Monday, November 17, 2008

Corporate Communities Part 1: Planning

I'm Dawn Foster, and I will be your guest blogger for this week. I have a three part series planned that that will cover corporate communities: planning your community, getting started, and maintaining your community over time.

This first post is focused on planning for your corporate community. When I talk about corporate communities, I'm referring to any custom community created by an organization for the purpose of engaging with customers or other people who may be interested in the organization's products and services. For the purpose of this series, custom corporate communities include communities created by corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and similar organizations. These corporate communities can take many different forms: support communities, developer communities to help developers work with your products, customer and enthusiast communities, and many others.

Before jumping in to create a new community, you should think carefully about the purpose of this new community, your goals and objectives, and a plan for fitting your community efforts into your organization's overall strategy.

Here are a few questions that can help you think through the process of planning for your new community:

What is your overall strategy and does the community fit with it?

If your custom corporate community does not support the overall strategies of the organization, I give it about a 5% chance of being successful. Creating a new community can be a very large project with quite a bit of upfront work to create the community along with a large effort over the life of the community to manage and maintain it. If this time and effort is spent in support of the overall corporate strategy, then it will be much easier to justify keeping the community during the next planning cycle for your organization. On the other hand, when a community is built to support goals that are not clearly aligned with the overall strategy, people will look at it as a big expense that can be cut, and your community will die a quick death if you are lucky or a horrible slow death by neglect if you aren't quite as fortunate.

Spend the time now to make sure that you can find a way to structure your community plans to support the overall strategy of your organization. If you can't find a good way to align your plans with the strategy, you should think twice about whether a corporate community is an appropriate solution for you right now.

What do you hope to accomplish and what are your goals?

Think very carefully about why you are creating a new community for your organization. Spend plenty of time upfront to clearly define the reasons for creating it and what you will accomplish by having the community. There are many benefits of having a community, and here are a few benefits that you might want to consider when you think about the goals for your community:
  • People: gives people a place to engage with your company
  • Product Innovation: get product feedback and ideas
  • Evangelism: help you grow evangelists for your products from outside of your company
  • Brand Loyalty: engagement can drive a tremendous amount of loyalty for your products
After you have a good grasp on what you hope to accomplish, you need to set some specific goals for the project. When you get into the platform selection process and design phase later in the project, having clear goals will help ensure that you build the right kind of community to achieve these goals.

In part 2 of this series, I'll focus on a few more things to think about as you get started with your community.

If you are interested in reading more of my content, you can find it on the Fast Wonder Blog.


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