Category: Research

Want to Know What Community Members (a.k.a. Customers) Need? Just Ask.

Are you “Member Shy”?

In its most basic form, a community strategy is a balance of an organization’s goals and its member’s (a.k.a customer’s) needs. Organizations have methodologies for developing goals and objectives, yet I continue to be surprised at how many organizations are missing research as a core part ofthoughtballoon their online community development process. Even for organizations that are highlighted as examples of “getting it”, there are still cases where the community wasn’t engaged in research about a major platform change, feature enhancement or policy shift (the historical / hysterical facebook privacy anyone?). In many cases there seems to be a real fear (or at least discomfort) in connecting 1 to 1 with customers. That fear could be rooted in the inability to have meaningful interaction at scale, the overhead associated with regular contact, or the lack of an evolved organizational culture that encourages this type of interaction. Any community development (or refinement) initiative *requires* the input and direction of the members.

Note: I will be using the terms “member” and “customer” interchangeably in this post. I will also use the term “member” as a placeholder for current and potential members of a community.

Why Conduct Member Research?

Conducting member needs research as part of the strategy development process brings the voice of customer to the center of the strategy, and helps create a lens through which to focus your community building activities. As I mentioned in my kickoff post to “Network Thinking“, there are really five core questions to frame your community strategy:

  1. WHO are your customers?
  2. WHY are they motivated to build relationships with each other? 
  3. WHERE do they want to build relationships with each other? 
  4. HOW do they want to build relationships with each other? 
  5. WHAT value can you provide as a HOST to strengthen and deepen these relationships over time? 

Member research can also help answer more tactical questions like:

  • What role should you play as host, and what community activities should you facilitate?
  • What types of content and features should be present in the community?
  • Should the community be an “on domain” destination, or should the community presence extend on to other sites, like Facebook?
  • What types of members does the community want to include?
  • What type of culture does the community need to thrive?
  • What activities are members prepared to participate in that will directly or indirectly benefit the host?
  • What types of marketing and advertising would members find acceptable?

Techniques for Conducting Member Research

The process for conducting member research is straightforward: decide on the appropriate techniques given your budget, recruit subjects, conduct the research and analyze the results. Great places to recruit research subjects:

  • Your existing community
  • Your blog
  • Your corporate web site
  • Partners
  • Newsletter mailing lists
  • Customer Conferences
  • Independent communities about your product or in your market or topic area
  • Facebook or Linkedin groups about your product or in your market or topic area
  • Using social network analysis tools like LittleBird or NodeXL to analyze open networks like Twitter.

One on One Interviews
One on one interviews can be conducted either in-person or over the phone. The key ingredients are a customer, an interviewer, a notetaker and a simple interview script (a sample can be found below). Interviews can be as short as 30 minutes, and generally should last no more than an hour. In my experience, a minimum of 5-6 interviews will yield useful themes and give good data for strategy direction. If your community will serve many different products, market segments, or customer types a good rule of thumb is to try and do interviews with at least 3 people from each segment. One on One interviews can also be augmented nicely by a follow up online survey to a larger group, in order to drill down further on issues uncovered in the initial round of interviews. Interviews can be conducted in person, via a hangout (or other video chat service), or over the phone.

Group Sessions
Another great way to get feedback, and to get a lot of feedback at once is to conduct a group feedback session. This is similar to the one on one interviews, except you are guiding a group of members through the script, as opposed to just one. Involving multiple subjects at once increases the complexity of the process, so be sure to have someone skilled at facilitation leading the session to keep the conversation on track (per the script), as well as to ensure that all participants have equal air time to give their opinions and feedback.

Online Surveys
The fastest, and often lowest overhead way to get member feedback is to create a short online survey to send to research participants. Online surveys are really great at getting quick quantitative feedback, and the results (depending on the tool) are fairly easily to analyze and study. A few issues with online surveys are that the quality of the results depends on the quality of the questions, and in particular, thinking through appropriate choices for multiple choice questions, and also creating effect write in questions that will yield helpful qualitative feedback.

In most cases for the community and social media strategy work I do at Structure3C, I will generally start with an online survey to at least 100 community members,and follow up by conducting a set of 7-10 one on one interviews with community members.

