I recently heard that Xerox just rebranded their whole company and launched an online community so I went to take a look. What I found made me feel sorry for whoever tried to champion the project. Most companies think that you just turn the community software on and it will somehow, magically create a community. Many of those companies marginalize the effort as some sort of "feel good" check-box they know they need but aren't sure why. Worst case, they really just want another place to Market their stuff. In these situations, the initiative is never connected to their business strategy or seen as core. These community managers (and their bossess bosses boss) can learn a little from our beefy friends at Orange County Chopper. That in mind, consider these five suggestions:
1. Geek out on your products in public
I don't own a motorcycle. I'm not even close to being mechanically-oriented. But getting close to the product process and having the opportunity to see behind the scenes totally grabs my interest. Especially since it feels like reality even though I know it's produced. Ironically, I talked to someone today who just left Xerox. She told me that Xerox's culture is super product-centric and there are fanatical product people there. Oh really? Well let's see that! Give those people an ok place to geek out and make me care. It will be great for the public and help the product group engage more directly with customers. Then the community becomes less "feel good" and more important.
2. Be real
Reality television humanizes the story. It shows us-- in this case-- a garage filled with people making mistakes, decisions and connections. Sometimes the interactions are ugly. It's ok. Show us that. Involve us in it. Yes, I realize you have to control certain things. But so does reality tv.
3. If it doesn't work, build something else
Those guys have to ditch their plans all the time. They tinker on a bike, back up and talk about it, then throw out what doesn't work. Changing directions publicly is ok. Especially if you involve the rest of us along the way.
4. Show us what's cool
There's no doubt that everyone on American Chopper loves what they do. It makes me love it, too. Find the passionate people in your company and bring them to the forefront. If you're not into it, how can we be? Show us, don't tell us.
5. Trust people who don't work at your company
Those Chopper guys always have crazy deadlines. They collaborate closely with the paint, chrome, and parts vendors they work with. It's one team even though they don't all work at Orange County Chopper. There's no reason you can't involve interested stakeholders in your ideas and make them part of your process, too. If you're worried about doing it publicly, set up a private place to invite them. Give other people a wrench, too.
I'm sure there's more ideas but I wanted to throw these out. Chime in if you have some.