Don’t Get Left Behind:

Evolving Your Functional Community to a Digital Experience

Shannon Gburzynski

At their core, online communities are gatherings of people interacting and collaborating toward a common goal. Companies implement communities to connect their customers, partners and/or employees with one another on a platform that the organization owns.

Historically, communities were implemented to serve a single purpose, such as facilitating Q&A in a customer support portal. This narrow view left communities with a reputation for being most appropriate for limited, functional-specific use cases.

Fast forward to today and communities act as primary systems of engagement—the strategic bridge between the company’s goals and the users’ behaviors—for complete digital experiences.

These digital experiences solve cross-divisional business problems and generate exponential business value by forging together community collaboration, business process automation and tightly integrated data sources.

Experience is About Thinking Bigger

Not merely a semantic swap of Experience for Community, the shift in thinking from single-function communities to complete digital experiences can be seen everywhere. 

  • Salesforce rebranded Community Cloud to Experience Cloud, recognizing its capabilities as a true digital experience platform (DXP) that can support organizations’ entire digital landscapes and tech stacks. 
  • The State of Community Management report called out the rising number of use cases and integrations that communities must support as they contribute to more complete Experiences. 
  • Recent acquisitions such as Salesforce’s of Tableau and Mulesoft and Adobe’s of Workfront and Marketo, focus on data-powered insights and building integrations, since the shift to Experiences requires access to multiple systems and new ways of measuring success.

In sum, what an online community is has not changed. But the strategic role it plays as organizations dial up their digital experiences has evolved.

Experience is About Business Value

So why is everyone jumping on this transition? Like with most trends, just follow the dollars. When an online community becomes the keystone of a digital experience strategy, true business value is unlocked. Digital Experiences take user behaviors and transform them into increased satisfaction. And it isn’t hard to quantify how money trails satisfaction. Increases in revenue can be directly attributed to higher levels of user acquisition and retention, decreases in process friction, added cross- and up-sell opportunities and productivity gains. 

The shift to digital experiences allows an organization to move beyond basic community metrics such as number of questions answered and instead capture strategic outcomes such as a lower cost to serve.

Transitioning from Community to Experience

Layers of Systems of Engagement, Intelligence and Record

Going forward, communities will act as the bridge between the company’s goals and the users’ behaviors. That means it is still most critically important to focus on building a feature-rich community that engages the most important users. 

While doing this, assemble a large, cross-functional team to create a digital strategy that:

  • Integrates systems of intelligence and analytics to start providing actionable data
  • Introduces intelligent features such as automation and hyper-relevance
  • Augments core systems of record (likely a CRM) with other core business databases

Enabling deeper personalization, AI-powered recommendations and significant UX enhancements are the building blocks to a thoughtful and successful digital experience.

Finally, over time, continuously iterate and evolve the community into a full-blown experience by expanding through the entire journey for all types of users.

Evolving a community to a complete digital experience is a timely business imperative. It isn’t a transformation that happens overnight, but it is one that any organization has the power to complete: Enhance the existing system of engagement (community) to enable broader strategic use cases, leveraging automation and collaboration (user needs). Then integrate actionable data (personalization) from systems of record (like CRM or service) to create a full-fledged experience. 

Shannon Gburzynski, blog contributor

Shannon Gburzynski is the Director of Community Enablement at 7Summits. Shannon has more than a decade of analyst and consultant experience helping businesses unlock and maximize value from online communities.

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