Tag Archive for 'corporate communities'

Companies and Communities: Participating without being sleazy (an eBook)

Many of you have heard me mention the elusive eBook that I’ve been working on for many, many months. Well, I finally kicked it into high gear this week to finish it!

Companies and CommunitiesCompanies and Communities is focused on helping your company get real business value out of participating in online communities and social media. This 80 page eBook contains practical advice and suggestions for how companies can engage with online communities and social media sites. It is available as a PDF download for $19.99.

The eBook includes:

  • Guiding Principles
  • Blogs and Blogging
  • Twitter
  • Social Networks (Facebook and MySpace)
  • Custom Corporate Communities
  • Community Management
  • and more

If you want a glimpse before you purchase, you can download an eighteen page excerpt, which contains the full table of contents and a few select sections from the 80 page eBook.

Web Technology: Impact on Social Media and Community

In a recent Wired News Article, 6 New Web Technologies of 2008 You Need to Use Now, Michael Calore talks about several web technologies that are already important for social media and online communities, but will continue to be increasingly important in 2009.

Identity Management. With all of the buzz behind OpenID, Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect in 2008, will we finally be able to better integrate our profile data, friend lists, and other identity data to be able to better manage our information in 2009? While the big social networks have already been looking at ways to implement these technologies, smaller and niche social networks and communities (including corporate communties) will need to start thinking about them in 2009. How will you make it easier for your members to join a community while bringing any appropriate identity information along with them?

Lifestreaming. Most of us have accounts on dozens of different sites, so services like FriendFeed have been popping up to help pull our updates and those of our friends into a single stream where they can be more easily consumed. Does your niche social network or corporate community have an rss feed of each member’s activity and have you encouraged them to add this feed to their FriendFeed account?

Location Awareness. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about interesting ways to use location information as a part of my work with Shizzow. For me, location awareness is all about merging our online identities with real world interactions with real people. While it might be interesting to know that a friend of mine is visiting some exotic far away city, I am more interested in being able to find friends right now to get together for coworking, tea, or a couple of drinks at happy hour. How can you use location information to help your community members get together in the real world for meetups?

I hope this provides a little food for thought as you think about your social media and online community plans for 2009.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Maintaining a Successful Corporate Community

Apparently, this is corporate community week on the Fast Wonder Blog. I decided to follow up my post on Monday about Custom Corporate Communities: Planning and Getting Started with this post containing tips about what to do and what to avoid doing if you want to have a successful corporate community. While some of these tips are specific to corporate communities, most of them also apply to other types of communities as well.

The are many ways for a company to encourage or discourage participation in their community just by the way employees behave in the community, the way the community is facilitated, and how the infrastructure is maintained. There are a few things you can do to help ensure that the community successful, while other activities are likely to drive the community away. This post will cover both the do’s and don’ts along with some tips for maintaining a successful community.

What makes a community work

Being open and transparent. Being as open and transparent as possible will improve trust within the community. It often helps to explain the “why” behind some of your decisions to avoid being seen as closed or defensive. In general people are more understanding, especially about difficult topics if you can explain why the company responds in a certain way.

A company who listens (to good and bad). It is easy to listen and respond when people say nice things about you or your company, but you should also be responding when people complain or provide negative feedback. The key is to respond constructively with something helpful: a suggestion, information about upcoming changes, or just a simple thank you.

Actively engaged in the community. The company should not dominate the community, but they should be actively participating by creating new content, responding to feedback, and in general being visible in the community.

Encouraging new members. Whenever possible, welcome new members of the community, especially if they are particularly actively in the community.

Making it easy for people to participate. Reduce the barriers to entry for people to participate and make it as easy as possible to join the community. Allowing people to view content before joining and a simple sign-up form with very few required fields can go a long way toward reducing the barriers to participation.

