Online community management has (finally) risen to the rank of a being a respected and understood profession. Practitioners now have official titles, proper job descriptions, and sometimes even a bit of budget to allocate. And, due to that well-earned honor, we carry a recognized responsibility to be the voice of the customer, partner or employee for the organization. As the champions of human interaction, an essential part of the role is enabling a vibrant exchange of ideas and shepherding member-created insights to the forefront of the business so they can be acted on in tangible ways. And it doesn’t stop here. Due to the elevation of the profession, community managers are experiencing unprecedented levels of visibility within the organization.
What this means is that organizations are increasingly focused on their online community to deliver value to the business. There is an heightened level of scrutiny and accountability which is causing a radical change in how community leaders engage with peers and communicate about the work they do. The change is both exciting and challenging as it requires new skill sets and an increase in cross-functional collaboration. No longer can community managers remain in the “safe-zone” of managing the site in isolation, and reporting tactical outcomes such as how many new members there are this quarter, how many questions have been answered, and what new content is slotted for publication. This will not be enough to satiate the growing business appetite to understanding business value. Increasingly, community managers are being called upon to codify business metrics and measure of success. It is now a common expectation that community will be able to clearly communicate the ways in which initiative supports and contribute to the top-line, and to work with business to achieve their goals through community.
While this may seem to be a daunting expectation, it can be done. In fact, it must be done well for community’s long-term survival. And, it is especially important to present the community value in a way that captures executives’ attention by tapping into what matters most to them- customer satisfaction, new product and service ideas, cost reduction and idea generation for future innovation which leads to top line growth. But how can this be achieved while maintaining the community’s ongoing priority to serve the members needs? Success can be found in aligning the online community goals and objectives with the overarching business goals of the organization. When online community works as a partner to business it is able to understand their needs and requirements, and subsequently translate them into meaningful features and online programs. When community can speak the language of business it is better positioned to demonstrate business returns.
Armed with this new-found charter, as community managers begin the daunting talk of preparing the end-of-year reports and start planning the road-maps for 2014, here are some questions to consider answering to help bridge the gap between community and business:
- What are the business goals that online community has helped accelerate or made possible in new ways?
- What are the top 3-5 insights gathered from the online community that were explored, investigated or considered for future product or services for the organization?
- Which lines of business were helped by online community and in what way?
- What is the process of capturing insights and ideas and sharing them reliably and effectively with business so that they can acted upon? And, if there is no process, what can online community do to help establish one next year?
- What are the success metrics for community for 2014 and who among the business leaders can or should participate in their development?
In order to help find the inspirations for the answers to these questions and more, here are select tools and resources gathered from the Leader Networks site:
How do you measure member engagement (blog post)
Defining online community metrics (blog post)
How to map out your social business/online community strategy (blog post)
B2B online community milestones and risks (slideshare)
How to excite your executives about online community (slideshare presentation)
Online community health check (blog post)
Avoid online community failure (blog post)
Why B2B companies need to build online communities (research paper)
Designing a thriving B2B online community (interview on best practices)
I hope you will find a nugget or two within these assets to help make the job of managing and reporting on B2B online communities a little easier. (We have been tackling topic of building online communities for business for almost a decade through our research and consulting so if you don’t find what you are looking for, be sure to use our trusty search).
And, as you put the final touches on your community read-outs, be sure to think big (because you are doing important work), share your wins (as well as the challenges faced), ask for help when you need it (community burn-out is common), and don’t undersell the value (community building opens many doors – just ask your favorite salesperson how she uses the community as a strategic differentiator). For online communities to thrive, they must be maniacally focused on delivering huge value to the members – this is a fact that never changes. The artistry is found in maintaining a balance of “gives and gets” to your members and to your organization alike.