Questions to Ask During Research

There are essentially 5 overarching questions for your community strategy, 4 of which you want to answer as an output of member research:

  1. Why do community members want to build relationships with each other? What do community members need from each other? Explore what community members might desire from interactions with other community members, and try to understand why they are motivated to sustain this activity over time. Answers could range from knowledge sharing, to providing mentoring, to ongoing professional or personal support.
  2. Where do you customers want to build relationships with each other? This question is particularly important to avoid duplicating community features and value that exist elsewhere. The key insight to uncover in this line of questioning is what unique value you can provide in your hosted community AND which external communities and social media sites you need to participate in in order to create a holistic community presence. Increasingly, mobile presents a unique opportunity to host your customer network in fundamentally new ways.
  3. How do members want to build relationships with each other? What value can community members contribute / exchange? It is important to understand what ways community members are capable of, prepared to and willing to participate. Participation could include sharing domain expertise, offering content samples, answering support questions, or even just participating in casual online conversation.
  4. What do community members need from you as the host? Ask questions that explore member expectations of your organization in the role of host. What are the member expectations around your level of participation, your effort in developing content, in fostering participation and your commitment to hosting the community long-term?
Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 6.06.10 AM

Example of a Social Presence Map to illustrate a dynamic community ecosystem, from my portfolio of work at Dell.

In order to answer the key questions, you will need to ask a series of baseline demographics questions (for context), as well as exploring each of the four key questions in a more granular way. A sampling of questions that can be used to create a script or facilitation guide are included below.

A simple list of survey or interview questions might include:

  • Name, organization, title, a brief role description
  • Browser and mobile preferences: Chrome vs Safari, iOS vs Andriod, etc.
  • What information sources do you rely on (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What groups (on/offline) are you a member of (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What products / services do you use (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face in your day to day work (assuming this relates to the topic of the community)?
  • How satisfied are you with the level and type of communication you have with organization x?
  • Do you currently participate in any of the following social media activities: blogging, discussion forums, facebook, twitter, youtube etc (shape the list based on your market)
  • What information, insight or content do you want to share with other customers?
  • What kinds of information would be helpful for other customers to share with you?
  • If organization x were to offer the following content or features, please rate how useful each would be to you: discussion forums, expert Q&A, tutorials & tips, video previews, customer blogs, etc.
  • Would you be interested in connecting with other members at local, in-person events?
  • Exploring usability issues around current experiences and apps

In Summary:

I’ve seen investment in member research pay off consistently, just as I’ve seen the severe cost of not conducting member research hamper or sink many community initiatives. In short: Want to know what your members want from their online community? Just ask.

Customer & member research is a core part of my community development practice at Structure3C. If you are starting a new community or crowd initiative, my team can plan and deliver community research to build a strong foundation for your program. You can book time with my through my assistant Karelyn.

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.

Online Community Roundtable: Jan 8 in SF

oc roundtableThe next Online Community Roundtable will be held Thursday, January 8 at SolutionSet in San Francisco.

The Roundtable is intended for seasoned community managers and strategists. We have room for 20 folks, and seats are going fast. The event is free.

To RSVP for the Roundtable, please go here:
http://moourl.com/sf_ocr_jan09
About the Roundtables…
The Roundtables have been a regular, but intentionally “under the radar” gathering I’ve organized since July of 2005. The purpose of the Roundtable is to provide an open and safe environment for community practitioners to share experiences and best practices. It’s also an excellent excuse meet other interesting folks practicing in the online community and social media space.

Ground Rules:

* 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
* Bill sets final agenda based on topic appropriateness and time available
* “Soft” NDA: Blogging / Tweeting etc sessions is ok, unless presenter asks you not to.

Format for the 1/8 meeting:
5:00 – 6:00 Networking hour.
Drinks and food will be available.

6:00 – 7:30 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.

Please email me if you have any questions: bjohnston@forumone.com

Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting – Research Study Posted

Research is a large part of the activities that I and Forum One Networks engages in. The Online Community Research Network studies and publishes 6 times a year on topics that matter to those responsible for guiding online community and social media activities in their organization.

The Online Community ROI Models and Reporting research study was initiated in February of 2008. The study was created in order to investigate further into the ROI research that we conducted in the last half of 2007, and to gain insight into specifically how organizations were valuing and reporting on their online communities activities. Further, we wanted to gain insight into who the stakeholders were for ROI metrics, and how the reports were being received.

I will be blogging highlights of the report over the next few weeks. To obtain a full copy, as well as access to all of our other research, and the professional network of online community pros, please consider joining the Online Community Research Network.

We received approximately 150 completed surveys. Participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, platform providers and interactive marketing and advertising firms.

Q16: Which of the following quantitative and qualitative metrics are critical for communication ROI at your organization? (question 16 from the study)
The top-ranking metrics are: Traffic patterns & statistics; Community member engagement; Unique number of visitors; New Member Registrations; Member Satisfaction; and Product Feedback / R&D ideation.

