Types of Online Communities (and the importance of onions!) – From Our Friends at 4-Roads

onions (1)Please enjoy this post from Gina Narramore, 4 Roads Social Media & Community Manager. 

If taking steps towards becoming a social business is in your strategy, you are probably considering developing an online community.

One of the first aspects to be considered, and arguably the most important, is what type of online community will you create. This decision will largely affect how the community will shape up, and whether it will be a success.

As described in the 4 Roads ‘Social Business Cookbook’ your social presence should be a “complex menu of offerings to the audience. It is also layered like an onion.” 

Ideally, a true social business should be active in as many layers (of this onion) as possible. It will have an integrated presence in multiple layers, providing the audience a unified experience of your business.

Social networks 

The outer layers of the onion consist of social media spaces. This is the first layer of the different types of online community.

First there are ‘participating’ communities, which are formed on external social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. usually set up by your customers, about your products or services. You can’t run these communities but you can participate, listen and monitor conversations taking place within them.

The next layer of this onion, within this social media space, is your ‘managed’ community for example, your own Facebook page or YouTube channel etc. This is where you are in control of conversations and messages, although you do not own the data being created. Social networks are great for building trust and relationships in your market, but this is only the first step in using online communities to acquire and retain customers.

Social networks and online communities do work together. Therefore, it may be wise to participate in these social networks, with an aim to attract some of that audience to engage more deeply, with your brand, on your own online community. Check out the differences between online communities and social networks.

Public online communities

The next layers of the onion are the spaces you own, create, manage, and control, and which can link to your CRM software. These ‘owned’ communities consist of public, private and internal communities.

Anyone can join a public online community and today, public, or external customer online communities are what most people think of when they think of online communities. Organisations such as Dell and Starbucks both have thriving customer communities, comprising of primarily customers that share common interests, product purchases, or support issues.

These communities refer to a company-owned online property, a branded community nestled in a company’s website or as part of the website. Within a customer community, you can talk securely with your customers and prospects and offer them a range of relevant content, products and messages to support the conversations taking place.

The focus of this type of online community is to help customers become more successful with a product and service and solve a customer or member’s most critical problems. A customer community can also address specific business challenges, such as the need for improved customer service, cutting down on service call outs, or making content more accessible.

Through a public community, the organisation is able to energise the market, position themselves as a trusted leader in its industry and reach out to brand advocates – in a way, which has never been possible before

Also within this layer is the extranet, a private space for developing your offerings and strengthening relationships with both suppliers and partners. Collaborating with these groups within an extranet, not only builds loyalty, but also strengthens relationships and increases satisfaction. Suppliers and partners are able to ‘self-serve’, which reduces sales, and support costs and creates more efficient supply chains.

Ultimately, an owned public online community increases the value of doing business with an organization.

Private online communities

In this type of community, which is at the heart of the onion, members must log in to the community to take part in most, if not all activities and social features available, which is subsequently integrated into the organisation’s CRM system or membership database. Members are either personally invited or screened in some way prior. Private online communities have a select target audience and members are often charged membership fees to join.

Often deployed by B2B or membership organisations, these ‘gated’ communities can create greater sense of trust and intimacy among members due to more in-depth profile requirements. This can lead to more open and focused engagement and collaboration between members and the organization.

This is a space where customers and companies can plan and build for the future. For instance, private online communities can be a part of an organisation’s product strategy or where trusted people gather and collaborate to steer innovation for the business. The topical agenda is highly managed and all member activity and dialogue within the community is considered confidential and protected, and not shared outside of community walls.

Internal communities

A form of private online communities are internal communities – a place where customers, employees, partners, and other stakeholders to come together to better serve customers and achieve business objectives. And because an organisation’s internal communications lies at the heart of the onion, they affect everything else the business is trying to achieve.

This is the place where employees communicate and collaborate within the business. These communities create a space for many-to-many communication and allow employees to share information, find experts within the business and collaborate on projects.

As the ‘Social Business Cookbook’ states “Unlike the layers above, which may be ‘new,’ every organisation naturally has some kind of channels for internal communication and places for storing and retrieving data and information – without them it would be impossible to function. Yet few organisations have truly effective platforms for internal communication even though these are particularly valuable if they want and expect to be using ‘social tools’ to engage with their audiences.”

Internal communities are more easily created after deploying internal collaboration tools and should involve all employees, from entry-level staff to CEO’s. Adoption of a social platform is often a challenge, as employees may be resistant to changing the way they work. Read more about the importance of business culture when starting any type of online community.

