Alas, the last part of this series (and my favorite) communities.
I do believe that communities are going to become the most important part of any social business – even to the point of quasi replacing the customer as the recipient of products, services, and experiences. I said this in my first long post on SCRM (A Brief History of SCRM), and I still maintain it. It is one of the two pillars of my research into 2010 and beyond. There are three things I want to cover at this high level:
First, why communities and not clients.
A very common assumption from organizations is that communities are nothing more than groups of customers. I defined communities before as
a like-minded group of individuals that favors two-way communication as a way to increase their power and knowledge
The critical parts of this definition are the increases in power and knowledge, not the aggregation or grouping of individuals. Individuals will remain as they are, single entities that purchase products, receive services, and interact with the organization. That is not going to change, nor is the delivery of experiences to customers going to change.
What must change is the way organizations interact with communities. Until now the collective thought is that communities are “owned” by organizations and that they are entitled to the knowledge and benefits derived from them. If the organization provides a support community, the knowledge generated by it is now part of the corporate knowledge-base. If the organization sponsors a marketing community, it can be used a focus group. Nothing is further from the true.
There is a lot of value to derived from a community, but none of it comes directly from the community (OK, some of it does probably — a support community will reduce the number of support tickets, a marketing community will provide insights into R&D needs, and a sales community does reduce the cost of sales – but the largest value you can obtain is not from “owning” the community). The major value an organization can derive from a community is that it knows who the influencers for their customers are. What better value can you obtain from a group that to know who the influencers to your customers are, and have the ability to influence them, change their mind, an even obtain a referral.
This is similar to outfitting your house’s basement with all the amenities so your high school-age son or daughter brings her or his friends over all the time. What better piece of mind as the parent of a teenager that having them at home – and with their influencers (sorry, friends). This is the way you should think of the communities: as the points of influence for your customer, and the people you need to interact with so they, in turn, influence your customer in your favor.
Second, purpose of communities in SCRM.
The best implementation for any community, regardless of the purpose is to provide a platform and let the users define and use their own communities. Let them self-police and regulate their own communities (preserve the right to close communities that are offensive or otherwise detrimental to your business or society but let the community manage their own users), and you will notice a much richer knowledge and participation.
There are three purposes for communities as part of an SCRM strategy:
Ideation and Innovation - generate ideas related to product, services, features, good and bad. Either use the information provided to innovate and improve existing components or to create new products. The organization can participate as a member, but ideation communities are better served by letting them freely express ideas and features, acknowledge them, inform on the progress, and provide news and information about other products – not as marketing, rather as informational channel. The role members play as active two-way participants and co-creators make them very different from focus groups (which are exclusively one-way offline communities).
Service and Support - these are traditionally forums, but are not the only example. The idea is to have the community members assist each other, and generate knowledge that can be leveraged by the organization to augment their existing knowledge-base. Participation from the organization as super-users or admins is necessary to maintain the community active and engaged, although heavy recruitment of super-users is an alternative, as the members don’t care where the answer comes from as long as it is correct. A reputation system is mandatory for trust in the answers to develop. A very important part of enlisting the community to create content is to ensure they are also there to assist in the maintenance as it changes.
Feedback - we traditionally see these communities develop as subsets of the other two, when people begin to express their opinions about product or service as a result of a service transaction or ideation implementations. The main role of these communities is to monitor people’s feedback and respond in teal time to problems or situations that arise. Twitter is probably the best known example of how these communities are used today. The critical aspect is to capture and act on the feedback, then use it internally to improve the underlying processes.
What’s about Sales communities?
Not part of an SCRM implementation; they tend ot be internally focused, collaborative groups that offer the ability for salespeople to collaborate and improve their jobs – but no measurable direct sales benefits to the organization. For organizations to be able to create and perceive value from sales the current sales model of one-to-one, privileged relationships between sales people and customers must change. No one in the organization owns the customer, the customer owns the organization. Alas, I Don’t see that happening anytime soon, but would love to see it.
Third, what types of communities are we talking about?
Sure, when I say communities you immediately think of the traditional model of forums – but there is so much more than that to consider. Yes, forums are one part of communities — but not the best or more important one. They serve a specific purpose and they do have a place in your community sub-strategy, but there is so much more to communities. Consider these community models:
- Forums – the traditional, continuation from the old BBS (bulletin board systems) and Compuserve Forums except that these are in an open network (Internet). The idea is to offer a place to have themed, threaded conversations. Most often used in service communities since is easy to segment by product and problem-type.
- Wikis – although not generally thought of as communities, the fact that they can store knowledge and share it among their members makes for good communities where collaboration and content are more important that the conversations. Yes, they do allow for conversations, but they work much better as content manager framework than as a conversation manager (forums are excellent for that),
- Blogs – yes, they are communities. Sure, they tend to be weaker than wikis for content management, after all there is only one author and the content is mostly static after publication, but the serve well as a tools to reach more and more people, and enter into conversations. The threaded comments section is very similar to a forum, but the need for content before the conversation and the static segmentation by posts makes them not very efficient for lengthy, multi-topic conversation.
- Newsletter – this is the perfect example of a one-way community used to spread knowledge. It severely lacks on real communities options for two-way conversations and the spreading of knowledge from all members to all members, but it works very well for passive communities of people that tend to not get engaged and mostly read (you did hear about the 90-9-1 rules – right? newsletter cater to the 99-1-0 rule)
- Offline – I know, incredible that I would mention a community that has no bearing on technology-driven implementations. But that is because SCRM is NOT a technology-driven implementation, and if you follow the basic definition for communities I used, and the fact that organizations are trying to reach all the communities that influence their customers, offline are the ones that deserve more attention than online, since most people spend far more time in offline communities than they do in online communities.
After you select a purpose for the community and a model that caters to that purpose, you need to define the model of community you want to leverage. There are three types of communities to choose from:
- Task-Driven – short-term communities created and used for a specific purpose. Also called ad-hoc communities, they focus the interactions in a specific event or situation. An example is a feedback community prepared for the launch of a product. When the product is launched, the task is completed that the community disappears (although, sometimes it changes into a support community – but the conversion rates are not as good as recruiting rates for new support communities).
- Objective-Driven – long-term, established communities with a specific objective (e.g. collect ongoing feedback, provide support). They don’t have specific end-dates (e.g. an event occurring), and they have large quantities of active members participating in them. Good example of this is a service and support community, where new members join periodically and even though the product may change versions or features, the community continues to provide support. Over time it becomes a recognized element in the experience of owning that specific product.
- Impromptu – these are the ones that show the most promise. They come together without notice, for a specific event or task, and they are created by their members without prodding or help, there is not maintenance or rules to abide by, and the organization is not aware of their existence immediately. The promise for these communities is for organizations to be able to capture real-time actionable insights that would change the way they act in light of those insights. A sports game community built up and discarded shortly after the game, providing wisdom-of-the-crowds to coaches and analysts? The feedback affected people can provide back to the company during a PR crisis? The use of twitter during the recent Iranian elections? All examples of impromptu communities with great value. The best way to sponsor them is to provide the platform for communities to come together without notice, carry out their short-lived purpose, and then move on.
The community is the basis for Social CRM to exist and for Social Businesses to grow. There is no social without the communities.
I know, you are going to tell me how social is all about the customer, not the community. However, show me a customer that functions without a community and I will agree with you. Would you rather aim for managing a relationship with a single customer at a high cost? Or would it be better to engage with multiple communities and affect the same customer via them in an organic form at far lower cost?
What do you think of this post? the entire series? is there anything I am missing in the series or here? are you working on your roadmap to SCRM? would love to know more about it…