The middle-ranking metrics are: Number of referrals to the community by members; WOM generated by community; transition of lurkers into active community members; impact of the community on revenue; organization or brand-mentions on other sites; and ratio of comments per post.

When looking at the data segmented by type of respondent organization, Traffic patterns, member engagement and unique community visitors scored consistently high.

Top-ranking Metrics

Middle-ranking Metrics

Lower-ranking Metrics

Q23: What were the 1-2 compelling sources of value from your community or social media efforts that you constantly communicate?

This question was intended to solicit the “elevator pitch” stats or metrics that community managers and strategists use internally to their organization to evangelize community and social media efforts. Answers ranged from the unique ability of online communities to create value to cost reduction of existing communication channels and corporate functions.

These were all write in answers. The main themes are as follows, with selected quotes inline below. (full report contains all write in data).

1. Community helps problem solve faster and more efficiently than Customer Support, saving our company time and money:
• “Customers are able to get faster response and answers to their problem utilizing the community over contacting Customer Support.”
• “Knowledge share, and hence problem solving, is more efficient due to the community model.”
• “Using WebBoard is more efficient then email, telephones or fax. It saves us time and money and increases our ability to service the consumers in our sector.”
• “The ROI on employee time devoted to the forums far exceeds the returns on the usual support methods.” [Thus saving our organization time and money.]

2. Availability of information and content for specific areas of interest:
• “Expanded resources & knowledge for specific areas of interest and centralized resources.”
• “Niche communities, focused on specific areas of interest. Market leaders on-line and in print with high cross over traffic.”
• “You won’t find this content anywhere else – written by our members to raise best practice within vendors.”

3. Increases site traffic / more engaged relationship with us:
• “The more we invest into community, the more organic traffic we get.”
• “Our members consume 49% more average page views per session every month than non-members.”
• “Our community sites get more than 3 times the engagement for solutions, capabilities and use case content than our traditional sites.”
• “Our forum generates more page views than the site itself.”
• “Our community traffic by far exceeds traffic to all traditional product areas.”
• “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”
• “Our programs on average engage participants for 45 minutes each time they visit.”
• “Time spent on the site is higher on forums pages than anywhere else on the site, indicating that community members are more engaged.”
• “Views of photo albums remain the most popular area of the community. Members may not wish to participate in discussions, but they do want to see photos of their events.”
• “An online discussion moderated by subject matter experts that followed an in-person event with the same moderators achieved the most participation of any attempts to engage our users.”
• “Our social media content generates more content and discussions off site, increasing our reach.”
• “The ability of our blogs to drive customer engagement and PR activity.”

4. Idea Creation / What we learn from members of the community:
• “Ideas for our books.”
• “It’s all about what we learn from the developers through our community interactions.”
• “We will have the opportunity to get first hand feedback on products and ideas for improvements and enhancements.”
• “We discovered some problem areas in usage and service adoption that caused us to change our materials and strategy.”
• “We have been able to gather more than a thousand best practices/lessons learned in two years use.”

5. Lead Generation / Conversion:
• “Converting contacts, acquaintances, and other informal relationships into donor relationships.”
• “Converting contacts into activists and issue leaders.”
• “When we enlist our community members to represent us physically or virtually, our reach and conversion metrics dramatically increase.”

6. People are saving time / building skills by using our site:
• “In our Sourcing Professional Forum, procurement professionals are constantly sharing templates and best practices across organizations, bootstrapping their RFP effort, saving time and increasing value.”
• “People creating and building productive relationships with people that help them improve their practice or do their work better.”
• “The National Board of Certified Teachers can share best teaching practices with ease never before possible.”
• “In our premium areas, customers are using online training and certification to manage global implementations, knocking down traditional barriers to skill building in an online, social learning setting.”
• “Our users have access to every single college coach in the country. This is something no other site offers. Our site is always free to the users and they will never be charged. All of our competitors charge users to use their recruiting website.”
• “Our community members credit participation in our community with their increased skills in using our products.”

