James Davidson | October 2, 2019
“A new class of company is emerging—one that uses collaborative technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners and suppliers…”
This quote from a McKinsey study has always resonated with me as I consider the benefits and impact that online communities have on the way business is done. In today’s competitive marketplace, companies are working to maximize their opportunities and define the underlying strategy of embracing an online community to connect, engage and extend relationships with customers, employees and partners. From high-tech to higher education, online communities have a strong use case in most verticals, so long as the strategy is driven by business objectives and audience needs, and aligns with existing processes and systems.
An online community is a gathering of people interacting and collaborating toward a common goal. These days, companies are investing in building communities on open social networks like Facebook and Twitter, while also building their own community properties. While similar, there are fundamental differences between a social network like Facebook or Twitter and an owned online community destination like the Apple Support Communities.
This table will help illustrate some of the major differences between open social networks like Facebook and an owned online community like Apple Support:
What Are the Benefits of an Online Community?
While social networks have their value and place in your customer experience, owned properties provide elements that social networks like Facebook cannot. They provide a user-tailored design, enhanced access to data, and more options for control and integration of self service for business processes spanning marketing, sales, service and support. A well-rounded social media strategy likely will include social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in addition to owned online properties like a community. When a company builds its network on a platform like Twitter, they are locked into that technology company’s business model and changes. The user experience and the available data are based on what the platform is willing to provide—and that will probably have little to do with a company’s own objectives and needs.
Consider Facebook, a platform that has routinely changed its business model. In 2010, it leveraged Wikipedia to generate automated company listings for their launch of community pages, which resulted in many duplicate search results for those businesses that had already created a Facebook page in their quest to drive ad revenue. The change confused users and frustrated businesses that already had an established presence.
Then again in 2012, Facebook’s launch of Timeline for business pages relegated companies that had invested heavily in custom “apps” to a more limited user experience, thanks to the introduction of tabs. Tab viewership drastically decreased, rendering investments in apps as sunk costs.
With many Facebook fans never returning to your page after they click Like, the majority of a business’ followers never even see those tabs. Furthermore, while Facebook is slowly improving analytics, they still acquire far more data about a page’s followers than they will ever share directly with a company. An owned online community allows companies to control their own user experience while gaining full access to all user analytics, content and data that align with your strategy.
Depending on a company’s needs, owned online communities present multiple opportunities for enhanced business value. Based on a company’s objectives, they can create an experience to help them achieve their goals, whether that is reaching new customers or increasing internal efficiencies.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on external communities—those focused on serving customers and partners. This chart offers a look at an online community’s illustrative benefits (please note that these are high-level and by no means exhaustive):
Where Should I Start?
If you’ve decided that an owned online community is the right method for your business, there are four key steps to take to ensure success:
An owned online community offers benefits that go far beyond that of a mainstream social network. By developing a strong strategy and implementation plan, your business can harness the power of your internal and external audiences to improve your processes and results.
Blog contributed by James Davidson, Vice President, Principal Consultant.
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