This post is part of an ongoing series about developing an online community strategy. As a reminder, all posts will be tagged #ocb2b
Define Business Goals and Objectives
As I mentioned in my previous post, the recommended first step in developing (or refining) your organization’s online community strategy is to answer the question: What are you, as an organization, trying to accomplish? I acknowledge that this is a simple, but loaded, question. Answering the question of Organization intention is 1/2 of the equation for a successful community strategy. The other half of the equation is understanding community member’s needs and predisposition, which I cover in the next post in the strategy series.
Generally, an executive taps a strategy lead to help develop online community initiatives at an organization. In some cases, the strategy lead actually rises out of the ranks to propose direction to the executives. In both cases, there are two essential roles:
Said another way: The Sponsoring Exec has the financial and political capital to fund the community initiative, and the Strategy Lead executes research and planning necessary to create the community strategy.
Next, the Strategy Lead forms a core team to facilitate discussion with the extended stakeholders around the following topics:
Identifying and Engaging Internal Stakeholders
The current definition of stakeholder on wikipedia describes the role of stakeholder as “… a party that affects or can be affected by the actions of the business as a whole.” Given the inclusive nature of many social media and community efforts, an argument could be made that everyone in the company is a stakeholder in the strategy, and in a sense, that is true. In order to actually get work done, you need to trim the list a bit, down to relevant and representative stakeholders that represent key roles and departments affected by, or expected to contribute resources to the community.
A list of likely internal stakeholders includes:
Process: Kickoff, Work Sessions, Interviews and Synthesis
So, how does all of this actually come together? I’ve used the following process on the job at my former employer Autodesk, as well as in our services practice here at Forum One. The process starts with a kickoff meeting, continues with individual interviews with key stakeholders, includes follow up working sessions with a core team, and concludes with analysis and synthesis of all of the inputs by the Strategy Lead.
Kickoff: A meeting is convened by the Strategy Lead, and usually includes the Executive sponsor as well as key internal stakeholders. The group is generally no more than 5-7 people. The kickoff usually lasts 2-3 hours, and covers:
After the kickoff, interviews with key stakeholders are held to take a deeper dive in to the questions explored in the kickoff meeting, and also to give the stakeholder “airtime” to state requirements, explore ideas and express concerns. The interviews can be done face to face or over the phone, generally last between 30-45 minutes, and are conducted by an interviewer, with backup by a note-taker. Depending on the size of the extended stakeholder pool and the complexity of the project, I generally try to do at least 8 stakeholder interviews. As an augmentation to the in person interviews, I’ve also done an online survey for stakeholders that is based on the interview script. This is a good way to reach a wider audience and get a large set of quantitative and qualitative data.
In addition to the kickoff, there are generally 1-3 work sessions to review and refine key points from the discussion in the kickoff meeting. These additional working sessions are a great place for brainstorming potential community features and engagements, and to discuss examples of online community and social media from competitors, leaders in the industry, or shiny object examples outside of your industry. The outputs of the work sessions are analyzed in the Synthesis phase.
The outputs of the kickoff, working sessions and stakeholder interviews are analyzed by the Strategy Lead, and summarized in to a working strategy brief (typically a word doc). The key elements of the brief generally include:
Next Up: Member Needs Analysis
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Organization’s goals are half of the equation for a successful community strategy. The other half is obviously assessing the needs and predisposition of the community. In the next post in the series, I will talk about how to find and solicit feedback from potential (or current) community members, and what to do with that information.
We are just 2 days away from the Online Community Unconference East in NYC. We still have about 5 open seats for those or you in the NYC area. You can register at: http://www.ocue.eventbrite.com
There is a really diverse mix of organizations coming, including: BlogHer Inc., Mediabistro, CMP, HP, Gartner, Autodesk, AOL, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Consumers Union, Zagat, TV Guide, allfacebook.com, Business Week, and Cyworld.
So, how does this work?
The premise of our Unconference series is that the best source of information on the topic of online communities is the community of folks building and managing online communities. The Unconference format provides a venue for folks to lead discussions about topics they are most passionate and knowledgeable about. At the end of the day, attendees walk away with new ideas, perspectives, and a long list of new professional connections.
