Managing the Community - Customer Relationship Management

The management of your community is as important as the recruitment of your customers and experts to the community. Companies like Communispace have experienced moderators and facilitators to help you manage your social network. However,if you’re looking for your own community manager,there is a now substantial body of practice to draw on in trying to figure out how to do just that. Ultimately,you’re providing value by exposing your company and information to your customer,derived through the company itself,discourse between customers,or discourse between customers and company employees or outside experts. In return,you’re getting valuable data,building the brand and reputation of the company,and creating the kinds of advocates that Karmaloop has turned into part of its extended sales force.

Community Management:Valuing the Customers
The purpose of this community endeavor is the ongoing engagement of your customers. You have to provide them with a reason to keep coming back until they do it without a second thought. What can you do?

  1. Make sure there is a clear purpose and common interest for the community. For example,Sage Software has their ACT! community,a social network that supports ACT! users around the globe. Because the community has become the location for ACT! it has been incredibly successful,with 8.9 million page views and 266,000 searches in its first 12 months. The community has also served as a catalyst for a 15 percent increase in ACT! Net Promoter Score. The ACT! community is powered by Lithium,a community building platform well worth investigating if you’re considering that sort of thing.

  2. Make sure you have a great community manager and team.Remember this is a full-time job or at least takes up a dedicated part of a day. Don’t be shy in recruiting volunteer moderators to support your effort or to recruit clearly influential members of the community who are “natural leaders” to help you support the community. Great community managers can materially affect the success of a social network. For example,Lawrence Liu,at Telligent Systems and blogger supreme (LLiu’s Community Zen Master Blog),realized that there is a 90 percent reduction in cost if an incident is solved within a community rather than via the phone. So being smart,he incentivized community members to help him with incident response—which he was able to track—and thus save a lot of money as well as adding to the knowledge base.

  3. Identify and work with the community leaders. This is the 1 percent that are identified in the 90-9-1 rule,called “participant inequality” by its creator Jakob Nielsen,now of Microsoft. It’s considered the rule of thumb for online communities. Ninety percent of the members don’t participate; they read but are invisible. Nine percent will respond to various activities from time to time. One percent are creators who are responsible for most of the activity. Find that 1 percent because they have the community influence and reputation to affect how others respond to the community.

  4. But don’t discount the nonparticipants—the lurkers. Lurkers can become active,so don’t make like they don’t exist. Give them something to do—a short poll,a contest with something that might have value to the winners,and so on.

  5. Community managers need to gather the requirements of the community and engage the appropriate parts of the company to meet those requirements. That means always being alert to the requests of the customer members but at the same time being cognizant of company limitations. While you’re an advocate for the members,you’re also managing to the corporate strategy.

  6. Practice moderation by exception. Set the rules for the community up front,involve your legal and other departments in the beginning to create the regulations,the ethics code,and the protocols of conduct. Then all of them should step aside and only intervene when there are violations. Don’t try to micromanage the activities of the community,even if they veer to the negative.

  7. However,respond to the negative immediately. The rule of thumb is: make the negative at least neutral (though preferably positive),make the neutral positive,and reinforce the already positive.

  8. Content rules. Seed the site with expert content until it is selfgenerating. This is easier said than done. You have to be as provocative as you can with the content you provide. I mean that in a nice way. Give them content that reflects the interests of the site. For example,if you are an Xbox 360–related community,provide the members with information on tips and tricks to benefit their gaming;product announcements that are leaked in advance to the members before the general public;contests they can participate in for prizes of some sort;chats with top 218 CRM at the Speed of experts in the field,which,in the case of a gaming console,might be a star player or someone within the community with a high reputation for the platform;beta programs for the members. Content isn’t only in the form of articles or blog postings.

  9. Encourage peer-to-peer interactions within the borders of the social network. This takes #8 even further. Ultimately you want the community to be self-seeding content. That means giving them the ability to upload content,possibly have their own blog,comment on content,link to each other’s sites and back to their own sites. Establish forums for discussions around a particular thread,and make sure members can initiate threads in those forums,even though you are moderating the forums inside the community.

  10. Members should be encouraged to collaborate with the company. Collaboration can be as elaborate as the development of a new product or as simple as giving the members the ability to help you solve a customer service issue. If you want to get a little bit sophisticated about it,provide the members with the ability to rank the solutions if it’s a customer service issue,for example,or suggested features and functions if it’s product development. Since the most active collaborators will be the creators in the 90-9-1 rule,by providing the ranking tool,you’re giving the 9 percent some active means to collaborate with you.

  11. Members need to feel valued continuously. Reputation models are the foundation for the tools that can help members feel valued. They need to be valued by not just you but by other members of the community. Use TRIP (trust,reputation,influence,and persuasion) as the social characteristics that enhance members’ sense of value. If you can,give them formal tools or informal means to allow them to enhance their own reputation,such as ranking or tools that score their activity and provide rewards for high scores.

  12. Don’t just reward sales-related activity,though. Provide rewards for community participation. The more active the member,the better the reward,the more committed the member becomes. Remember,value and values are given,and in return,value and values are received.