7. Build customer loyalty:
• “Anecdotal stories of knowledge sharing, connections made for business purposes and special access created through connecting members.”
• “Community members are more likely to volunteer their time, services, advice, and financial support than non-members.”
• “Employees who belong to the community almost never ‘turn over’. They are consistently the best performers out in the stores.”
• “Offering a community to your clients where they can speak to you and each other significantly increases customer loyalty.”
• “More connected members spread the word and come back frequently.”
• “If you want to understand your stakeholders and develop the relationships, you have to think in communities.”
• “Online dialogue creates a more open environment that deepens trust and team work throughout the organization.”
• “Our community has one of the highest net promoter scores for our brand of any corporate offering.”
• “Our members say that they like the site and related services – direct comprehension of value, esp. during account meetings.”
• “Research shows that customers in a community can have a sense of involvement with the company as long as we make sure they are heard and that involvement can lead to great loyalty.”
• “Our community members are actively engaged with the brand and don’t hesitate to tell us what they like, and don’t like. They feel a real sense of ownership of the brand.”
• “Our ability to personally communicate with future users of our product substantially influences their perception of our company.”
• “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”

8. Online community is growing our membership base:
• “In a climate where professional associations, and especially manufacturer associations, have struggled to maintain members, we have consistently and significantly increased in membership year-over-year for the past 5 years. This growth directly coincides with our implementation of online community services. Over 85% of our members find our member-only e-mail discussion groups alone to be worth the price of annual membership.”
• “95% of our members would recommend membership in our online community to other parents raising children with food allergies.”
• “Our blog has increased community participation by 80% over the past year.”
• “We boast membership in 125+ countries.”
• “We have 8000 registered members across 95% of local authorities.”
• “We have doubled the size of our community membership in the last 6 months. 2 years ago, only 34% of our Company’s upsells and renewals were also members of the Community. In 2007, 75% of our upsells and renewals were Community members.”
• “We have the largest active user community in the marketplace.”

Again, to get access to the full report, as well as other research and the professional online community network, please check out the OCRN site.

Marketing & Online Communities Research Report Released

Our Online Community Research Network (http://www.onlinecommunityresearch.com) initiated the The Marketing & Online Community research study in June of 2007. The study explored the current state of marketing to online communities, from the perspective of both the online community host, as well as from the perspective of the marketer.

The research participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, platform providers and interactive marketing and advertising firms.

We discovered early on in the research process that while community hosts and practitioners were willing to share their experiences, most marketers were not. At the beginning of the research I conducted several in-person interviews, it became clear that most marketing and advertising agencies have not met with great success in their community marketing efforts, and are unwilling to talk about their experiences. What limited success marketers have had is generally viewed as proprietary knowledge within the agency, and is closely guarded.

I’ve included excerpts from the report below. To download the full report, please go here (short registration required).


What are the biggest challenges you face working with third-party marketers?

It is clear from the survey responses that most online community hosts are still negotiating the relationship with third-party marketers, their messages, and their methodologies.

The main challenges in working with third-party marketers included:

• Third-party marketers want to control content/context in which their ad will be shown.
• Difficulty matching ads with content
• Overhead associated with helping marketer understand community culture
• The lack of a pre-screened third-party ad network
• Marketers seem to have no affinity with community / company brand
• Advertiser push invasive or unusual advertising to get results
• Difficult to determine fair rate and cost basis

What general advice would you give a colleague that was considering incorporating marketing and advertising into their community?

Respondents shared valuable advice about incorporating marketing and advertising activities into communities, from their direct experiences.

Recommendations included:

• When introducing marketing messages into your community, be very cautious and attentive to your member reactions, and open to their feedback
• Understand your audiences needs and sensitivities to advertising messages
• Establishing a good relationship with the agency account manager is key
• Establish creative and messaging guidelines for marketing to ensure appropriateness
• Make sure ads are appropriate and add value to community
• Be clear about policies and ensure that policies are available to and understood by community
• Involve the audience. Surveying members to determine which brands / types of messages they would
• Ensuring the right mix of content to ads
• Test and refine based on marketing effectiveness and feedback

Again, to download the full report, please go here (short registration required).

How to Develop a Community Strategy

INTRODUCTION:
This post is targeted at folks just getting started with online community activities at their respective organizations. It is written with the brand or product-specific corporate communities in mind, but is somewhat applicable to independent communities and non profit organizations.A few key points to begin with:

First, the working assumption here is that most of you reading are engaged in some sort of initial community building activity, but do not have a comprehensive community strategy guiding your efforts.

Second, keep in mind one of the key decisions you will need to make is the mix of attention, energy and dollars you spend hosting a community, vs participating in external community sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Third, (particularly for marketers) engaging and building relationships with your community is a bit of a mind-shift from thinking “quarterly-driven campaigns”. We have heard this as a recurring theme in our research and the conference we host on Marketing & Online communities. You won’t have the same criteria for success with community building efforts as you do with a print campaign. You won’t retain control of messaging. You have to be willing to invest the time to build relationships with members (yes, even one on one). This isn’t a quick in and out.

