Your organization has decided to develop an online community to serve your customers. Congratulations! This is an important step towards building a social business. As the team gathers in the conference room with whiteboards, markers and lots of coffee, you start by talking about other online community examples the organization might want to emulate, or those that have caught your fancy. Features, content, look and feel are usually a major part of this discussion.
But chances are you haven’t considered a fundamental but critical question: will the online community be public, gated or a hybrid (largely public with a private, members-only area)? This is one of the most important decisions you will have to make, one that shapes virtually every aspect of how your community will operate and, in most cases, determine its success.
The decision to make the community public, private or hybrid depends in large part on the characteristics of the audience you are trying to serve. At Leader Networks, we call this “The Engagement Model.” It states that “The who and why of your community will dictate the what and the how.” For example, if your organization seeks to reach a wide audience, such as a technical support community — chances are a public community is the right format. If your audience is small and focused, such as prospective customers of an airplane manufacturing company, a private, gated community is probably a better fit. Serving multiple audience types or needs may require a hybrid format. So what are the benefits, drawbacks, revenue models and other distinguishing factors for each type?
Public communities are open to anyone on the web who would like to join the community. While the community may — and probably should — require password-protected member registration to join or post a message, anyone with an email address and a web browser can have access. Organizations trying to engage a large audience of consumers or customers (B2C or B2B) with content and conversation online will usually choose a public community.
Private online communities are gated, often invitation-only communities serving a highly targeted audience. Many B2B professional organizations have private communities. There are membership standards, which can include subscription fees, in-depth profiles, vetting or current member recommendations prior to member acceptance. A gated community can create greater sense of trust and intimacy among members with more information about individual members and shared acceptance criteria. This can lead to more open and substantive engagement and collaboration between members and the sponsoring organization. Content and member contributions are considered privileged and not shared outside the community.
Hybrid online communities have both a public and a gated or private area within the overall community infrastructure. They provide the features of both options at a single destination. Access is determined by the member’s role. For example, a hybrid community might have an open, public area for consumer visitors with private, gated areas for suppliers or executives.
Hybrid communities often evolve after an organization is successful with one of the two models (public or private) but then discovers a business need to serve a different audience or segment using the other engagement model. At Leader Networks, we discourage trying to launch both at once; the complexities of initial messaging to prospective members and operational difficulties make this choice very risky. Instead, determine the best model for launch, then evolve the community. Leverage the learning from the first successes to improve the next phase.
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Source: Vanessa DiMauro
One recent morning I saw a post in one of my LinkedIN groups asking “what is the difference between a social media manager and an online community manager?” Easy, I thought, and offered a quick response on my mobile … “Social media managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table and community managers welcome them in!”
Ahh, but wait. This may require more words than I can manage on that little screen. So, naturally, I turned to trusty Google to see what others have said on this topic. Among the first mentions I came across was a CMSWire which discussed the confusion between social media and online community management, and suggested the two roles have become blurred.
In my view, the confusion often begins with job descriptions, which are rarely written by actual practitioners. For larger organizations new to these rapidly evolving specialties, they strive to find and describe the commonalities rather than highlight the differences in the two roles.
Next, I sought out my trusted peers and colleagues to see and hear what they had to say. In a post by the very knowledgeable Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation, he shared the following definitions of these two roles:
· Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. Potentially she can be a fully Enterprise Community Manager, involved in facilitating efficient inter-team and staff communication and collaboration. She is focussed on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organization chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, Business development, and Marketing. In addition, I would add Customer Service/Support to the list of org chart nodes above.
· Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate depth of communication. He will usually be found within the Organisation chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.
Another aspect of the blurring and overlap in roles is the type of organization doing the hiring — what is the business focus for the role? Business-to-business (B2B) and consumer companies have very different requirements. In consumer organizations, the community focus is individual consumers, and consumers generally frequent public social media channels with broad reach and large numbers. On the other hand, B2B organizations focus on building customer intimacy using channels such as online communities, customer councils and executive briefing centers along with offline outreach. For B2B, the desired relationship is deeper, just as the purchase cycle may be longer, revenue potential much greater and the depth of engagement (think suppliers and partners as well as customers) may be much greater and more complicated. In B2B organizations the social media manager is part of marketing and PR, facing outward for the most part. The B2B community manager has some outward responsibilities, but is connected to more core operations at the firm.
These distinctions are especially visible in the success measures for each role – the key performance indicators. Of course, both roles may share responsibility for a number success metrics and will need to partner effectively to deliver results. Here is a short tabulation of key B2B success measures, the role involved and the organizational accountability path.
|B2B Success Measure||Role||Accountability|
|Drive leads||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Raise awareness of products or services||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Visibility of company, products, services or thought leaders||Social Media Manager||Marketing|
|Increase sales||Social Media Manager||Sales|
|Event attendance||Social Media Manager on public channels, Community manager on community channels||Marketing|
|Customer questions about how to use a product or service||Community Manager||Customer Service|
|Learn from customers (e.g. feedback into product development)||Community Manager||Product Management/R&D|
|Customer retention / satisfaction||Community Manager||Sales|
|Call center reduction/ Improve customers’ ability to get help from each other||Community Manager||Customer Service|
|Increase utilization of the products||Community Manager||Product Management|
Note that in the B2B world, where customers tend to be other organizations purchasing complex and expensive products and services, the lines between the social media manager and the community manager roles can be more clearly defined than in consumer space. B2B and consumer prospects have very different information and relationship needs, and when the sale is made the customers require very different levels of ongoing engagement and support. The overlap between the B2B social media and online community manager roles is usually much less than for those roles at a B2C firm.