My friends over at eModeration invited me to be a “guest blogger” on their fantastic blog which covers topics on all things social. eModeration is one of the established moderation companies (founded in 2002), they provide outsourced moderation services for online communities around the world and in many different languages and are based in the UK (hence my fancy spelling on some words below).
Here is a repost of the interview which focuses on moderation best practices for B2B online communities or view it directly on their site. …
We’re really thrilled that Vanessa DiMauro agreed to answer some questions from us about the challenging topic of business-to-business communities.
Vanessa DiMauro is the CEO of Leader Networks, and a pioneer in business-to-business community building, with over fifteen years experience in creating successful online communities and networks. Vanessa takes the approach of a cultural anthropologist to help businesses effectively use social media to get closer to their customers, generate revenue, innovation and tangible ROI.
eModeration: Let’s start with the basics. What defines a B2B community? How fast are they growing – is it a slower take-up than the consumer communities?
Vanessa: B2B communities are communities of practice that are dedicated to bringing a clearly defined professional group together. Some focus on thought leaders within an organisation, others occur within a company to increase global collaboration, and still others are industry-specific. The emphasis is largely on knowledge sharing and networking within an industry or professional setting. Commonly, these communities are “gated” or have a threshold for membership. While many are free to join and can get quite large, they are focused on the advancement of information sharing, subject specific content, and professional collaboration. For example, within the legal community there is a B2B community called Martindale Connected created by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell to service legal practitioners. Another example is Palladium Group’s Execution Premium Community that brings together strategy practitioners within enterprise to share best practice. These are examples of password protected communities but there are also examples of B2B communities where the content is shared on the open web but the information exchange is private such as Integrative Practitioner – a community for holistic health care providers.
Recently there’s a significant rise of B2B communities, as the use of social media is becoming more widely adopted by enterprise. The policy field is starting to settle into some normative behaviours so more large organizations are looking to B2B communities for customer care, innovation, product and service ideas, and best practice identification. But, yes, they are definitely less common than consumer communities as right now social media is focused on the channel as a marketing tool, but there is so much more to social media application than just consumer marketing.
eModeration: What kind of global impact is the rise in B2B communities having?
Vanessa: We live in a global economy and B2B communities are helping companies accelerate their pace of reach and innovation on a number of different fronts. Take for example the Palladium community I mentioned earlier. With this community, more than ½ of the membership base is non-US, and there is a large Middle East footprint. The mere fact that there are so many global leaders sharing information and experiences in the same space serves as a trigger to thinking about business challenges differently. Also, the members’ peer network is no longer isolated to those people with whom they have regional contact and therefore can extend the platform of collaboration to reach the far corners of the world. From a business perspective, this has a huge impact on the global economy as decision-makers now have greater exposure to a wider range of ideas, services and peers without having to travel, with an enlarged diversity of perspective to those that are regional or country specific.
eModeration: What advantage can be gained from a business setting up its own community – and what are the perils?
Vanessa: There are many advantages that can be gained from a business setting up its own community – they can increase customer intimacy, accelerate new product ideas, generate revenue, surface trends that can be used to launch new service offerings, and most importantly, when built right, they can create a business ecosystem of trust so that the clients or affiliates keep the company top-of mind year round as a trusted source, and not just interact with them at the point of sale.
The most successful B2B online communities solve a difficult challenge – they accelerate a business process in ways that are either faster or better than done in an in-person setting. Because decision-makers, do not have the luxury of time, clear community strategy is a critical success factor with B2B online communities. Most of the communities Leader Networks advises on are new lines of business for a company and need to generate revenue as well as offer additional, clearly defined business benefits to the organization.
It is imperative that the community focuses deeply on servicing the needs of the members:finding the right balance between supporting the goals and objectives of the business while simultaneously servicing the members to fill specific needs in their professional settings. Companies often forget this part about the understanding the member needs, often believing they know what their prospective members want and need without asking them directly. But this is where the missteps often occur as they are usually incorrect. At Leader Networks, we conduct research to find out from the prospective members what business processes they need help with, what keeps them up at night, what the hardest part of their job is. Look for trends and then, and only then, map the tools or the features to solve the problems.
eModeration: What would you say are the fundamental differences between a consumer community and a B2B community, in terms of demographics, objectives, platforms and need for community management?
Vanessa: Most of our understanding about online communities comes from the consumer side as that is where the media tends to focus, so the B2B side of the community equation is often overlooked.
There are many core differences between a consumer community and a B2B community across all those parameters! The member base tends to be older so the design needs to be streamlined and offer fewer features and functions than for a younger audienceship. Because members tend to visit less frequently but for longer durations, the site refresh cycles need to be less rapid but more content-rich. In many cases, successful B2B communities serve as a trusted advisor to the members in terms of steering them to the information and people that they need to be aware of – so the role of the B2B content and community staffs are really to bubble up a limited amount of information that has high value to its audience ship.
And, most importantly, from a moderation perspective, it is an entirely different skill set. The most effective moderators serve the community members as a liaison between people and ideas. Their role is really to facilitate interactions on the site: connecting people with each other so that they can find likeminded peers, developing relationships with members so they can cultivate strong user generated content and help senior professionals succeed.
Especially when the B2B community membership contains very senior professionals, they will require a higher degree of tactical hand-holding to operate the site. But the content and ideas of the community will naturally be driven and directed by them, because they are the thought-leaders. Experts may have a hard time expressing the details of their thinking because they have come to rely on experience-based expert systems. They make decisions tacitly. One example I like to use is the difficulty experienced drivers often have when trying to teach someone how to drive. I just *know* how to do it, but some of the detailed steps elude me because I have done it so often. This is the same with professionals. So, effective moderation often helps experts break down their ideas through a series of questions and idea-exchanges to help them articulate their ideas to others effectively. When a B2B community can get experts to share best practice online, then everyone in the community benefits and time spent on that community is valuable to all.
I offer a webinar-style presentation Social Media for Business: How is it different that offers an in depth look at this subject.
eModeration: Many thanks Vanessa for those insights into the specialism of B2B communities.
If you’ve found this interesting or want to ask questions, please leave comments below, or contact Vanessa directly via: