Online communities are not neutral. They fundamentally change the nature and way a company does business. All too often, an organization creates a social strategy and thinks nothing will be altered but the tools they will use. And then, the change hits the fan and they are left trying to react to the impact.
Are you ready and prepared to let customers roam, metaphorically, through your building and make contributions and suggestions? Are you prepared to become responsive to customers at the times they want to engage? When launching an online community it is important that companies take a hard look at what the social footprint will do to their operations. For example, if your company’s customer care processes are not up to snuff then perhaps you are not ready for an online customer community just yet. And, if you are not skilled at taking input from customers, then social media will only illuminate your flaws-shining a spotlight on them in a public way.
That being said, many organizations don’t have the option of remaining silent. Take the US government for example: They are being talked about in all four corners of the world every day lately with vigor and emotion. They can choose to respond and react, or they can just let it happen and hope it goes away. But it won’t, so they need to participate.
So, before you put time and effort into creating a digital community- be it a private community where members need to log in to access information and exchange ideas, or whether you plan to use the open web to engage via Facebook, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter or Bebo, be sure you have a plan for what you will do with the information exchange, who is responsible for interactions, where the information gathered socially will be recorded or captured, and how you will parse the wheat from the chaff.
When companies first start to engage online they tend to treat all information as equal, but that is not the best practice. Be sure to identify the best ways to respond and leverage information gathered through the social channel is often a matter of adopting new practices within the organization.
Here are 5 key points to consider when developing a community feedback triage plan:
- Examine the source of information: Who is doing the talking? Are they a client, prospect or influencer in the market? If there is no way to tell within your current CRM system or community member database – there might be a need to reevaluate how data are being captured especially in B2B industries where clients often represent significant revenue streams.
- Identify a group or staff responsible for timely response and arm them with proper training and messaging to ensure responsible and consistent replies.
- Gather that which is relevant in a monthly or weekly report that identifies trends and “hot button” items and distribute it across the value chain (for example, if the social channel repeatedly identifies a topic for consideration or change, it might be worthwhile to pay attention). Determine the areas that need redress and create a longer term plan of action that connects community feedback to tangible outcomes. For example, is there is a trend of dissatisfaction around a certain feature of a software platform, or if pricing is a trending issue, consider putting the issue on a working plan.
- Be Proactive. Use the community to communicate future plans and message to the market potential outcomes of the feedback or idea generation. Discussion group / forum posts, thought leadership blogs and video are all potentially good ways to engage.
How has an online community changed your organization?