Community engagement is no longer a marketing option, it’s a marketing imperative. Yet many organisations fail to exploit the opportunity effectively.

 In this article, Jonathan Hall, CEO of leading Enterprise 2.0 community engagement systems and services provider, The Virtual Works, discusses the seven ‘sins’ that will ensure that an engagement strategy fails fast.
Businesses that continue to use outdated and comparatively expensive ways to reach and influence their channel community are ignoring the power and efficiency of modern information and communication technologies. Such short-sightedness results in opportunities being left open for competitors.
The exponential adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technology by business reflects the effectiveness of such a communication channel, where exchanges are more immediate, more direct, more precise and more personal. According to renowned internet researcher, Arthur Goldstuck, interactive media has now reached its ‘tipping point’, with more than 4-million South Africans surfing the Internet regularly and 38-million using cell phones.
Compelling evidence proves that the direct engagement of communities differentiates an enterprise from its competitors, driving up sales and slashing costs in the process. Despite the high paybacks on interactive marketing investments, however, many organisations cease to see its potential or fail to exploit the opportunity effectively.
While ignoring the opportunity outright will, ultimately, result in the decline of an organisation within the modern information economy, here are a further seven ‘sins’ that will ensure that an engagement strategy fails fast.
* No strategy. Don’t consider investing in a programme to identify and profile every channel partner in your industry. Likewise, don’t structure your database using defined objectives, such as who you want to include in your community and what data you need to differentiate community members into purposeful and targetable segments. Finally, don’t consider who will use the data [and for what purposes] when you have it.
* No value. Start collecting data without understanding the concept of exchanging value for information. If you can’t demonstrate a clear and meaningful purpose to your community for sharing information with your organisation, you’ll get little participation from community members. You will likely irritate them in the process too – an added bonus.
* No skills. Give the job of sourcing data and engaging and profiling customers to available secretaries or underutilised administration staff with little experience or skill in this area. In addition, fail to specify data capture format rules to ensure that data is accurately captured in a precise and consistent way. While you’re at it, leave the job of creating and sending your communications to anyone. Specialist digital communication expertise isn’t needed to make sure your messages are properly white-listed with ASPs [otherwise they’ll be identified as Spam], to track open rates or hard and soft bounces and ensure campaign success.
* No system. Store your records in a spread sheet or other flat file format to ensure that you can’t consolidate data from different sources, cross reference it for targeting purposes or quickly and easily manage and measure responses. This is also a sure way to increase your security risks and the risks of corrupting or losing data.
* No permission. Show your network that you’re oblivious to the intensely personal nature of digital communication by distributing spam at will. Also, ignore the looming privacy laws prohibiting the distribution of unsolicited communication to personal media. Without proof of opt-in consent, you’ll also make it impossible to get the required accreditation for your community and ensure your communications are regularly blocked.
* No personalisation or differentiation. Develop the same message for everyone. It’s cheaper, requires far less thought and effort, and you’ll ensure that your messages don’t resonate with the desired segments of your community. Tell your community what you want to say – don’t consider what they need and want to hear. Lastly, treat all community segments the same regardless of their value to your organisation. This will ensure there is no incentive to increase a commitment to your products or services.
* No interaction. Ignore the idea that engagement is an interactive concept, requiring a continuous, two-way conversation. Simply send “stuff” to your community. Don’t provide response mechanisms or consider who will deal with responses. Better still, ignore them when they do.
While Enterprise 2.0 technology offers savvy firms significant opportunity, two key threats lurk in the background. Firstly, technology has a way of showing up the inefficiencies and service apathy of an organisation quickly. Before layering an engagement strategy ensure that a company is willing, able and structured to fulfil on engagement promises.
Secondly, since there is rarely a need for a second source of reliable industry collaboration and information, the supplier that first establishes the interactive capability and credibility is likely to retain the communication medium for a long time. Research shows that in the highly commoditised markets of today, share of voice translates into share of customer. Community engagement is no longer a marketing option, it’s a marketing imperative.