinking about and focused on."  But it's not so specific that it only applies to you. 

So, one of things we use it for at The Community Roundtable is to help translate between one context and the other and say, maybe our community team from Aetna is giving a case study about what they're doing on internal communities.  They're talking about strategy, they're talking about leadership, they're talking about culture, they're talking about tools. 

That model really helps translate for some of our association members or members who are in technology or some other vertical, to say, "Okay.  This may be similar about my context, and this is different, but this is where that idea fits in this model."

Josh:  I like it as looking at a Rosetta Stone of community management from company to company, because every company is different, and the organizations that we work with, that do follow that model, follow your maturity model, find it immensely helpful.

Rachel:  Well, that's good to hear.

Josh:  One of the things that . . . You show it to somebody, and their immediate reaction is, "Wow, I didn't realize so much goes into building a thriving community."  And, how do organizations find the right balance between all the strategic planning that goes into social business and community management, both up-front and on an ongoing basis?

Rachel:  That's an interesting question, because we've seen companies taking very different approaches there, which is, some companies do all the strategy up front and then back fill everything else, and some companies take a very experimental approach, where they are off doing a lot of things, and then they back into strategy and say, "Okay, now we need to reconcile all the things that we're working on." 

And that, the second, is actually more common in really large organizations, because all these different functional groups decide that they're going to use Twitter for this, or have an internal network for that, and they you get 1000 flowers that have bloomed, which is actually good, because it's good learning for the organization. 

But at some point, you want a consistent voice or a consistent approach to all of this.

Josh:  You're always so positive.  Organizations . . . 20 different departments, 20 different Twitter accounts, and it's a big mess, and you say, "Well, it's a good opportunity to learn."  I always appreciate positivity.

Rachel:  Well, the challenge with doing strategy up front is, every community, and every organization, and every ecosystem is different.  So you're going to have to experiment somewhere in there.  Because otherwise, you're not going to know what's going to work.  So you can have a strategy, and it can be very wrapped up in a bow, and you go in and implement it, and your ecosystem just doesn't want what you're selling.

Josh:  You are the chief maker of lemonade out of lemons in the community management world.

Rachel:  There's . . . I just don't think that there is any way to get to a mature community and not have some experimentation in there.  And actually, to be honest, I find that one of the biggest places where companies fall down is, they don't allow for that experimentation, because they see this as process change versus . . .

In technology organizations, when I was in product development, there was always a labs group.  There was a pure research group where all they were doing was experimenting with stuff, and the point wasn't to be commercially viable, it was to see what happened.

Josh:  Right.

Rachel:  We absolutely need to go through that process when we build communities, and most companies don't realize that because they see this as changing marketing processes, or changing support processes, and, "Okay, well I change it and, boom, things should work the new way now."  And you think . . . That's not the way it works in this particular discipline.

Josh:  I can tell that comes from your product background as well.  You want to fail fast and learn from that.

Rachel:  Fail small.

Josh:  Yes.

Rachel:  So many companies go out, and they say, "I'm inviting my entire customer ecosystem into the community in 4 weeks.  We have to have the technology ready, and we have to have content in there."  And you say, "You're inviting your entire customer race into the community, and you don't understand the dynamics yet?  You're insane!"

Josh:  Yeah, that's a tough conversation to have.

Rachel:  What's going to happen is, they're going to think of it as a content website.  They're going to read all the content, and they're going to say, "What?"  Because communities are really about relationships, and relationships take time to develop, so invite a small group in there, get the behavior change you want to see, and then start growing the community.  Anyways, that's probably a longer topic of conversation.

Josh:  So let's talk about community management, that's...  A lot of your members are practitioners of community management.  How have you seen community management change since you founded The Community Roundtable?

Rachel:  When we started, community management was very niche.  Somebody in the support group, somebody in the market group, kind of a very small team, often one person was in charge of it.  Community management was also seen very much as a role, and we saw things differently. 

We said, "Yes, it's a role, and it will always be a role.  We'll always need that [ohms bud] person who's the central key between the community and the corporation and facilitating that and negotiating that power difference."  However, as companies move into social business, it's a discipline of general management, because everyone's going to be online eventually. 

And so you're going to need to know how to facilitate those conversations in a way you don't have control you over.  And so, not only could every executive benefit from understanding community management and it's discipline so too could every line functional manager out there.

Because what happens is, if you do community management well as a functional manager, you manage in a way that commands and inspires people instead of controls them.  And what happens then is, everybody wants to be on your team.  You get more power for yourself by giving power to others and enabling others to do work that they're passionate about.  And that's a really, really powerful thing to do.

I think, one of my lessons around community has really been that financial incentives, everyone needs them.  Everybody needs their compensation, but people will actually give away financial incentives if they get connection, and purpose, and meaning, and mastery of things. 

And so, as an organization, you can be more financially productive by imbuing your organization with meaning and purpose and connection, and dare I say, love.  All of those terms make organizations so nervous.

Josh:  Oh, I bet.

Rachel:  That's not something we're . . . that is not a currency most organizations are comfortable in exchanging.

Josh:  It's very fuzzy and fluffy and hard to quantify and . . . I . . .When you . . .

Rachel:  It's fuzzy, but it has hard financial returns if you do it well.

