Last Thursday (October 6), I presented this topic. A recording is available here. Through examples, I explained how releasing a new product need not create the customer support spike so often a feature in the product lifecycle, and how switching from email support to community forums can dramatically reduce support transaction costs and improve customer satisfaction.
TSIA’s John Ragsdale provided the introduction and identified the following as key challenges to community success:
- Knowledge management: leveraging community content for self-service and assisted service
- Microtransactions and page views: ‘bleeding edge’ technology does not guarantee community success
- Staffing models: how many employees are required, what skills, how to manage?
- Process, process, process: defining the customer experience and delivering it
- Core vs. context: Is community management really in your DNA?
It’s clear that many companies focussed attention on the underlying technology platform in the early days assuming, incorrectly, that minimal human resources would be needed to deliver on their investment. This resulted in unhealthy communities and an environment that gave little to either the corporation or the community.
A community is like a garden. Having put in so much effort to get it looking good (or paid the landscaper to do this) it’s counter-intuitive to step back and watch the weeds take over, the lawn turn into a hayfield and the bushes run wild. Executives wanted (and still want) a place where:
- Users find what they’re looking for, ask questions, and receive answers
- Contributors feel that their contributions are valued
- The environment feels safe, welcoming, encouraging
- There is life, interaction, energy
- Access to the collective knowledge, experience, brain-power of followers
- Interaction between peers, and company and community, is real and valued
- Help is delivered at lower cost, and with greater customer convenience
- New audiences are reached, including those that would never call
So what constitutes the right approach?
Social media, according to Erik Qualman, is not about technology but about people. Therefore, technology is merely the enabler and the health and energy of the community comes from people that participate. They will come, but what will compel them to stay?
Listen to the webcast recording, please. A lot is explained in a short time.
Going back to the garden analogy, having paid for the garden to be landscaped (or having done it yourself) you then have the structure in place but not the maturity. Plants, trees and shrubs need time to grow and they need to be encouraged and guided (fertilised and pruned). The gardener you employ (or the time you devote yourself) is needed and the garden takes on a beauty and shape as time goes by.
Beyond the social media hype, it’s all about people. On the outside, there are your customers, fans, followers. Without them there is no community. On the inside, there’s the team that clips, manicures, feeds, nurtures, moves, encourages and shapes the content and environment within the framework enabled by the technology platform. Get the team right and you can realise the vision of a community and the return you anticipated when the adventure began.