Conclusion

It is important to note that an online community doesn’t necessarily reside in a single location, it can exist in more than one place on the Web. For instance, it can start in a social network such as Facebook, and spread into others, such as your owned private community.

Accordingly, social media has been instrumental in the way online communities have evolved – it has provided a foundation on which to communicate, and a platform for organisations to have two-way conversations with their customers. However, the true sense of an online community takes social media to the next level, and opens up a world known as social business.

Becoming a social business, and choosing the right type of online community for your organisation is important, however, the key to success is to start small and think holistically. Each type of online community should be considered when starting a social community project. Every layer should integrate with each other: your main objective should be to gain membership and engagement in your owned (public and private) community, and both your participating and managed (social networks) communities should be used as channels to facilitate that.

As the Social Business Cookbook states “The most effective social businesses allow each layer of the onion to flavour the others.”

The Social Business Cookbook has been written to help businesses integrate social at the core of their activities – request your copy.

10 Great Articles on Community Building

Here at Follr, we’re always trying to put the best possible community building materials into the hands of our community managers. For today’s post, we’re sharing ten wonderful articles from our favorite blogs and community experts who know their stuff when it comes to cultivating community. Check out all or just a few – you won’t be disappointed!

 

1. These are the Top 5 Things You Should do First as an Online Community Builder, Follr Blog

2. You Need to Know: 5 Rules of Online Community Engagement, Social Media Today

3. 5 Tips for Building a Community Management Strategy, Social Media Examiner

4. The Different Types of Events, Ning Blog

5. 6 Tips for Starting an Online Community, Social Media Examiner

6. Fool-Proof Guidelines for Online Community Building, Business2Community

7. 8 Great Tools for Online Community Managers, Social Media Today

8. These are the Top 5 Things you should do First as an Online Community Builder, Business2Community

9. 5 Online Community Types: Which one does Yours Fit Into?, Social Media Today

10. 4 Easy Online Community Engagement Ideas, Business2Community

Don’t Ask Community Managers To Be Strategists by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

jack_of_all_tradesThe enterprise community manager position is sometimes termed a “jack of all trades” role. I know — I’ve said it myself. But I think we’re starting to take it a bit too far.

[In the past] I have participated in a suite of webinars and talks about online communities and their growing role in functional areas such as customer care. I have listened to, and debated with, countless community management specialists about community management best practices. I’ve heard a lot about keeping business strategy and community management aligned. There’s no question this is a critical success factor for social business — but the issue is whether or not this responsibility is part of the charter for the online community manager role.

Pity the poor community manager who has been handed a whole range of new and complex tasks, responsibilities, and accountability measures related to managing and monitoring business strategy — in addition to the normal work of running a community! It won’t work. Placing responsibility for business strategy on the community manager will ruin many a promising online community, with lasting negative consequences for the business, the brand and, most of all, community members and customers. Online strategy and online community management are emerging as two distinct roles in the rapidly evolving world of online communities.

Let’s look at the role of online community strategy. It starts at the highest level, based on the organization’s mission and vision, and then proceeds to the business goals and business processes for the community itself. It is a line-of-business function led by an executive stakeholder responsible for strategic alignment based on the goals, metrics, measures and ROI.

This means the leadership from customer care, the office of strategy management or even product development — depending on the mission of the online community — have the charter to ensure that the online community is tracking in support of their organization’s strategy.

The second role is that of online community management. The crucial task for this role is delivering value to the community participants – the members. Full stop. If the community serves member needs and builds high-value customer/supplier/prospect relationships, it can achieve the strategic goals established by the business organization.

Adding business strategy leadership to the community manager’s role renders them ineffective, unable to succeed at either task. Keep in mind the community manager is the voice of the members back into the organization, and is charged with serving member needs. Asking the community manager to view her community through the lenses of both the business and the members is a prescription for blurred insights, mixed messages and reduced trust on both sides. Community managers can and should take into account the firm’s business goals in the programs and engagement models they develop and produce. But determination of which best fit with the overall strategy is best left to those in charge of business leadership.

The reasons for this separation of roles is primarily around skill sets. A seasoned community manager typically grew up through the ranks of communication specialties, and has the unique and invaluable ability to facilitate ideas, grow thought leadership content and listen well. What they do, and the ways they have honed their methodologies and insights, constitute hard-to-find skills based on extensive hands-on experience. In contrast, the skilled strategist has a keen appreciation for the nuances of goal-setting, planning, and measuring results, involving technical, financial and organizational design skills.

