With Enterprise Online Communities, Simplicity Wins. Or Does It?


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With Facebook’s recent acquisition of photo effects and sharing mobile app, Instagram, it is easy to see how one could say that simplicity wins the day in social networking software. Twitter’s meteoric rise and the success of employee collaboration tool, Yammer, are also examples of the power of simple, easy-to-learn social applications with easy-to-use social networks.

Social business professionals have even written about the importance of simplicity in enterprise online community platforms. However, the reality is slightly more nuanced that that. Simple social networks have a dark side when companies and membership organizations try to engage their online communities to improve specific facets of their performance – productivity, sales, member retention, customer satisfaction, etc. Let’s examine both sides of the coin.

Simplicity is Important for User Adoption

When people generalize about requirement that social business software must be simple, they are only telling half the story. They are most likely referring to the end user experience. It is true that the processes and features of your private online community should be simple and easy for customers, employees, and members to participate in.

Here are some things that should be simple, straightforward, and take little to no instruction:

  • Forums & listservs
  • Groups & communities
  • Account settings & subscriptions
  • Surveys & polls
  • Media & document libraries
  • Commenting & ratings
  • Friending & following
  • Event registration
  • Online purchases
  • Wikis

As Chelsi Nakano, wrote in the above referenced article, “At the end of the day, the power is in the people, not the software.” If your online community’s user experience is not easy-to-learn and easy-to-use, the next part is irrelevant.

Simplicity Can Hinder an Online Community’s Impact on Business Goals

In order to be able to successfully analyze, grow, and manage a private online community, not all aspects should be basic. Back end systems can and should be more complex to keep people engaged, ensure that the community offers up enough value to your target audiences, and provide actionable business intelligence to multiple departments in the organization.

Here are some examples of community building functions that need to be more robust:

  • Segmentation & security
  • Email marketing & alerts
  • Personalization
  • Membership management
  • Reporting & analytics
  • Revenue management & financial reporting
  • Event & conference management
  • CRM or association management software integration

Unfortunately, it is often the case that organizations implement a member or customer community for its simple interface and intuitive features, then realize that the breadth and depth of the platform limits their ability to provide their customers with the value they demand. These organizations then need to incur the financial costs and embarrassment of switching online community software platforms, or live with a basic system that only provides limited results when compared with their initial vision and business plan.

Online Community Takeaway

When adding a private online community to the center of your member or customer engagement strategy, be sure to keep in mind that simplicity is paramount in customer-facing features, while community management tools need to be intricate enough to see your community well into the future.

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 http://blog.socious.com.


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