When Communities Make Sense

R. Todd Stephens, PhD, is one of the Senior Technical Architects for Strategy and Architecture (Evolving Technologies) for AT&T Corporation. I’m an avid reader of his blog, which gives great tips for effective use of social business tools in large organizations.

Recently, he penned an entry titled “When Communities Make Sense”, take a look at an excerpt from that post.

“When do communities make sense?  We have talked about the business value of communities and social media but how do you know if your product, service, or solution can benefit from a dedicated community?  My small print is that you won’t know for sure until you try but if you want some sort of prediction theory, here goes.

First, you need to make sure you understand your own business model and have clear measurements of success.  If you don’t then how can you be sure that the community is making a difference or not?  Understanding why you exist helps you form the discussion and impact the community can have.  As far as metrics is concerned, you could measure the impact by the utilization of your product or service, you could measure the number of customers or the number of engaged SME’s (Subject Matter Experts).  By measuring the impact of the community, you can make adjustments in your overall product strategy.

The second thing you need is a community of users.  I might argue that you need at least a hundred members of the community that are interested in reading the conversations.  A hundred may be high, but remember most folks will be like helicopter parents dropping in when they see the need and staying on the sidelines the vast majority of the time.  The second group you need is 3-4 dedicated individuals willing to contribute to the community on a regular basis.  Can you get by with 1 or 2?  Yes, if they are willing to contribute on a daily basis.  Having 3-4 gives you more diversity in the opinions and lowers the heavy lifting required.

Finally, you need something to talk about.  Some products are very conducive to conversations while others not so much.  Some products offer a diverse use like Office 2010 where there are multiple products and utility under the Office umbrella.  This type of product would greatly benefit from a community geared toward sharing tips, best practices, and how-to advice.  A product like SharePoint where customization is a business value would be a good candidate for a community.  Areas where there is a lot of change (Mobile Devices), a high degree of impact (Money Matters), where broad communications is needed (Cloud Computing) or where you have an interesting experience (TEC) are great examples of where products or services could benefit from a solid community.”

Strategically, my unit sees our Enterprise Business Community as one of the keys to our social strategy. Many of our product sets are highly technical in nature, lending themselves to detailed and long-term discussions on their most effective use. The tips, best practices, and how-to components are where we, from a care lens, are emphasizing our efforts. Eventually, we expect to move into co-creation and crowdsourcing.

It’s a fairly large effort. With a product set as broad as this, there are a lot of internal SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) who need to be on board to support it. In our Business Community to date, we’ve seen the most interest in, and the most results from, our mobility and unified communications product suites. We expect others to follow soon.

Internally, we have a robust and active Social Business suite that leverages communities to share information and ideas across not only functional areas, but also interest groups. For example, I maintain a community for over 3,000 military veterans and supporters that are members of our Veteran Resource Group. It allows for many ideas to get developed across the wide span of countries and time zones our company covers. We find it to be a very effective way to organize, plan events and national efforts,  and still allow for local chapter leadership to be independent.

  • Here’s an example of how executives network in a community in the Marietta, Georgia, area –
  • Here’s a brief post on what to consider when you’re building a business community online –
  • Here’s a post from Todd Stephens, Ph.D. on why business communities are important:

How are you using communities, both inside the firewall and out? Are we on target with ours? I’d love to hear from you.

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