Just as HR executives typically aren’t tapped to run adjacent lines of business like finance, the community manager may not be best at driving the business of community. While there should be a dotted line between the business and the community operations, asking online community managers to manage functions that are out of their realm of expertise jeopardizes both the community and the business. The corollary is that for your online community to succeed and deliver business returns, the roles of online community strategy and community management should be treated with the business respect they deserve.

[This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]

Page Load Speeds and Your Online Community – by Gina Narramore, 4-Roads

Please enjoy this first post from new Guest Blogger, Gina Narramore of 4-Roads! #Follr Gina & 4-Roads on Twitter and check out more about Online Community Strategy Org 4-Roads here

There is no denying – the way the Internet is presented is constantly changing. In today’s hyper-connected world, web pages are much richer and contain more functionality, which results in increased amounts of page data and external resources to power them.

As technology advances, web users have become to expect a visually appealing community sites, and fast page loading times. The speed at which a browser loads your community content, means the difference between engagement or abandonment – a problem which could be detrimental to your online community.

Often, efforts to optimize web code, including the reduction of overall site density to improve download performance, are not enough to ensure a healthy and successful online community.

Page load speeds have to be considered. This post shows how a decrease in page load and rendering times benefit an online community.

Reduce Bounce rate

A web user may be searching for a particular type of online community to satisfy a certain motivation they may have. Your community may appear in their results due to keywords you’ve selected or ads you’re displaying on search engines. But, when this user lands on your community site, they immediately see that you don’t have what they’re looking for and they click away.

If your messaging is correct and your keywords accurate, it is important to take a closer look at website download speeds as a contributing factor to higher bounce rates within your online community.

A key factor contributing to high bounce rates is slow download speeds, especially for mobile site downloads. A user may initiate a visit to your online community and because the page takes too long to load, they abandon the community almost right away.

Enhance SEO

Since 2010, Google announced that the speed at which a web page loads would impact search rankings. Additionally, at SMX Advanced, Google’s Matt Cutts said that mobile sites, which are slow in performance, would be penalised.

Research, carried out by Zoompf, concluded that both front and back-end performance factors do correlate to increased rankings. They also state on the Moz Blog:

“We do know that fast loading websites gain more visitors, who visit more pages, for longer period of times, who come back more often, and are more likely to purchase products or click ads. In short, faster websites make users happy, and happy users promote your website through linking and sharing. All of these things contribute to improving search engine rankings.”

This statement is also valid with regards to online communities – if members are happy, they return, engage, become brand advocates and promote the community to gain new memberships.

Increase customer satisfaction

According to Kissmetrics, a one second delay in page loading time will decrease customer satisfaction by about 16% and 44% will people will tell their friends if they have a bad online experience.

This is supported in a study by the Aberdeen Group, which estimates that this one-second delay in page load time also results in a 7% loss in conversions and 11% fewer page views. This successfully provides evidence that optimising how quickly your community site loads, can have a significant impact engagement, response, conversions, and sales.

Higher engagement

If a user can’t find the information quickly on your community site homepage or their search is hindered by slow download performance, they will go elsewhere – likely to be a competitive site that can provide the expected content and download speeds – resulting in loss of online community engagement.

The order of how community content is delivered through the browser has an impact on whether someone engages quickly with your community or not.  Ultimately, it matters more how quickly a user is engaged than it does how fast an entire page loads.

Increase conversions

As page-load time increases, likely conversion rates will drop. This is confirmed by Kissmetrics, which shows 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. After this peak the rate drops by 6.7% for each additional second.

A conversion is when a visitor takes any type of action on your site. Within an online community, a conversion could be a membership sign-up or when a member submits a post within the community. As these are obvious benefits – which could ensure the health of your online community – taking steps to increase conversions should be considered.

An online community may already be seeing an adequate number of visitors, but there is failure to convert them in to members. Other than providing engaging and relevant content, download speed could be a factor that is impacting conversion rates.

For more of Gina’s expertise stay tuned to the #FollrBlog as she’ll be guest-posting on a bimonthly basis! 

Companies With The Most Successful Online Communities Have These 4 Things in Common

4 Things in Common FollrCreating a thriving online community of customers is no easy feat, yet companies succeed at doing it every day. Sure they probably have teams of social media experts and customer care professionals, but at the heart of it, it really comes down to having these four things on lock. Read on to see if you’re putting any of best practices to use… and if you’re not… well you know what to do.