So, how does one start to evaluate the opportunity with online communities? Research! The following 4 step framework describes my typical community strategy development exercise we use for our clients:


Step 1. Define Business Goals and Objectives

This first step establishes a baseline definition of the organization’s goals and potential objectives for engaging in community building activities. These goals and objectives will serve as guidance throughout the project to ensure that the final strategy reflects a direction that creates value back to the organization. This process varies by organization type, the number and role of stakeholders, and the maturity (or existence) of the community team. The research in this step includes identification of the stakeholders for community within an organization, interviews with the stakeholders, and an initial brainstorm with members of the stakeholder’s team to discuss objectives for community. Themes and business goals for a community strategy will emerge.

Step 2. Community Ecosystem Review
During this second phase the goal is to do an audit of the current community ecosystem, including customer, prospect, partner and competitor touch points. This information will help establish a baseline of market-oriented sites and activity, which will be important to understand the opportunities for new community activity by your (or your client’s) brand.

Using tools like BlogPulse, Technorati, Delicious, and Google Blog search, conduct searches for brand mentions in the blogosphere and on smaller niche communities. You will quickly come up a list of the communities hosting conversations about your organization, products or brand, and the members (often time bloggers) engaging in those conversations.

It’s also important to research activity on the “walled garden” communities, and larger social media sites that some times don’t surface in search results. Sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Ning, Flickr, Satisfaction, etc. In particular, look for ad-hoc groups that have sprung up around your brand, or content tagged with your brand and/or products.

Step 3. Member Needs Analysis
This phase will establish a baseline for potential community member’s needs, as well as their expectations of your organization. This critical phase will also guide decision-making on the types of activities to engage in, and the approach (offline / online, hosted / independent).

This research is ideally done in person, or on the phone, but in a pinch you can also use a web-based survey tool like surveymonkey. Recruit research candidates from the list that you made during the Ecosystem Review. Develop an interview script that really probes their needs and expectations of your brand. Ask what types of marketing and advertising the members would find acceptable, and which types they won’t. Ask if they would be willing to help shape programs and advertisements (if you choose to go that route), Themes of member need, expectation of conduct from your organization, and tolerance of advertising / marketing messages should emerge from this research.

Step 4. Community Strategy Development
This final phase will combine the inputs of business goals, user needs and the existing community audit to form a community strategy. Evaluating member need and business goals side by side should provide you with direction on the types of community opportunities to engage in. The ecosystem audit will provide direction on where to participate, and if there is an opportunity for your organization to host part of that conversation by building a destination site, hosting discussion groups, etc. Based on the content of the previous phases, the team should be able to pull together the following key areas of strategy:

  • Business goals: 3-5 points of value or reasons the organization is engaging in community-building activities
  • Member needs summary: 3-5 key needs community members have of your organization that can be fulfilled or supported via online community
  • Community ecosystem map: A list (or diagram) of the key communities and community members that are currently discussing your organization and/ or brand
  • Recommended community tactics: A list of key tactics that meet the business goals as well as member needs
  • Metrics / ROI strategy: Specific metrics to evaluate community-building efforts by, and an ROI model that articulates dimensions of value (loyalty, affinity, time engaged, etc)
  • Engagement plan / calendar: Key tactics mapped to specific dates

As with anything, your mileage may vary -)

I’ve also seen the “Gnome” model used by companies, with much less success.

Online Community Indentity and Reputation

Earlier this week, I published the “Identity, Reputation and Ranking” research study to members of our Online Community Research Network. The study was designed to discover best practices for content rating and ranking, and to establish a baseline of current practice for supporting member identity and reputation.

I inititated the study in early November, and sent approximately 250 survey invitations to online community professionals in our network of executives and practitioners.

Over the course of the research, we 54 completed surveys. Participants (who respond on the condition the results remain anonymous) included community managers, strategists and executives from large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, consulting organizations and platform providers.

We asked 21 questions that explored member identity in the community, member reputation, reputation systems, content ranking, and moderation. We also explored current attitudes about member profile portability and universal login / ID.

In particular, I thought the data we got back on member profile fields was interesting. The graph below shows profile fields broken out by % of communities that require the field, ask for the field an don’t require it, or simply don’t ask for the field.

The research results uncovered several other interesting findings, including:

• New members typically don’t fill out non-required profile fields (> 25%)
• Slightly less than 1/3 of the respondents (32%) have, or plan on making member’s profiles portable in the next 6 months;
• Slightly less than 1/3 of the respondents (32%) have, or plan on implementing a universal ID solution in the next 6 months;
• The majority of respondents have, or are developing a reputation system for their communities.

We plan on releasing the full report to the public in April of 2008. For the list of currently available research reports, please check out the Online Community Research Network home page.