Josh:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  You work with a lot of larger organizations...  As you've been talking about the importance of community and the issues you run into, I think back . . . I worked for a large fortune 200 financial institution for several years, and it was earlier in my career, so I was at a lower level.  I would have gladly forgone some monetary incentives, monetary compensation, for some company love.

Rachel:  Yeah.  And there's so many people out there.  There was a study last year that said something like 74% of employees would switch jobs if they found a better opportunity.  That's problematic.

Josh:  Yeah.  And it's not all compensation-based, monetary compensation-based.

Rachel:  Well, that's kind of my point.  I think most people are probably okay with their monetary compensation.  That's not why they're ready to jump board, it's because they're miserable.

Josh:  That's a really good point, it is.  Are there any common mistakes that companies can avoid up front, or throughout the process when it comes to community management?  You've been doing this for quite a long time, so are there common mistakes that you see the companies make that, if they knew about them by watching this webshow or listening to this podcast, that you'd save them some heartache?

Rachel:  I think we've referenced the two biggest ones.  One is the complexity of it.  Again, part of the reason we originally built the community maturity model was just to make people aware of all the different pieces that go into this.  It's not sending an intern out to tweet. In fact, that's a very risky, risky thing to just go do. 

And secondly, setting the right expectations about the investment period and the return period, and what is required on the investment side to get the return is really critical, because communities need space to thrive, and they get a lot of pressure too soon to show results. 

They're not given the chance to be successful, and I will often say communities look like a . . . Every community, even the most successful communities look like a failure before they look like a success, and if you don't have your time horizon set appropriately, you're going to look at that community and say it's a failure even though behavior change is happening, which is the hallmark of a successful early community, is they're getting behavior change to happen. 

Not at scale yet, but they're figuring out how to change the dynamics of the sales process, the marketing process, the support process, the internal collaboration process, whatever it is.  So, that's really, really important, and I don't think that's well understood, even today, even with all the work that's gone on in the space, I don't think that's well understood today.

Josh:  I think that's invaluable, and it's one of the things that I love about The Community Roundtable is it does take a very real approach and give people the straight story, beyond the marketing and the blog posts and beyond everything that you see out there.  You'll sit down with someone who says, "This takes time, this takes resources, this takes dedication, and however long you think it's going to take for your community to look like a picture perfect, successful community, double that or triple that."  [Just outside of] their expectations.

Rachel:  See, that's where I say, "I don't know."  And that's part of the reason why we're moving into quantitative benchmarking, so that we can take a use case or a functional area and say, "You know what, for customer communities in this vertical, this is the typical growth path that we see across the industry." 

So you can start plotting that out and start saying, "Okay, what is the time frame that I should really be allocating for this?"  Because that's one of the things we don't...the industry does not have good quantitative information about yet.

Josh:  That's going to be great data.  People are thirsty for that.

Rachel:  Yes, and we're looking for sponsors and partners on that, so I'm just going to add that . . .

Josh:  Perfect.

Rachel:  . . . because that's one of our goals towards the end of this year, is to start working with more partners on that research as well.

Josh:  Outstanding.  Well, I have one more question for you, and this kind of brings us back, full circle, to The Community Roundtable and what you provide, and that is, why is it important for community managers to learn from one another?

Rachel:  If I had to pinpoint one thing, it's because it's more of an art than a science right now, and the things that senior community managers know, who have been doing it a while, are typically locked up in their heads.  And the only way you get that out is by talking to each other and sharing stories and unstructured information. 

Because this is such an innovative space, all of that information is tacit, and one of our goals, at The Community Roundtable, is making it less tacit, making it explicit knowledge.  But, if you really want to understand it, that's why we have a peer network, so that you can share those stories directly, so that you can ask the questions. 

Often, the most experienced people in this space don't know what they know, and so they need to be asked the question, "Well, how did you do that and why did you do that?"  And you get their answers, and you say, "Oh, well that makes a lot of sense," and they learned that the hard way.  But that's really important context to understand as a newer community manager.

Josh:  I encourage everybody I talk to go check out The Community Roundtable, because it is . . .

Rachel:  We very much appreciate that.

Josh:  That peer-to-peer sharing is really important, especially since so much of the...the best of the best are not . . . It is locked up in their heads.

Rachel:  And a big piece of our community is actually getting people on the phone to talk to each other.  It's not the online piece, because there's something that is very powerful about that direct conversational interaction that you don't get online. 

We share a lot online, and we actually record and transcribe all our conversations so that we are starting to document that knowledge, and that's what the State of Community Management is, is a compilation of all that documented knowledge.  But, the space is evolving very quickly, so it's hard to keep up, even for us.

Josh:  And the social business professionals I talk to say those conference calls are really one of the must-attend events of their week.

Rachel:  Well, great.  I'm glad to hear that.

Josh:  Well Rachel, I want to thank you very much for your insight today.  I hope we can do this again sometime.

Rachel:  Thank you so much for having me, Joe.

Josh:  And before we go, can you tell people where they can find you on the web?

Rachel:  Yeah.  My most constant chatter stream is on Twitter, and I'm @rhappe on Twitter.

Josh:  Perfect. Rachel, I want to thank you once again.  And have a great day.

Rachel:  You, too.  Take care.

Tips for developing a great online customer community strategy.

Topics: Customer Communities, B2B Communities, Online Community Software, Online Community

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