Treat the creation of online communities as you would any other line of business activity — a community is not just a marketing vehicle.
B2B Online Community
For the past 15 years, cocktail parties were tough. When people would ask what I do for work, my response, “I build online communities for business,” would serve as a natural repellant to further conversation. Confused or suspicious about this mysterious response, the martini-holding listener would likely divert the conversation elsewhere in short order, as they had absolutely no idea what an online community-builder is or does.
I am happy to report that my social life is getting better these days, as online communities are all the rage. There are still elements of mystery that shrouds the community-building profession – but there is also a new-found curiosity.
So, late one evening, I tried write a description of what it means to be an online community builder. And instead of developing a cohesive job description, I wound up with a pile of words. (Leave it to a community builder to approach a puzzle with a unique solution!). While my outcome most certainly does not replace the utility of a straightforward party-line, I think it will resonate will community builders worldwide who have evoked a similar suite of words at the dreaded cocktail party… when faced with the question “what do you do for a living?”
When confronting a complex issue or decision in the absence of certainty, groups will often move to the lowest common point of familiarity — usually something concrete and specific. In tech and marketing organizations, this is called “the valley of the tools.” So it is with social; everywhere you turn there is a marketing manager or millennial intern reporting (loudly) that the company needs a … (insert social tool name here.) But these advocates and tool suggestions are often rooted in a desire to play with new things and carve out a mini-speciality, and are just as often completely disconnected from company business goals and strategy.
In the community world, each member is a wonderful thing! There is a reason that every single community tracks new membership numbers—it is because every member counts! So it is the community managers’ job and duty to give to their members with features that matter, content that is relevant and human connections. It is the connection aspect that differentiates an online community from a web site. After all, without active members, there is no community.
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.
There are different reasons why people participate in online communities. Not one size of inspiration fits all online community members. People tend to respond better to appropriately designed reward stimulus. Simply put, if they get what they need online, they will be more likely to continue their participatory acts. And, as any seasoned community manager knows, without the active posters, the community is just a content shell. Post-less communities don”t serve the customer needs as well as an active community does, especially within the B2B world as engagement is a main measure of social business success. So, when designing scalable engagement programs it is critical to first typify the categories of membership into profiles or personas in order to encourage and reward them for their online visibility.
The B2B online community manager role requires many communication skills, a willingness to be a master-servant to both the customers and the organization. They are often a sole practitioner — B2B online communities are typically understaffed, so their success depends upon their ability to make and sustain connections within the community and the organization. An ability to get online and check on how things are going while on the road, before breakfast, after dinner and in the middle of the night is also a plus.
Business-to-business companies have always needed closer relationships with their customers than business-to-consumer firms. It makes sense, since strong relationships help generate repeat business. Most B2B firms expend significant resources on relationship-building assets such as highly trained sales forces, lavish trade show exhibits and sponsorships, focus group research, private seminars, white-glove service and support, and glossy customer-oriented magazines.
Please note that this list us currently being updated and we will have a new, current list by October 2014. …