In the first part of this series, Chris elaborated on a number of categories that represent the kind of framework we're using to connect Clearspace and CSX. This helps us visualize how the whole company can become better integrated with not just customers and partners, but also other industry thought leaders. In the short term these connections may be light, but we can see it maturing into something really powerful that speaks to the true value of Social Productivity.

In the second part of this series, I will elaborate on how these six areas can map to several scenarios for connecting people inside and outside of an organization allowing businesses to become more productive. Let me point out that the mapping is not an easy 1:1 between each internal company function and your external community.  Would you want to participate in a sales or marketing community for a company so that they could sell you stuff or market to you? Probably not. However, as a satisfied customer, you might talk about a company's products to other community members (sounds like something sales and marketing types might want to see)!

 

Products and Services

Product management has always been listening to customers and engaging with them to determine product requirements and get feedback that drives product development, but we shouldn't stop with product management.  Wouldn't it be great if your engineering or development team could see the feedback directly and ask questions to get clarification to make sure they are satisfying the customer with the technical solution? Social productivity tools, like Clearspace, just make it easier to gather input from your customers in an interactive, collaborative environment. In a community setting, your customers can have an open exchange with your employees about new feature requests, ideas, issues with existing functionality and more.  By having this discussion in an open, social setting, we can have honest and ongoing discussions with our customers and use it to more productively set product development roadmaps and drive product decisions. These types of feature discussions have helped Jive engineers and product managers engage productively with our external community.

 

This is also a perfect place to step in with solutions and services to allow customers to embrace the solution and help them solve the issues that come up when talking about product requirements and feature requests. Some individual customers will always need a particular feature that cannot be provided in the product. By having development, product management, and services all involved in the community, your company can make better decisions about which requests should be in the product and which ones can be more quickly provided by the services group.

 

According to Jeremiah Owyang:

The opportunity to build better products and services through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, customer communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

 

Robert Scoble also touched on the value an external community has to product marketing, development, and services in an interview he did with Search CIO, stating:

 

>We used blog-search engines to find anyone who wrote the word "Microsoft" on their blog. Even if they had no readers and were just ranting, "I hate Microsoft," I could see that and link to it, or I could participate in their comments, or send them an e-mail saying, "What's going on?" And that told those people that someone was listening to their rants, that this is a different world than the one in which no one listens. It was an invaluable focus group that Microsoft didn't have to pay for.

 

In the future business landscape, connecting customer feedback within the organization may not be a competitive advantage, it may be a requirement. Claudio Marcus and Kimberly Collins of Gartner quantified the advantage in the B2C market in an interview for Influence 2.0 as such:

 

>...by 2007, marketers that devote at least 50% of their time to advanced customer-centric marketing processes and capabilities will achieve marketing return on investment that is at least 30 percent greater than that of their peers, who lack such emphasis

 

Support

Support organizations can also benefit from social productivity software while supporting customers. When customers and support staff can collaborate in an online environment, both groups get value out of the exchange. Not only can customers search the site to get answers before engaging support, but they can also help troubleshoot issues and provide advice to other customers. Since you are also in the community along with the customers you can quickly correct any misinformation while reinforcing accurate information. In some cases, your customers will come up with solutions, workarounds, and ideas that your internal team would never have considered without this external source of collaboration.

 

The tech industry has known about the value of a support community for some time. Forums have long been the tool of choice for facilitating such a community. However, as Chris pointed out in the first post of this series, "...traditional Communities (like forums) fall short because they are basically dependent on people in the enterprise getting onto the external community to participate." A common platform that extends on both sides of the firewall, such as Clearspace, bridges the chasm between the external and internal, which is what it takes to deliver on the support community value proposition.

 

Evangelism and Reputation Management

These helpful customers mentioned above who proactively help other customers, can also become evangelists for your products. I've seen these enthusiastic community members step up and speak out on behalf of a company when other community members are being unfairly critical. In fact, John points out an example of a Dell customer that has posted and helped 20,452 times since 1999.  A response to criticism that might seem defensive when coming from an employee may be seen as more genuine when coming from a customer. Marketing groups should be courting and talking to these community members and do what it takes to keep them happy. Engaging in this social and open collaboration between internal employees and external users also gives sales and marketing a place to provide information about products and best practices / thought leadership for your industry to keep the customers energized. Managing your reputation also becomes much easier when you can provide information and collaborate in a socially productive environment.

 

I wanted to start here to lay the foundation for how external communities bring value into the organization. Next week I'll share some strategies for how to grow and shape your external community so that it accomplishes the value I described in this post.

 

I'll leave you with a quote from Anne Zelenka at GigaOM:

 

If the promises of social productivity tools prove out, companies deploying them should see improved customer responsiveness, more successful products, more enthusiastic user communities, and better financial results.