  13. Members need to sculpt their own experience—that is,selfdirect. Though facilitation will always be necessary,the less interference by you and your managers,the better. The members want to personalize their experience as members. When it comes to Social CRM,the best thing you can do for a member is let them.

  14. Feel free to have some expectations of your members too. It’s a two-way street. Members of the social network shouldn’t expect total privacy. This is a social network,not a private cabana on the beach. Social implies people,not solitary individuals. Network implies the same. As a business,you have the right to expect certain things from the members. The ability to gather data from them and use it is one thing. Another might be civil behavior. What’s most important is that the members need to know what you expect from them from the beginning and that should be laid out clearly for them prior to their registration. They need to know what they are getting into. While they can’t really have a terribly deep expectation of privacy,given the nature of what they are participating in,they can have an expectation of trust,meaning that what you’ve told them to expect they can expect. For more on this,see the web chapter entitled “Honestly,I Want This Chapter to Be on Privacy,But If I Wrote It,I’d Have to Blog About You.”

Community Management:Doing It Wrong
So far I’ve been laying out the hunky-dory “be good” stuff when it comes to handling a community. The results are some guidelines on what kind of social network might fit your business and some practices for managing the community too. Would that life were that easy. Unfortunately,even though in principle there are companies that seem to be committed to building enterprise social networks or at least communities that use external platforms like Facebook,that doesn’t mean they are doing them right.

So,be forewarned,newbies or even seemingly experienced social network mavens. There are things you don’t do too. Here are four of them:

  1. The community is not just a site for harvesting information. The business model and principles that govern a community/social network are not traditional principles. They are based on co-creation and collaboration with the members. The business model is designed for mutual value. Don’t think of the site as acreage that’s available for data harvesting only. Congress actually has done that in the past with e-mail. According to participants at an Institute for Politics,Democracy and the Internet (IPDI) CRM Conference in 2007,one rather heinous practice in more than one congressional office was to send out a survey that ostensibly asked constituents for their opinions on some relevant policy issue. The results were ignored,but the e-mails were harvested for future congressional mailings. Draw a lesson from that. While you should harvest the information,you have to continually provide reasons for the members to come back. Which takes far more effort than Congress expended in caring about the survey results.

  2. Do not underfund the community effort.There is an incredible amount of partially misleading discussion about the inexpensive tools available for social media and social networks. While the low cost may be true in part,there are two things to remember. First,if you are an enterprise trying to provide a robust community,the tools will not be inexpensive. From the SaaS platform provided by Neighborhood America to the facilitated communities run by Communispace,
    there is a substantial possible cost. You’re paying for the technology that secures the community and the information,that maintains,administers,and sometimes facilitates that community,and for the vast array of self-managing technological choices that you’re giving the members of the community. You’re paying for ease of use. That’s just the technology. The costs of sustaining the content on the site are going to be even higher because that involves personnel and research. It also involves the site moderators and managers having relationships with the members. Forrester Research’s in 2008 did a report entitled “Vendors:Prepare for Falling Prices for Enterprise Web 2.0 Collaboration and Productivity Apps,” which predicted the commoditization of social networking (and social media) applications over 2008–2013. They claim that the drop will be due to the extensive use of Microsoft SharePoint,their long-standing entry into collaboration applications,which puzzles me,given the weaknesses of SharePoint. I’m in complete agreement with the ReadWriteWeb analysis: “The one thing we’d caution here is that SharePoint so far has proven to be a complex and difficult-to-use beast,so we’re not so sure that easy-to-use alternatives will be commoditized by SharePoint. In theory it sounds sensible,but in practice how many people actually use SharePoint to network.” ReadWriteWeb’s skepticism is justified. What I would do if I were committed to developing a social network is plan for an incremental rollout. I would make sure that I implement some predetermined baseline features and functions selected through research and through “voice of the customer” discussions with your customers. That way I would have a handle on what will launch most cost-effectively and at the same time provide what the likely members would want to start the community. Just don’t do it all at once. You may not be able to get it on the cheap,but you can control how much you spend and what you spend it for.

  3. This is an ongoing commitment,not short-term,unless it has an explicit short-term purpose (OSN). This is obvious and self-explanatory,but how do you actually explain that only 200,000 of the 700,000 social networks on Ning are active if that is so obvious? They aren’t all outcome-based social networks. They just aren’t sustained.

  4. Never forget the individual member has a personal stake in this. The second principle of Social CRM is “all human beings are self-interested.” This doesn’t mean selfish,just that each of us has a life we want to lead,and we pursue that life in the ways we want to pursue it,even if it’s not perfectly executed. If I’m a member of a social network,it’s because there is something about that social network that appeals to my individual interest. I’m not a member for altruistic purposes unless altruism is part of my makeup. That cannot be emphasized enough. I’m not a member because I love your company. I’m a member because your company satisfies something of my personal agenda and I see this community as a way of effectively accomplishing that. All too often,corporations get so caught up in their own ROIs and their own cultures that the member/customer is viewed as the “object of information,”another variation on “object of a sale”,rather than the subject of a self-crafted experience. President Obama’s campaign staff made this mistake once with his MyBarackObama.com site and it hurt him,but didn’t cost him.

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