 

  1. All innovation and R&D is done IN CONJUNCTION WITH customers. These companies no better than to make changes without soliciting loyal customers’ advice.
  2. Every single employee has been trained to put the customer first. No matter which department you work in or what your job description entails, you know that customer service is paramount and feel compelled to act accordingly. Zappos, anyone?
  3. Employees are encouraged to interact candidly with customers online. None of that stiff business language allowed – these employees are expected to be real, open and honest with customers over social media. Simply put, transparency is key.
  4. There are protocols in place for negative feedback. Each and every employee tasked with handling online activities knows exactly what to do should a customer get frustrated. Situations can be mitigated easier and faster because there are practiced steps in place.

Do you practice any of these online community engagement principles with your business? Let me know in the comments below!

Building on the Basics: 3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder

If you are already an online community builder or aspire to be one, our goal at Follr is to make the experience as simple and fun as possible. As we continue our series on building a solid foundation for success with online communities we will focus on creating the community identity.

Become an Online Community Builder with your own Follr Community - simple, easy and freeWhen creating a community you should have a clear definition of the community focus and purpose. Creating the community mission statement, as well as a comprehensive list of related keywords, is more important than many understand. Focusing on the recommendations here will result in an increase of online community engagement, interaction and posting, once you’ve opened your doors to your new community.

As soon as people read the term “key words” their minds automatically connect the term with search engine optimization (SEO), in this case that is a secondary benefit of your primary purpose. The primary purpose is to help focus on the content and direction of the online community you are building. Once you have a good list of 10-15 keywords, or terms, related to the community you are building, and the mission statement you defined, you will see a true community begin to form.

3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder resulting in huge Online Community Engagement

  1. Define your purpose: A Mission Statement

    It might sound tedious but taking time to plan and focus will help create a more viable, and vibrant, online community. When the purpose is clear then people will easily be attracted to the community, don’t allow confusion to be a barrier to community success. A clear definition and statement of purpose make a transition into a new community much easier for a potential member.

    People are hesitant, they resist change, for maximum engagement in a new community being clear in the focus and purpose will put them at ease. By defining this in the community description, and even seeding content into your community, will result in seeing conversations begin at a significantly faster rate than the average online community builder does.

  2. Keyword: Success
    Identifying keywords which relate to the community topic and purpose allows for powerful online community building tricks. The first is that now potential community members can be found via social search. Use your key words/terms to search and find those potential community members. The second is that if the goal is to ramp the interactions up in the community even faster, you can use those same words and terms to invest in SEO and purchase Adwords via Google.

    Notice the focus on sharing the community with people on other social networks. By being “discoverable”, and in turn discovering, a rapid decrease in the odds of community survival shift in the favor of the community builder.

    Using social search tools, you will find people who are “talking” about your topics and focus, and get into the conversation with them. If you have seeded enough content and encouraged your community members to do so as well, you should have no problem bringing the conversation back to your Follr Communities website.

  3. Target: Locked and Engaged
    Once you begin to identify people who are conversant on the topic for your community you want to begin to have conversations, on the topic with them. Create saved searches (eg Google Alerts) to monitor – blog posts, tweets, shares, statuses, etc. that have already happened or are happening live.

    Take time to review the conversations, be sure there is something relevant posted within your community. If not, consider posting something – take the topic and spin a question out of the conversation or post. Try to build a few responses to it from your community before you get into a discussion with the target of your attempts at engagement.

The goal of these key steps is to create a community alive with conversation and engagement. Searching for people and focusing on being found is a very genuine way of finding people who are like-minded and want to participate with you and your community. Don’t feel as though you are being “sneaky” – there is nothing sneaky about connecting and sharing with other people, it is the entire purpose of building an online community.

Show us how it works for you, create your Follr Community – they are simple online communities to build, with an elegant format similar to a template, and all you do is fill in the information and voila you are up and running.

There really is no simple way to be an online community builder than with Follr.

Why Sustainable Community is an Ecosystem

An ecosystem, in it’s simplistic form, is about balance. All the parts working, existing, interacting, together to create a balanced ecosystem. The result of that magical collaboration is a sustainable ecosystem.

An online community can be described as a type of ecosystem. The ideal balance between the members of the community and the value of the community, among multitude of other factors, results in a sustainable community, functioning as an ecosystem. Today we are taking a look at the reasons why an ecosystem is the perfect analogy for an online community and some touch points to remember when you are trying to reach “sustainable” within one.

Buzzword and hype, or valid analogy?
Ecosystem has become a business buzzword, partially for it’s universal representation of a successful system of multiple parts functioning as one. The analogy is accurate and possibly underutilized in communicating the relevance of many life processes and business processes.

