In the era of ‘almost post Web 2.0’, creation of new online communities is relatively easy to start.
In fact it seems that in every conversation these days you encounter company representatives who are launching new online communities, and when you dig deep and ask them the reason, the answer is too often a simple ‘why not?’ It is true that the technology is now widely available, and more and more customers want and need communities to answer their questions. However, it is important to remember that successful communities are more than just ad hoc technology projects, and in fact 50% of all new communities fail.
During the months of October and November, I participated in knowledge-sharing conversations with Community Strategists and practitioners from 5 prosperous online support communities to find out what are the commonalities for success. It is no surprise that all of them have support—and accountability—at the very top of their organizations, with a clearly defined mission and an Executive Champion or Business Owner who takes an active interest in the success of their community.
My learnings concluded that despite a variety of creative approaches, each successful online support community benefits from the following:
An Executive Champion, who owns Community, is fully supportive of the vision and strategy of the Community manager. The Executive Champion often sets, approves and oversees the budget, and regularly visits the community vision to ensure it remains relevant to the company’s overall strategic vision.
A social Community manager who is a people person in every sense, and has the ability to seed discussions and build positive relationships with the community and internal staff. The ideal CM has a knack for creating unique events and promotions that keep the active users motivated, engaged and involved.
A flexible and up to date platform that offers the community manager with a wide range of administration and configuration tools to manage community growth. An effective platform eliminates expensive and recurrent requests for engineering resources.
One or two savvy moderators, who set the tone, enforce rules, provide guidance and acknowledgement, and ensure a positive and productive environment for community members on a daily basis.
Good placement of the Community on the home page support home page, navigation, and product pages. A user friendly interface for the community where navigation is intuitive and enjoyable.
Sustained, on-going promotional activities, videos and podcasts, contests and other special promotions. (Promotions truly help attract new members as well as reinvigorate the existing members).
Participation in conversations from the CEO, Executives, and Product Managers.
Outstanding member recognition and reward programs, and special programs such as vigorous reputation systems in place to thank the ‘Super-users’, or ‘Most active users’. All of the companies I spoke to either already hold or are in the process of creating ‘Most Valued Contributors’ programs that offer semi-annual offline gatherings and rewards for their Super-users as a token of appreciation.
A space reserved for members to offer their product insight/feedback and the company’s prompt and active response to the offered suggestions.
Community Leaders who generously shared their expertise and experience:
Apple: Joe Hines (English Community Forums Manager) and Eric Wiens (Global Knowledge Sharing Manager)
Juniper Networks Anton Chiang (Community Manager), Tawnee Kendall (Sr. Specialist, Social Media)
Linksys: Tarik Mahmoud (Sr. Manager, Community eSupport & Service Technology)
Symantec Corporation: Lars Kongshem (Director, Online Marketing & Customer Experience) and Peter Mckellar (Community Manager)
VMware: Robert Dell’Immagine (Director of Community)