Online Community Software: How to Bridge the Gap Between Potential and Results


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Closing the Gap Between Online Community Software's Promise vs. Results

At first glimpse, many companies seem to have effectively integrated social business technologies into their marketing processes, customer relationship strategy, and partner programs. However, upon closer look, you’ll find, even with the right technology in place, many organizations don’t have thriving customer, partner, or employee communities.

According to the findings from the 2013 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project by MIT Sloan Management Review, companies struggle not with choosing the right technology; rather they lack the focus needed to ensure that people, processes, and technology are aligned correctly. The MIT study indicated that the three major culprits holding back progress in social business are:

  1. Plan. Lack of an overall strategy
  2. Focus. Too many competing priorities
  3. Value. Lack of a proven business case or strong value proposition

Such obstacles can create a big disconnect between what is possible with online communities in business and the current state of community-based relationship management strategies. In order to bridge this divide, companies need to understand what customers, partners, and employees need, as well as the full extent of what the technology can deliver.

How to Bridge the Disconnect Between the Potential and Reality of Online Community Software

Even today, as companies and membership organizations build branded online communities for their customers or members at a faster pace than at any other time in history, this is still an under-appreciated, under-resourced, and under-discussed area.

Luckly, after nearly 12 years of helping businesses and membership organizations implement and grow online communities, Socious has a treasure trove of success stories and failures to draw from.

To create an online community where knowledge is shared easily, conversations spark innovation, and all touch points of the customer experience are seamlessly integrated into business management workflows requires more than just choosing the right online community software – although that’s part of the equation.

A successful online customer or member community demands a clear strategy that outlines goals and expectations, as well as a plan to remove existing barriers to adoption.

Your Team Holds the Key

Change is never easy, so it’s crucial that employees feel empowered by new online community technology, not frustrated by its presence. To improve user adoption rates, social business technologies often need to solve problems from the bottom up, not the top down.

Solve Real Problems

The newness and potential of online communities and other social business strategies are exciting. Many people on your team will want to be involved and have ideas about how private social networks fit into your organization. Take careful measures to ensure that the problems of your target community are real and not imagined.

In order to understand the issues customers face the most and how they can be resolved, it’s essential to ask the right questions and turn the answers into actionable features and content. Improving even the slightest bottleneck can result in higher productivity and better alignment with your customers’ top priorities. This can lead to higher customer satisfaction with your company, products, and community.

4 Ways to Get Real Results From Your Customer Community Software Investment

Once you know what issues to tackle, you can put your online community software plan into action. Real examples of the ROI of business online community platforms include:

  • Increasing customer satisfaction and reducing support costs
  • Collaborating with customers to improve products
  • Improving sales and marketing by developing stronger customer advocates

However, how you roll out your online community software strategy can determine how it is received and its impact of your core organizational goals. It will require a strong ongoing communications campaign that is designed to educate, promote and demonstrate the platform’s capabilities, as well as set internal and customer expectations.

Here are four ways to ensure your online community flourishes, rather than flops:

#1) Educate Your Team

Show the problems that online community software is designed to solve for your employees. Along with creating opportunities for small wins, be sure to outline expectations, roles, responsibilities, and how progress will be monitored.

Clearly communicate that with this upside comes a commitment to support the community in each person’s role and consistently look for new ways to improve the health and value of the community.

Due to a lack of appropriate expectation setting from the start, online communities are often shelved before they have a chance to deliver results. It is important to lay out a rough (and living) timeline with milestones to educate people inside your organization on when different departments can expect results from the online community.

#2) Educate Your Customers and Partners

Make it about them. Over-communicate how your online community can help your customers and partners. Clearly demonstrate how they can use it to find more success with your products or services, as well as in their jobs and careers.

How-to blogs, video series, and customer interviews are all very effective ways to use content inside your customer community to consistently make the online community’s value clear.

#3) Think Big

Don’t limit your online community strategy by not understanding all that is possible from the outset. Learn about all of the ways that your organization can benefit from creating stronger relationships with its communities, as well as about all of the tools and social features you have at your disposal.

The last thing that you want to is to bypass an opportunity to solve a major company or customer problem using your online community software because you weren’t aware that it was possible.

#4) Focus on the Small

While you’ll have an understanding of all that is possible, that doesn’t mean that you should launch all of the online community software features at once. Be careful not to overwhelm people with all that the platform can do right off the bat.

Use small amounts of positive reinforcement, like responding to discussions and recognition of seniority, to prove to your target audience that the community concept is valuable and worth their time. Build social density by creating small opportunities for engagement at each stage of the community member’s lifecycle.

In the end, your online community software is only as good as the execution of your strategy to implement the platform and grow adoption. Alone, technology is just a tool. Coupled with a sound strategy and communication plan that works to solve problems, empower users, and improve the bottom line, your online community software can play a central role in realizing your organizational goals.

Online Community Software Takeaway

Online community platforms have the potential to change how customers or members work and engage with each other. However, without a plan for how online community software will be implemented and managed, companies may not be able to meet their expectations of a smarter, more dynamic customer or member engagement strategy.

By developing a clear plan and communicating how your online community will realistically benefit engaged stakeholders, companies and membership organizations can garner long-term support and participation from customers, partners, and employees.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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