Integration into other relevant areas of the site. In most cases, it is simple to pull information from your community into static areas of your website. This makes your static website seem less static, and it drives more people to your community when they see a piece of content that they are interested in reading. For example, if you have a static page describing your efforts in sustainability, you could pull the 5 most recent blog posts or discussions from the sustainability section of your community into a sidebar on the static page.

What to avoid

Community is lip service. People can tell when a company creates a community to give the appearance of listening, while not really considering it a serious endeavor. If you aren’t serious about engaging with your community, then you might be better off not spending the effort to create one.

Pushing marketing messages. When pushing marketing messages out to the community members takes precedence over 2-way conversations and collaboration, you will start to see your community disappear. A community is about conversations between people, and you can talk about your products, but it should be done in a relevant and conversational tone, instead of sounding like a pitch or advertisement.

Deleting the negative. You should be responding to criticism, not deleting it. Again, communities are about conversation. If people feel like you are putting duct tape over their mouths when they express anything negative about the company, these people will simply leave their negative comments somewhere else on the internet where it is likely more people will see the criticism and not hear your side of the story.

Barriers to collaboration. Community software, configuration, or policies can often create barriers to collaboration. Configure the software to make it easy for people to find content and sign up for the community. Your policies should create guidelines for use that help keep the community healthy without being so heavy handed that people aren’t interested in participating. Flickr’s community guidelines are a good example of how to write guidelines that are simple and even fun to read.

Neglected communities. Nobody wants to participate in a corporate community where no one in the company monitors or responds to questions or feedback. There are too many of these floating around the internet, so make sure that you have the resources to give your community care and feeding over the life of the community.

Dealing with the difficult

Every community has its fair share of difficulties. While you can never anticipate every difficult experience, many of them seem to fall into one of these four categories.

Negative Comments. As I mentioned earlier, do not delete negative feedback or negative comments. I generally hold off before responding to the negative feedback to see if other non-employee community members come to my rescue first. If not, you’ll need to respond constructively and honestly with as much information as you are able to provide, and you need to respond without getting defensive.

Spammers. Spammers are a huge, painful thorn in a community manager’s side. You should put aggressive, automated measures in place to deal with spam; however, also be prepared for them to find ways around your spam filters. Spammers are a creative group, and they will find ways to spam your community that you never thought was possible. Deal with the spam as quickly and completely as possible.

Pain in the ass. There are always those people who are just a pain. They complain that your documentation has a typo, you don’t file bugs quickly enough, or anything else that isn’t getting done to their exacting standards. In many cases, these are people who really do want to make things better. My advice in this case may sound counter-intuitive, but you should put them to work if possible and reward their efforts. If they complain about the documentation, see if you can convince them to re-write a section. If that works, you might find other ways to put them to work to channel that energy into fixing instead of complaining.

Don’t feed the trolls. These are the people who complain and act out because they want attention. They will take up as much of your time as you give them in pointless arguments and distractions. It can be difficult for many people not to take the bait. Ignore them and resist the urge to give them the attention they crave. If they don’t find someone to argue with, they will generally move on to another community where they can make trouble.

No community is perfect

You need to keep in mind that no community will ever be perfect: things will go wrong; your community software will have bugs; and people will get defensive or irate. In addition to the internal factors in the community, there are external influences that can creep into the community. Companies have PR nightmares that drive people into the community in droves to complain, but in great communities, the company responds effectively, addresses the issue, and works to resolve it quickly. When you have one of these crisis situations, keep the focus on summarizing and fixing, instead of blaming and justifying. Maintain open communication channels and deal with these imperfections and issues as quickly and openly as possible.

What are your favorite tips to help companies have great communities?

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Custom Corporate Communities: Planning and Getting Started

Corporate communities refer to any custom community created by an organization for the purpose of engaging with customers or other people who may be interested in the organization’s products and services. For the purpose of this post, custom corporate communities include communities created by corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and similar organizations. These corporate communities can take many different forms: support communities, developer communities to help developers work with your products, customer and enthusiast communities, and many others.

Before jumping in to create a new community, you should think carefully about the purpose of this new community including your goals and objectives, fitting your community efforts into your organization’s overall strategy, measuring success, and committing the resources required to make your community flourish.

Here are a few questions that can help you think through the process of planning for your new community:

What is your overall strategy and how does the community fit with it?

If your custom corporate community does not support the overall strategies of the organization, I give it about a 5% chance of being successful. Creating a new community can be a very large project with quite a bit of upfront work to create the community along with a large effort over the life of the community to manage and maintain it. If this time and effort is spent in support of the overall corporate strategy, then it will be much easier to justify keeping the community during the next planning cycle for your organization. On the other hand, when a community is built to support goals that are not clearly aligned with the overall strategy, people will look at it as a big expense that can be cut, and your community will die a quick death if you are lucky or a horrible slow death by neglect if you aren’t quite as fortunate.

Spend the time now to make sure that you can find a way to structure your community plans to support the overall strategy of your organization. If you can’t find a good way to align your plans with the strategy, you should think twice about whether a corporate community is an appropriate solution for you right now.

What do you hope to accomplish and what are your goals for the community?

Think very carefully about why you are creating a new community for your organization. Spend plenty of time upfront to clearly define the reasons for creating it and what you will accomplish by having the community. You might want to go back and read my earlier post on the benefits of having a community. You might want to consider some or all of those benefits when you think about the goals for your community:

  • People: gives people a place to engage with your company
  • Product Innovation: get product feedback and ideas
  • Evangelism: help you grow evangelists for your products from outside of your company
  • Brand Loyalty: engagement can drive a tremendous amount of loyalty for your products

After you have a good grasp on what you hope to accomplish, you need to set some specific goals for the project. When you get into the platform selection process and design phase later in the project, having clear goals will help ensure that you build the right kind of community to achieve these goals.

What are your plans for achieving your goals and how will you measure success?

Now that you have some goals for what you want to accomplish with your community, you need to figure out some specific steps required to achieve your goals along with the metrics you will use to measure whether or not you have been successful. The metrics that you select will depend on your specific goals, but common community metrics include page views or visits, new member sign ups, and participation (new posts or replies). It is easy to go overboard and measure everything; however, I recommend that you pick a couple (no more than 4 or 5) of the most important measurements to use to report to management on your success. You should have an analytics package or reporting tools that allow you to drill down for more details that you can use to help troubleshoot issues and understand the data, but use these as background materials for your team.

Do you need to build new or can you join an existing community?

This is the reality check portion of the process. If you can join an existing community and get the same or similar benefits for your organization without investing all of the resources to create something new, you should seriously consider joining rather than building. You should also look around your organization to see if you have any existing communities or other infrastructure that you can reuse instead of installing yet another piece of community software.

Do you have the resources (people and financing) to maintain it long-term?

As I mentioned earlier, building a new community is a big effort. It is not one of those projects that you complete and move onto the next one. Building the community and installing the software is the first step, and the real work comes in after the launch of the community. You will need to have people on board and ready to manage the day to day responsibilities from a community perspective and to administer and maintain the software. For a small community this could be a single person, but for a large corporate community, it usually takes a team of people.

You should also plan for frequent upgrades and adjustments to the community, especially right after the launch. You will find bugs in the software, areas of the community that the users find difficult to use for whatever reason, and other things that you will need to adjust once you have people actually using the community. Your organization should be ready to handle these ongoing costs and resource commitments over the life of the community. Nothing is worse than wasting time and money on something that won’t be maintained long enough to achieve your goals.

While this certainly isn’t everything that you need to consider when planning for your new community, hopefully, it will get you started on the right path. For more information, you might also want to read some of Jeremiah Owyang’s posts about community platforms or some of the online community research that Bill Johnston is doing at ForumOne.

I’d love to see you post comments with other things that you consider when planning for a new corporate community.

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