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How to Sell Your Online Community Strategy to Your Boss: A Proven Framework

Written by Joshua Paul | on February 17, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Online Community Software Platform: Convincing Your Boss and Getting Buy-In

Even though online communities have proven to be an effective strategy for many businesses, you can't expect everyone in your organization to fully understand the potential right out of the gate. Whenever you're proposing an emerging strategy, such as bringing your customers, partners, and employees together into an online customer community, you have to work a little bit harder to convince others of the value - even if, to you, it seems quite obvious.

Still, you know the advantages that customer collaboration and gathering deeper insight from your customer base can have for your company and you're willing to do whatever it takes to convince your boss. Since you may be facing a large degree of skepticism and competing priorities, it's important to go into your pitch with a well thought out strategy.

If you're prepared to anticipate concerns before they arise, your presentation will instill much more confidence, rather than create questions and doubt. At Socious, we see a lot of success when people start by following these five steps.

5 Steps to Convince Your Boss to Invest in an Online Community Software Platform

Step #1: Clearly Communicate the Benefits

It's one thing to say that launching an online community will benefit your organization, but it's far more convincing to show those benefits using actual data.

Now, since you haven't created your community yet, you don't have specific data to use, but you can show models of the results your business can expect based on sensible assumptions, as your would with any business plan.

Demonstrate how your online community strategy will help increase sales, lower support costs, or assist in product management. Try to avoid speaking in abstract terms and be as specific as possible.

However, depending on the size and scope of your organization, you want to be careful not to go too broad in your explanation of benefits. Discussing how sales, marketing, product development, customer support, and public relations will all leverage your customer community can be a lot for executives to internalize. Instead, begin by focusing on one or two key business areas. This way, you can make sure those main benefits are clearly communicated and supported as you move forward with your plans.

Step #2: Be Realistic About the Cost

When it comes to the cost of creating a private online community, transparency is the best approach from the start. If your boss feels like your explanation of costs is misleading, he or she won't be willing to place their trust in your plan. Or, say they do buy-in to your pitch only to find out you significantly underestimated your cost analysis. If that happens, they'll be far more likely to pull the plug on your online community than to allocate your funding.

Being upfront and realistic about the cost of planning, launching, and maintaining an active online community helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page throughout the entire lifecycle of your online community.

In addition to the upfront cost of your online community platform, you also need to budget for, and explain, the ongoing management costs of running your community. For instance, will someone already working for your organization be acting as community manager, or will you be hiring someone new? Maybe you plan to outsource to a community management firm – that's great, just make sure it's in your budget from the beginning.

Think about the set-up costs and design costs that you need to budget in. For instance, do you have a web designer on staff, will you bring in an outside designer, or will your online community software company do the design for you? It's also important to think about costs that might come up in the future. Consider budgeting in a refresh every year or so as your brand changes.

While there are several cost categories to consider, it's important that you're presenting realistic expectations to your senior management, with estimates that are as accurate as possible.

Step #3: Have a Logistical Plan

This step demonstrates that you've thought about the nitty-gritty details. When attempting to sell your boss on the idea of an online community, it's best to make your plans as clear and specific as possible. Break your plans down into two main parts: the initial planning and implementation and ongoing management.

Start with the logistics of how your online community will be designed and implemented.

  • Who will be overseeing the set-up?
  • What tasks need to be accomplished before you can launch?
  • How do you plan to source members and how do you plan to convince them to participate?
  • How will you seek out the right kinds of members that will engage with your community, rather than remain "lurkers"?

Next, explain your plans for how the community will grow and how much time it will take to become an active and engaged space. Discuss the processes you'll put in place and who will be responsible for each aspect.

While many organizations focus on the strategy and selecting the right online community platform, it is often how you lay out logistics of bringing your plan to fruition that determines if you get executive buy-in. Showing your boss that you've thought about the specific details can be the difference-maker in pushing your online community strategy ahead of your company's other priorities.

Step #4: Don't Avoid Discussing the Risks

Part of successfully proposing your online community strategy is acknowledging the risks involved. This shows that you aren't just thinking about the positive aspects of a community strategy, but have carefully considered the challenges involved and problems that can occur.

For instance, how will you keep your company and member information secure? What will the permissions model be for different types of community members (TIP: start by thinking customers vs prospects vs partners vs employees, then get into different product types, geographies, and interest groups)? While you might not need to go into specifics on the technical side of things, you do want to demonstrate that security won't be an issue.

Beyond access and security hurdles, you should acknowledge the risk of low internal adoption of your online community. How will you get internal buy-in and participation from departments inside your company?

Lay out a plan to mitigate that risk that shows a clear understanding of the problem, implications, and a clear path to resolution.

Step #5: Set Clear Expectations

As we've noted before, the term, "online community," elicits a mixed bag of meanings across the business community. At the beginning of the online community planning process, it is common that one executive envisions one thing while others envision something else. The first lesson in setting expectations appropriately is to make sure everyone understands what a private online customer or member community is.

Secondly, in your exuberance over a new technology or new way to engage customers, don't make promises you can't keep. Make it clear to the senior management team how and when they can expect results and what kind of results they can expect. You don't want them to get restless after three months, if in reality, it will take nine months to see business-level results, so be as realistic as possible about the estimates.

However, not everything needs to be centered on a long-game plan. Try to highlight a quick win or two that you'll be able to point to early on in the process as a success. A short-term goal that will show results sooner can help keep morale up and senior management focused.

Online Community Software Takeaway

When something seems like such a clear "win" to you, it can be a challenge to explain the potential to someone else in a way that gets them as excited as you are.

However, since community building online is such an emerging business strategy, it's important to walk your boss and the senior management at your company through the points of your plan as clearly as possible.

By carefully explaining logistics and managing expectations for cost and results, you can help quell their hesitation and allow them to see the true value that you've understood all along.

Tips for developing a great online customer community strategy.

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

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