B2B online communities serve their host organizations by offering key business constituencies – customers, partners, suppliers … even other firms in the same industry — a private, gated virtual space where business information can be safely shared with other decision-makers. Most business-to-business companies depend on building relationships with their customers to create sustainable returns and a foundation for long-term growth. Customer satisfaction is essential to generating repeat business, and online communities help B2B companies learn about and respond to current and future customer needs – the key to customer satisfaction.
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.
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.
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.
Building online communities can be a richly rewarding experience for the organizations that create them and for the members who…