Archive for November, 2017

Considerations for creating an online community

Before you proceed to create an online community for your product or service, ensure that you have given it much thought and deliberation. Communities that are created without a plan and purpose often fall by the wayside, becoming deserted islands that live on the Internet to fade away into insignificance.

While the topics discussed below are mainly for profit driven organizations, some of them hold good for altruistic communities as well.

Purpose

Identify how the creation of an online community maps to your company’s or team’s business goals. Ensure that your plan speaks to either minimizing costs or maximizing profits. Create a vision statement that reflects the purpose of your project.

Communities that are created without a plan and purpose often fall by the wayside, becoming deserted islands that live on the Internet to fade away into insignificance.

Communities that are created without a plan and purpose often fall by the wayside, becoming deserted islands that live on the Internet to fade away into insignificance.

Metrics that you put in place to track the progress and success of your plan should be specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time-based.

Audience

The quality of discussions in a community are driven by the kind of people that will stay involved with what’s happening in that space. You will have to think upfront about how you will drive members with similar interests to your space and keep them invested.

For audience to stay involved and committed, they need a shared purpose and goal. The community should add value to their lives much as their discussions add value to your organization. Content seeding may sometimes be necessary, especially during the initial stages, to keep the community alive.

Manpower and resources

While an online community is mostly made of people from outside of your organization, you will need people from within to manage, monitor, and report from online channels. They will need a training plan to ensure that they are able representatives of the company and are well versed with policies governing online communication.

People that you are wanting to hire will need a career roadmap, well-defined job responsibilities, and an organization structure before they accept. You will be competing with teams that are more well-established and are considered “safer” options.

Online community managers

Online community managers are responsible for ensuring smooth interactions among members of a community while reporting about the state of affairs to senior management. Depending on the size of the organization, they may have a team responding to regular queries leaving them with time to formulate policies and replies around more complicated questions.

Related teams in your company

You will be needing buy ins from other teams that you will be working with such as legal, human resources, finance, public relations, customer support, IT, and product teams before you get started. Consider the concerns that they are likely to come up with, and have a plan.

You will probably not be prepared for everything that comes your way, and that is OK. Ensure that you stay true to your answers with a promise of more information if you don’t have it at hand.

Senior management

If your company is investing in social media for the first time, you will have to identify members within your organization that will buy into your mission. You can start with one-to-one discussions and identify their concerns before you proceed to pitch your plan to a bigger audience for approval.

Companies often resist changes to the way they operate, and your plan will have to anticipate all reasons for refusal, and address them upfront. Online communities are challenging and open up the company to all sorts of legal hurdles they have not imagined. Consider your battle half won even if they walk away with the promise of considering your idea.

Online communities and their benefits

Image depicting online communities

An online community is a group of people that use a shared space on the Internet to discuss topics and information related to their area of interest.

An online community is a group of people that use a shared space on the Internet to discuss topics and information related to their area of interest.

Because the community is virtual, its members are not restricted to limitations across time and space. For example, Jazz music lovers from across the world can come together on the same platform to discuss and share information about latest albums, trends, concerts, and such.

In the world of technology and retail, companies often create spaces on their website where their users can discuss and provide opinion on their products. They help companies get feedback directly from the customers while also allowing their user base to share opinions and help each other.

There are so many online communities on the Internet today that the chances of you not finding one on your area of interest are remote. From ice chewers to skateboarders to geeks, there is something for everyone, if you can only summon yourself to find it.

Online communities can be both public and private.

Public communities don’t place restrictions on access to its members. The ability to post may sometimes be conditional such as registering with the group or accepting their terms and conditions. Other than that, access is free and the content in these spaces is readily available to search engines such as Google and Bing.

Examples of public communities: Adobe Forums, Jazz Music Forum

Private communities, on the other hand restrict access to their discussions through an invitation based system. Content in such spaces is beyond the reach of search engines. Many companies create subspaces within their ecosystem where confidential information is discussed and shared with people that have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Benefits of joining an online community

–          Latest information on topics related to your area of interest

–          Freedom to access and share content at your time and convenience

–          Access to members from across the world for help and advice

–          Establish credential among peers

Benefits of hosting an online community (for organizations)

–          Direct feedback on products and services from users

–          Customer retention – customers are more likely to trust companies that they can have a direct conversation with

–          Cost-effective marketing – by allowing users to come to you, you have more targeted and focused discussions around your product and releases.

–          Product issues and feature sets –  by providing pre-release builds to select members of the community, or by asking for opinions around a feature, you identify bugs and feature requests that most matter to your users

–          Honest ratings and opinions

–           Reduced support costs – Allowing users to share information and help each other reduce the number of people that will pick up the phone to call your contact centers

We will be discussing more on each of these topics through the course of my blog posts. Hold on for now. We are just getting started.

My new series – Art of managing support forums

Bulb with idea pods

Managing support communities can be challenging. This blog series will try and simplify that.

Purpose of this blog series

It has been five years since I joined the social media support team at Adobe, which among other things, manages Adobe’s online forums for our products. In these years, I believe I have come to have a fair understanding of the intricacies of managing and participating in public forums. It is my desire to share these learnings with you. I hope you find them useful.

My initial blog posts will broadly touch upon online communities and their benefits. Moving forward, my blog posts will mostly be focused on forums created with the primary intention of users to share information with and help each other.

I will also try and touch upon aspects of social psychology and how it can be effectively utilized to manage public forums.

These blog posts mainly derive their content from my experience. I will also be using materials from the Internet to verify my writing before posting it. I will rely on you to correct me when I go wrong, and I will ensure that all constructive feedback is taken into consideration in future posts.

It would be wonderful if I can get all these posts published as a book at some point in time. But I am getting ahead of myself already.

Who are these blogs meant for?

If you are responsible for creating and managing public forums, I believe that you will have significant value to derive from my blog posts.

These blogs will also be useful to those wanting to venture into the world of online support forums but haven’t done so far because of various reasons, including the fear of change and the potential harm that public exposure sometimes brings with it.

Parts of these series will probably go beyond the audience I have set for myself, and I do hope that whoever comes to visit will benefit from their visit.