Enterprise Customer Communities: Hot Topics for 2009

Today we have a guest post from Community 2.0 speaker Joe Cothrel. He is Chief Community Officer at Lithium Technologies, which powers some of the largest enterprise communities on the web. He’ll be speaking at Community 2.0 on five key trends in customer communities. Today he shares some of his insights with us.

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What lies ahead for enterprise customer communities in 2009? I’ve spent the last eight weeks talking to our customers about their plans for the new year, and here are the common themes:

Return: The economic downtown didn’t create the need for return on investment from communities, but it has certainly made the need more urgent. Few companies are abandoning their hard-to-ROI efforts, but every company I spoke to talked about the need to quantify what can be quantified – and to justify any new spend with projected cost savings or revenue increases.

Success: The days of a “success neutral” approach to social media or community will end this year. Companies are asking for ways to measure success – not just in dollars, but in the breadth and depth of impact to their customer base. What that means is that engaging a hundred or a thousand people out of a customer base of thousands or millions won’t be enough. Good benchmarks will be important to this effort.

Integration: Today, social media efforts are often siloed in different locations on company websites. Customers are asked to register once to comment on a blog, again to submit an idea, and again to participate on a forum. Needless to say, these databases are rarely integrated with a customer database that contains transaction data, or prospect databases that track leads. Single sign-on (SSO) efforts abound – those that don’t have them will get them this year.

Flexibility: Companies want more control over how the social media efforts on their web sites are presented to customers. More companies are talking about using APIs to create an experience for users that is distinctive and more “Web 2.0.” Yet there is little awareness of the impact these changes will have on participation, conversion, and customer satisfaction. Look for companies who don’t get good guidance to “take some lumps” in 2009 in this area (not our customers, of course!).

Enthusiasm: In 2008, more than 70% of our customers had community efforts that were two years old or less – which is probably representative of enterprise communities in general. But the number of companies entering the “mature” phase of their community efforts grows every year. These communities have a different set of problems and opportunities than young communities. Flattening growth curves make it harder to assess community health, so new ways of measuring them are needed. On the opportunity side, internal stakeholders are looking at mature communities and asking “what’s next?” One big trend is taking well-functioning support forums and moving them up the curve toward greater enthusiasm and engagement. We’ll hear more about “superusers,” “enthusiasts,” and “Influencers” this year as a result.

Every company has a host of other priorities this year, but those are the themes that unite them. I’m looking forward to sharing more on these topics in my presentation at Community 2.0 in May. See you then!


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