One of the most amazing parts of the day at our Unconferences is the topic selection process. We are fortunate to have Kaliya Hamlin guiding us through the process again in New York.
The topic selection process starts the Unconference, when any attendee who wishes can come forward, announce a topic, and claim one of the 45-50 open slots on the grid.
Within 35-40 minutes the grid fills up with topics and the first session kicks off. It’s really inspiring to hear all of the topics that are suggested, and to see so many great ideas come together on the grid.
If you would like to see an example of the great content that comes out of an Unconference, please check out the Online Community Unconference 07 wiki. I would encourage you to spend some time looking through the session notes as there is a lot of great content.
Again – we have about 5 seats still available for the Unconference in NYC this Thursday, 2/21. If you would like a seat, register here.
If you are in the Bay Area, and are actively working with online communities, this event might be of interest to you. It’s invitation-based, so please drop me an email if you are interested.
The Roundtables have been a regular, but intentionally “under the radar” gathering since July of 2005. Thats longer than BarCamp (ok, only by a month). The intention of the events is to provide an open and safe environment for community practitioners to share experiences and best practices. It’s also an excellent excuse to have a cocktail and meet other interesting people in the space.
* No sponsorships. Host organization provides space, food and beverages
* No pitches. Presentations should be about sharing experiences, having a discussion about a problem or issue you are facing, or reviewing a project or site you are working on.
* The guest list is up to Bill & George.
* Bill and/or George sets final agenda based on topic appropriateness and time available
* “Soft” NDA: No blogging, or discussion “in public” about specific presentations or content, unless the presenter gives explicit permission.
6:00 – 7:00 Networking hour.
Drinks and food will be available.
7:00 – 9:00 Presentations.
After the networking hour, we’ll share thoughts on community. We request that you bring a 1-2 slide deck to talk to. Topics can range from:
* A report back from a conference
* A new community that you have recently launched
* A feature that you are developing, or are interested in discussing
* Challenges that you are facing in developing, growing or managing your community
* Or any other topic that you feel would be appropriate and enlightening to this audience.
We try to keep the size of the group small (about 25 people) to ensure a quality group conversation. As such, we limit invitations.
If you are currently developing your company’s online community strategy, and are struggling with all of the options available to you, a project to benchmark your discussion group experience is a great place to start. The members of your discussion groups will likely not only contain your most ardent evangelists (and probably most vocal critics), but will also contain the DNA to a more mature community strategy.
The intention of the benchmark is to look at the following areas:
1. Member Experience: Do members feel like they are getting what they need, in a way only your organization can deliver?
2. Community Strategy and Management: Does your organization have clear goals around your discussion groups? Is the community being managed to these goals?
3. Technology: Is your technology platform supporting member needs and community goals? Is it capable of evolving?
Community Strategy and Management could arguably be broken out into 2 separate sections, but based on several conversations I’ve had of late, the role of community management, and specifically, the community manager is evolving. It’s not just about moderation anymore. The new role of the community manager is to actually manage all dimensions of the community experience (moderation, UX, funding, metrics, etc).
The benchmarking project would be made up of several smaller sub projects and data gather exercises, specifically:
1. Benchmarking User Experience
– Member Satisfaction: Conduct a web-based survey to ask members about the quality of the user experience, feedback on the quality of message exchange, the level and appropriateness of moderation, the level of participation by members of your organization, and finally, would they recommend your discussion groups to their peers? Finally, ask about additional features or community touch-points members would like to see from you, including blogs and social networking. 50 to 100 responses to this survey would be a great baseline. For more sophisticated organizations, tying this survey into any sort of customer satisfaction, loyalty or brand-tracking research you are doing will be quite insightful. At Autodesk, we found that are Discussion GRoup members were more loyal customers than non-members.
– Usability: Gather 5-6 members from your community and have them walk you through the main interactions points they use on your discussion groups. This can be done in person, or over a web conference like WebEx or ReadyTalk.
