Essential Tips for Building a Successful Online Enterprise Community

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Here are some key highlights from a brilliant presentation by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks and SNCR Fellow, at the NewComm Forum last week where she provided excellent insights into how to build highly effective and engaging enterprise communities.

DiMauro provided some valuable best practices for folks building their first enterprise community or those looking for ways to increase engagement in their existing communities. 

A successful enterprise community requires extensive strategic planning and as DiMauro put it “Begin with the end in mind”

  • What does the business need for the community to be successful?
  • What do community members need from the community to get value?

Here are some specific advantages of having an online community:

  • Break down geographical barriers globally
  • Allow for more detailed and sustained conversations
  • Offer interactive access
  • Build trusted relationships

DiMauro presented a simple model to depict what constitutes a community and highlighted the key differences between Consumer (B2C) vs. Enterprise (B2B) communities that are helpful in planning the goals and designing the community:online-community

Consumer communities typically have large numbers and it’s easier to get to a critical mass. The participation in the consumer community is based on personal experience and it’s a low-touch environment with very little hand-holding. The consumer community has interpretive mission (it can be whatever you want it to be) while it’s quick to scale, users have weak ties (once the need has been fulfilled, the member moves on).

  • On the other hand, enterprise community numbers vary with the industry and the members are motivated by a common purpose. In stark contrast to the consumer communities, these tend to be high touch and while, adoption is slow, the members have stronger/ more persistent ties. Enterprise communities usually have a common mission or charter that is visibly embraced by the community.

 When it came to enterprise community design,  DiMauro stressed that,

 “Enterprise communities must be more intuitive and simplified than consumer communities”

While this may seem counter-intuitive to those who want to add as many Web 2.0 bells and whistles as possible, DiMauro cautioned against making any assumptions about usage of Web 2.0 tools as even the “basic” Web 2.0 tools like RSS feeds may not be well understood. The key takeaway here was that the underlying technology is not important. What is important is the need that’s being solved.

She also went on to explain that consumers are more agile users and they are also more tolerant than the enterprise user. The features of the community should be tailored to meet needs of the community and that’s why understanding the community and knowing how the audience uses the information is critical.

Mauro’s take on User Generated Content (UGC) was also very insightful. She said that UGC is the most important content you can offer to an enterprise community because more likely than not, the community itself is the expert. DiMauro stressed the importance of connecting information with a purpose for any enterprise community. The focus should always been on solving a business problem or suppose a business process and each content piece must be useful, usable and engaging.

When it came to internal business processes and roles, DiMauro said,

“New tools onto an old process won’t yield desired results. Enterprise communities require a business process redesign.”

or enterprise communities, relationship between marketing and community needs to be clearly defined and rules of engagement should be well-thought out. It’s essential private community, respect the member’s words and thoughts. It’s not uncommon to mistake the purpose as lead-generation. DiMauro was very eloquent in her description of the difference between marketing and community,

“Marketing brings community to the door, community welcomes them home.”

She said that a great way to kill a community or shut down the conversation and information is to spam the community with direct mail or hard sell messages. Outsourcing community programs – great for large enterprises but that’s a very important channel, outsourcing competitive intelligence and minimizes impact of the conversation.

Last but not the least, DiMauro stressed that the success of any online community is highly dependent on engagement, which is typically lower in enterprise communities than in consumer communities. Critical mass easier to reach in consumer space and as a result the community is much more engaged with high levels of participation. In a professional environments, a great deal of hand-holding and outreach needs to take place.

Especially at the executive level, there’s always the fear of being wrong or looking stupid, That’s why executives need support to engage and need to be shown the value that they are adding to the community. They need to be educated on how to participate. Offer a value proposition that’s so compelling (from the user’s POV) that they must engage to survive professionally.

DiMauro highlighted the strategic role that a community manager plays in an enterprise community. She said that Gartner established this long time back, but it‘s a common best practice that the community manager is the most important role in the enterprise community and the  serves to facilitate linkages between the community and members. She said the participation in a B2B community typically breaks up in to the following ratio:

1 : 9 : 90 – leaders : activists : members

  • 90% won’t do anything
  • 9% will participate actively
  • 1% will emerge as leader

Constituency identification is key in designing the community, said DiMauro. Understanding whom you serve and how you want to serve them provides the driving business rationale for an enterprise community program. This leads to members who engage with each other and the enterprise and sustains their interest.

“Who dictates the where, when, why, and how.”

Until you decide who you want to serve and how, you can’t design a successful community.

Here are the success factors outlined by DiMauro,

  • Solve a business issue or enable a business process improvement – faster or better than in person
  • Be easy and intuitive
  • Involve users in co-creation
  • Have a strong executive sponsor who is willing to lead by example
  • Generate clear revenue or returns
  • Outcomes of use must be linked to key internal functions like marketing, sales, product development
  • Have a well crafted user engagement plan (beyond the 100 days plan)

Common Missteps that businesses make, according to DiMauro:

  1. Business goals don’t match the community features. Intention and outcome need to be aligned for a successful online community.
  2. “Tool talk” before business strategy. Understanding what you want to do with the tool is more important than figuring out which tool to use.
  3. Building Mausoleums instead of Sherpa tents. DiMauro stressed the important of constant learning and developing an evolutionary process to guide the enterprise community to success. She recommends an evolutionary approach – build, learn, evolve, build, learn, evolve, build..
  4. Excessive Exuberance. DiMauro discussed how many people look at the wrong numbers and get carried away because it justifies what they’re doing. It’s important to measure the right metrics.
  5. Lack of business integration. A big mistake many enterprises make is to that they don’t leverage what they’ve learned internally. She recommends mining the raw data for trend analysis and report findings and outcomes to sales/marketing/product development.

Vanessa DiMauro’s presentation is available on the NewComm Forum website.

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