The latest Web 2.0 technologies have made connecting people together significantly easier, but getting community members to engage with an organisation is not an easy task.
Jonathan Hall, CEO of community engagement specialists, The Virtual Works, identifies 12 key factors that any organisation about to deploy a community engagement programme needs to consider.
Most businesses appreciate the potential competitive advantage they can gain through community engagement – the continuous exchange of information and ideas with the people that make or influence decisions within their business "value" chains.
From stimulating channel partner commitment and breeding innovation to generating market intelligence and being able to respond quicker to changes in the marketplace, the benefits of community engagement are tantalising.
Many businesses are also waking up to the fact that the latest Web 2.0 technologies, made popular by the social networking phenomenon, can now provide the platform and tools to make the large scale, interactive communication required for community engagement possible.
While advances in communication technology have made connecting people together significantly easier, binding them into sustainable communities that engage effectively with their host organisation is not an easy task to get right. It is far from a case of simply plugging the system in and switching it on.
In fact, deploying the technology is the comparatively easy part, in many respects. For example, it is vital to ensure that every expected member of the community is likely to gain genuine value from participating (since they are otherwise unlikely to engage) and ensuring this requires considerable value proposition planning and options-engineering. The challenge is not connecting people, but keeping them connected.
There are numerous factors that need to be taken into consideration prior to deploying a community engagement programme, including the following list of "12 R's":
* Recognise – when setting up a community, it's imperative that you can recognise people individually, from both a process and systems perspective, to ensure that interactions are personalised.
* Relevant – one size won't fit all when it comes to the content and value you are going to create, so make sure the content your are pushing out is relevant by segmenting/granularising your audience into sub-sections and groups.
* Route – your community will also want to 'pull' out information for themselves, so make sure it is easy for them to navigate around the community site and find precise information quickly.
* Right now – the internet is an immediate media, so actively try and make sure there are the least number of barriers to providing community members with what they need when they need it.
* Return – develop tactics to get members to return to your community (making sure you recognise them when they do). Remind them why it's a good idea to come back, promote the services and information available and tantalise them with new offerings.
* Relationship – plan to learn more about your visitors over time and to use this information to continually improve the level of personalised value you offer.
* Real – avoid hype and provide honest information that's easy to understand. The mutual benefits of a community will only be realised if the required level of trust has been built between you and other community members.
* Refresh – keep the community content up-to-date with current information and news to ensure members benefit from real value each time they visit.
* Refer – link your community to search engines and other relevant community sites to improve your visibility and traffic (popularity).
* Respond – ensure your site (system and process) supports interaction and that it alerts you to respond promptly when customers engage.
* Rank – make sure you are doing what needs to be done to get ranked ahead of the competition by search engines (use a specialist to help).
* Refine – install site analytics to show you how your community is being used and performing, making sure you use this information to continuously improve and evolve your site.
Communities form naturally. Individuals like to join groups around common interests for mutual gain. Traditional, offline communities already exist within your industry and the ease and convenience of the new generation of online communication and collaboration tools make it inevitable that these will migrate online.
What's more, there is unlikely to be room for more than one online community within your industry and it makes clear commercial sense for you to facilitate and participate in it, instead of handing that strategic advantage to your competitor.