Online Communities: Surviving & Thriving – Part 3

Cross-posted from the Online Community Report.

This post is the third in a series of blog posts exploring our recent research into the effect of the down economy on Online Community and social media programs. In this post, I’d like to focus on the advice that the research respondents gave for thriving during the downturn, and what key resources they are relying on for advice and support. Keep in mind, this advice comes from community managers, executives and social media strategists (not analysts or observers) who are currently in the trenches dealing with issues firsthand.

First, A Bit of Background
We’ve been tracking the economies effect on community and social media programs since late fall of 2008. For background, I would recommend reading (or re-reading) the first two posts in the series:

Online Communities: Surviving and Thriving in a Downturn (Part 1)
My initial thoughts, from October of 2008, about the mounting pressure from the economy on community and social media programs, and suggestions for social media strategists and community managers on how to best navigate the issues.

Online Communities: Thriving in the Downturn (Part 2)
A post the highlighted several key findings from our Online Community Research Network project conducted late November and early December of 2008 . The intention of the study was to get a broad look at how online community programs are fairing within organizations in light of the recent economic changes. As noted in the previous post, we saw plenty to be concerned about. We saw layoffs, budget freezes and cuts, and in some cases program abandonment. But, we also saw a lot of data to be optimistic about including the fact that the majority of respondents reported continued support of their community activities, and in some cases, increased support.

Advice & Support
One key piece of information we were seeking in the study was what advice would the practitioners we interviewed give other peers? In the research survey we asked: “What advice would you give to your peers in regards to thriving during a slow economic period?”

Respondents gave varied advice to peers in regards to thriving during the down economy. The most common responses were related to streamlining their resources / costs and focusing on bottom line objectives.

The top pieces of advice that respondents wanted to offer to their peers in helping them thrive during an economy downturn are to:

  • Focus on Bottom line Objectives (15),
  • Be Creative (9) and
  • Offer Value / Uniqueness (8) and
  • Don’t Give Up / Stay the Course (8)


Graph: Categorized responses to the question: “What advice would you give to your peers in regards to thriving during a slow economic period?”

I’ve included some of the key respondent quotes, categorized below.

1. Stay Focused on Bottom Line Objectives:
“Focus on objectives that impact the bottom line…and on those easiest to quantify (e.g., self-serve support via community reduces our support Cost Per Incident by >50%)”

2. Be Creative – Work With the Constraints, Not Against
“With a reduced headcount in your organization, your (external) community power users become a critical resource, and more so than before, in helping other users. Recognize and reward the behavior of helping other users.”
“You have to be creative. Now is the time that truly inventive things can come about.”
“Embrace change and make yourself an asset to all departments, not soley content creation and UGC.”

3. Offer Value / Uniqueness
“Community professionals have the most valuable resource of all — we know our members/customers/users the best. Emphasize that knowledge whenever you can.”
“Make sure what you offer provides value to the customer. Encouraging peer-to-peer support in the community will reduce the need for extensive staffing – Remind decision makers what a bargain online communities are when compared to similar in-person activity.”
“Do the math and show your Management Team the ROI regarding community staff. Build a volunteer program (which should happen regardless of economic times). Keep in mind that people turn to each other, their communities, and entertainment in tough economic times.”
“Feature community content that pertains to the economy; ask for personal stories and conversation and offer community a place to share and solve financial challenges (e.g., online coupons, budgeting, creating handmade gifts; portfolio info), with contextual links to community message boards, blogs, polls, etc.”

4. Don’t Give Up / Stay the Course
“Continue to make decisions based upon your overall strategy, even within economic constraints, rather than just based upon economics. It’s possible to get clever and get more ‘bang’ for your buck. So focus on the long term.”
“Stick to your core. Analyze what you do best that differentiates yourself from competitors and focus on improving community features that tie into that”

The Most Important Resources
As part of the research project, we also asked respondents to rank a series of resources based on their personal sense of the value of the resource. Data below is from the question “How important are the following resources to you personally in ensuring the survival of your online community during a slow economy?”


Graph: Ranked responses to the question: “How important are the following resources to you personally in ensuring the survival of your online community during a slow economy?”

It is no surprise that access to support from other peers (read: other practitioners) and relationships with other Community Managers and Strategists ranked the highest.

The final report has been published to our Online Community Research Network members and research participants.

The full report (~45 pages) includes all collected data, charts from the date, and all write in responses. The full report expands on the content above, as well covering specific budget items that will likely be affected in 2009, tactics that community executives are employing in the downturn, and peer advice on thriving in the downturn.

The full report is also available for purchase here.

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