What is an Ecosystem?

In an enlightening post by J-P De Clerk on the topic of social networks and organizations, Mr. De Clerk utilized a childrens website called KidsCorner (side note, interesting project in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service, do check it out) to provide the clearest and simplest definition of what an ecosystem is. The above image is from that website and gives you the definition of ecosystem.

Mr. De Clerk has me considering this. I have always understood and considered many things ecosystems in the precise and delicate balance in which they successfully exist. As I read his post, it got me thinking about all the ways in which the analogy is truly a wonderful way to convey the concept of an online community. A community is no different than any other ecosystem.

The Ecosystem we call an ‘Online Community’
In seeking to create a vibrant and sustainable community, you work with many potentially fragile parts that together create the whole. In this analogy we are specifically referencing the human interactions, as well as the contributed content, that builds the foundation of the sustainable community.

These relationships may require precise and measured amounts of encouragement, support and nurturing to ensure a truly balanced and therefore sustainable resulting ecosystem.

Understanding and Patience
As with any young plant or creature, a minimum level of focus and care is required to permit for the proper development and growth. If any of the necessary elements are withheld, you will see a failure to thrive situation in which failure is inevitable. Sometimes it can be recoverable, but many times it cannot.

An online community is no different than a living organism in this regard. It takes time and effort to reinforce the community interaction and engagement. If you even step away for an extended period of time, you risk the collapse of the entire ecosystem, as the caregiver aka ‘the custodian’ is no longer there to nurture and encourage the community.

This is essential the job of a community manager, whether you consider yourself one, or not, when you work with any form of network or community, there is a symbiotic relationship that is develops and along with it a form of dependency if not need or requirement, of the ‘nourishment’ you will provide that community.

Making an ecosystem accessible
Yes, this analogy can make it sound much more complicated than it really is. The simplest way to explain this is to suggest that if you contribute, monitor, engage, and encourage others to do the same, you will establish an interdependence among the members, establishing an ‘addictive’ pattern (aka habit) among the member of the community. Relying upon you, and the community that they have now embraced, as a trusted resource for whatever the particular focus is.

It returns to the basic rule of all social interactions – online or off, build a relationship, establish trust and give back to others to see the best success possible for your network or community.

What other ways do you help to nurture your community to grow a sustainable ecosystem?

Join or Build: What Do You Need from an Online Community?

A lot of people wonder why they would want an online community. There are really two questions in the single statement. Do you need a community as a member? Likely. Do you need to build a community as a leader? Perhaps.

There are a few simple ways to help determine whether you would benefit as a member of a community or if you are better off building a community to meet your needs.

Here are some quick tips to help you know which decision is the one you need to make. Join or Build?

If you can't find what you need, do you create the solution to the need? Build or Join an Online Community?

If you seek it, you will find it. Or will you?
What information are you searching for? As you pour through search engine results, digging deeper and deeper, not finding what you are seeking. When you do, is the information timely and relevant? Or just keyword purchases misdirecting you to something you have no use of?

If the information you need is beyond the first page of results, there need to be more relevant and reliable resources on the topic you are researching.

If you are seeking it, chances are thousands of others are as well.

Overwhelmed by Results!
Your search returns lots of information, more than you have time to sort and review. How do you determine which results are credible and which are not? Social proof, and word of mouth marketing experts, would say that now you will seek the advice of your own friends, forcing more time spent on research, still seeking information.

You choose a link. There may be ads, live updates, pop-ups, and more. The stimulation alone overloads your senses. Overwhelmed, you give up.

Taking the initiative.
You ultimately aren’t happy with the options you have been presented with. You are an “initiator” and ready to take action. The “initiators” are a group of people that have the spark, enthusiasm and the drive to take the words “I can do it! If I solve it, they will come!” and make them a reality!

This is the birth of a community. The topic, the focus, the need, isn’t important. You can insert any of those, or business vertical, local community, government (the list is limitless) and you will have a need for a community.

Building that community should be intuitive, simple, easy and quick. You shouldn’t need to “code”. You require a simple, yet elegant, platform which gives you a place to build a vibrant community forum.

A place that people will want to flock to and enjoy returning. You want your community to be discovered, so having it a part of a larger network is ideal, but you don’t want that parent network to control it’s visibility.

Before you know it your community will take on a life of it’s own, becoming the sought after resource just waiting to be discovered by someone like you.

You made a connection, and you might have changed a life. What Community will you build to make a difference?