– Find-ability: Gathering this data is very straightforward. You want to answer the following questions: Is your discussion group content showing up in google? Available from you site via RSS? How many clicks from the main flows of your corporate site?
2. Benchmarking Community Strategy and Management
– Budget: What is your total cost for hosting discussion groups? This includes staff time, moderation, license fees, hosting fees, bandwidth and any marketing you do. The other side of the coin? Who’s paying? Do you have a defined sponsor for the program, or are you asking for money quarter over quarter? Identifying additional potential sponsors helps smooth out quarterly-based funding, and also gives you a bigger checkbook for updates and platform extensions.
– Moderation: Review your moderation program. Do you have lead members assisting the moderator(s)? You should. Do you have clear and available discussion guidelines? Do your moderators have to directly intervene in the groups several times a week? A high level of moderator intervention is a big red flag that something is not working.
– Metrics & Reporting: What data are you reporting back to management? A big red flag here is “none”. That means you aren’t doing a good job of communicating value (bad), or your management team doesn’t care (even worse). What types of metrics are you reporting? Unique visitors and page views are great. Membership growth and attrition is better. Showing engagement via member participation numbers is really good. It’s also possible to do a rudimentary level of “word of mouth” reporting by highlighting key threads that net out the key issues for the period of time you are reporting against.
– Internal participation: What is the current level of participation by your organization in your groups? If it is low, you are going to hear about it loud and clear in the Member Satisfaction survey mentioned above.
– Member outreach: Do you have any sort of program in place to highlight, reward or otherwise engage your most active participants? Some call this an MVP or Lead User program.
3. Assessing Technology
Caveat: I’m not a technologist, so I would recommend getting very friendly with your web team or operations staff to help you with this part of the project
– Performance: The 2 things you are looking for here are 1. Are the groups available 99% of the time? Significant downtime because of maintenance or database issues can wreak havoc on a communities health. 2. How fast do the pages load? Ideally you are getting sub 5 seconds (at least).
– Scalability: If your traffic and participation doubled tomorrow, could your current system handle it? Again, take your favorite systems geek out to lunch and get their opinion.
– Cost: The platform market has become VERY competitive. There are a number of vendors that have evolved their platforms beyond just discussions over the last few years. Now is an excellent time to review your existing contracts, and to re-shop your platform provider.
Once you make it to this point, you will have a massive amount of data. Because of the nature of this exercise, you will also have checked in with your membership base to guide any additional augmentations to your community, as well as the folks internally who can help fund and participate in the next generation of your community.
Now the fun starts.
You will have almost certainly uncovered opportunities to refine your existing discussion groups presence, and you likely tapped into unmet needs your members are expressing. You will almost certainly have uncovered ways in which your organization is coming up short by the amount or type of participation in your community. Lastly, you will have a good idea of current vendor capabilities with regard to their platforms. In short, you will likely have all the data you need to plan and sell a project to your management team that entails extending your current discussion group-based community experience.
The two most logical and easiest ways to extend your discussion group-base community presence are blogs and social networking.
Blogging: Corporate blogs have been in the mainstream for a good while now, but I’m still surprised by the lack of product and industry-based blogs with some of our clients. Blogs tie in nicely with discussion groups when staff that are currently participating in discussions start blogs to highlight trends in the groups, or to give members of the groups deeper insight into that persons role at the host organization, and also that persons personality and day to day life.
Social Networking: Another great way to extend a discussion group-based experience is to add social networking to the groups. This option is available in most of the latest versions of discussion software, and essentially involves creating a richer member profile, allowing members to expose their profile page, and allowing other members to browse, find and connect with them. Not only does adding social networking features add a dimension of personality to the groups, at can also support offline analogs, like in person user groups.
The takeaway: most companies could be doing a better job with their discussion groups, and could be providing and receiving more value from the current investment. Further, discussion groups provide a logical path towards engaging in more sophisticated online community building activities.
What are you using for professional networking, LinkedIn, Facebook, or both (or something else)?
I’d love to hear your stories via email or comments.