One of the great benefits of having a passionate professional peer group is the idea exchange that helps fuel our thinking on issues that matter. Just the other day, my friend and colleague, Jane Hiscock, CEO of Farland Group, and I met up for drinks and, after catching up on life, the conversation turned to community building (naturally- given the work we both do). While online communities are finding their way into customer service and marketing channels, their most powerful leverage is found when senior-most executives gather for private idea exchange, trend-spotting and collaboration. The state of being at the top can be very isolating as few understand the demands of the job and the need for information at quite the same pace as fellow-leaders. I invited her to share her point -of -view. We are thrilled to include a guest blog from Jane.
Over to you Jane!
Community and The C-Suite: It isn’t an Oxymoron
“C-suite doesn’t engage in community.”
“We can’t get any C-level executives to join our community.”
These are two comments that we hear fairly often from community managers and leaders that are seeking to engage a C-level audience. Certainly the C-suite is a difficult group to engage because of their limited time, but we have found that it is not an impossible task if you approach it with the right perspective.
Align your Client Experience and Community Strategies
Before considering the C-suite as a target for membership in your community, we recommend that you take a step back and assess how well your community strategy is integrated into the overall client experience strategy of your company. Often times, you may believe that having a C-suite audience involved in your community is an important audience to enhance your community’s impact or outcomes, but if the rest of your client engagement focus is not on the C-suite, we recommend that you take a step back and reconsider why you want them in your community.
If your company does not have a client experience or client engagement strategy, you may consider using the community as a starting point for developing one. A client experience or engagement strategy helps to shape an overall approach and plan for connecting with each of your client groups. In B2B businesses, this strategy should get to the individual level so that each of your engagement program maps aligns to the overall go-to-market plan that you have with that client. Once this is in place it makes the question of how and when to engage the C-suite much easier to achieve.
Power of Steering Committees
Develop a steering committee of C-suite leaders to guide your community strategy. This may sound like you are creating a community for the community, and you are! C-level executives love to advise on strategy, and we have found that if you put them into a small group that can advise your community, you will gain follow-on engagement and commitment. It is advisable that you create rules of engagement for the steering committee that require them to contribute content for your community, invite their peers to join, ask for their peers to engage in certain activities, etc. The point is to make sure you ask those individuals who are on the steering committee to help you achieve the goals that they believe are important for the community.
If you have successfully concluded that a C-suite community is the right approach, here are a few tips to help you make the community outlast a one-time engagement.
- Do not retrofit a C-Suite strategy on top of another community. C-suite communities must be developed for the C-suite if you want them to come and stay. If you are trying to bring the C-suite into an existing community, it won’t work. The reason this approach will fail is that the content will inevitably be at the wrong level. Often times it is too tactical and/or too focused on specific details that don’t concern or interest C-level leaders. You may get them to come at the outset, but it will be very difficult to keep them engaged.
- Engage the C-suite in your community design. As I mentioned above with the steering committee development, the C-suite likes to provide advice. Rather than risk creating a community that isn’t targeted to the C-suite, why not engage them in your overall design? By doing so you will have their fingerprints on your community. They will quickly tell you what they want, where they have questions, who they would read, what outcomes they want to achieve, etc.
- Determine measures of engagement early. Measurement is another area to potentially engage your C-level clients. Often companies measure engagement by comments, and this is not a very strong measurement of engagement for the C-suite. First, many C-level executives are not able to comment in public or private forums in any way that shows they are representing their company. Second, there are many ways to engage with content and community without commenting.
Spend time with your C-level clients so you can understand their desired outcomes. What are they hoping to achieve from participating in the community? How would they measure success? The path to value from participation will be much clearer for them if you answer these questions together. Take the time to develop a strategy before engaging a C-level audience; they are well worth the investment of time up front to get it right.
Jane Hiscock is the president and CEO of Farland Group, a marketing consulting company that specializes in building client engagement strategies and programs for the C-suite. You can read more about Farland Group and Jane here: www.farlandgroup.com