This is the first in a series of three blog posts where I discuss the role of community strategy, operations and tactics - and share lessons we've learned at The Community Roundtable working with hundreds of members and clients.
A community will fail if the strategy is poor – even if the tactics are great.
Poor engagement is largely seen as a tactical problem – not enough members, the wrong type of members, not enough content, poor technology and more. This happens because community management tactics are the most obvious influence on engagement – and the one people see. While tactics do indeed matter, community strategy has a far bigger influence on engagement and overall success.
Community strategy is what harnesses the motivations of the community and, if it does this well, there are few tactical barriers big enough to dissuade the community from engaging.
Organizations have a tough time getting this right. They tend to think mostly about what they need. Take for example, the executive who is fired up to launch a community for a new product she is championing – and interested in exploring a new approach to generate interest and support customers. At first blush, it sounds like a good opportunity for a community approach – the organization is not risking existing revenue streams with an experimental approach, a new product offers an exciting opportunity and digital communications channels are a great mechanism for sharing information and attracting interest.
The problem? No one cares.
Why? No one uses the product… yet.
You can almost hear the crickets even before the community is launched.
So is it futile? Absolutely not. However, the existing strategy is likely to fail because it’s oriented around making the organization successful, instead of making its potential customer successful. There is no shared value. That means there is no reason for the customer to invest in it – and no motivation to engage.
What if instead, the community strategy focused on the problem solved by the new product? It’s a subtle but critical shift in orientation. It’s an approach that not only interests potential customers but it will also interest potential partners, analysts and media – making the community a place that hosts all sorts of discussions about the problem set, including conversations about how the new product addresses the problem. If it’s an important problem, potential customers are motivated to participate. The strategy defines a shared value – solving a problem – that both the organization and potential customers have a vested interest in solving.
The lack of a compelling community strategy is often the reason communities fail – the online environment and enterprise social networks are littered with dead spaces that failed to thrive because people confused having a place to meet with having a good reason to meet.
So, how can you build a community strategy that works?
Understand your target members.
- Understand the community environment and what competes for members’ time and attention.
- Define the shared purpose, shared value and business model that will support your strategy.
- Build a community roadmap that articulates how you will approach your community building.
- Recruit a member advisory board to get feedback.
- Review your community strategy, business model, roadmap and programming calendar with the advisory board and revise as needed until they are excited.
You may be able to skip some of these steps if you feel like you have sufficient insight into your key potential members and the environment in which the community will exist. However, getting feedback and ensuring there is excitement is a critical - and often missed – step.
Ensuring excitement is, in fact, a litmus test for a good community strategy. If you cannot find five potential members who are legitimately excited or intrigued about the prospect of the community, you need to revisit the community strategy and roadmap. No one wants to come to a party that lacks energy – the same is true for communities. This may create an inconvenient truth for executives or delay your community launch but getting it right will pay long-term dividends.
If the community’s shared purpose and value are compelling and the business model is structured to generate more value for members than they contribute, they will come back to engage again and again – and everyone will get more value out of the community than they invest into it.