Speaking with Scott Wilder is always fun, and it was so again when I spoke with him a few weeks ago about his online community experiences. For those of you who don’t know Scott, he used to run all small business communities at Intuit. I am also fortunate to be working with Scott on various Human 1.0 projects at the moment.
In our conversation, Scott gave 10 pieces of advice for those of you who are thinking about starting communities. Based on our experiences and research, we’d say they are dead-on:
- Think about the size of your potential user universe
According to Scott, only 5-10% of your users will join your communities – that is if you set them up right. So, if you only have 5,000 customers you cannot expect more than a few hundred people to show up. Think carefully whether you have enough value to offer the group so that it becomes a vibrant community. And before starting a community on your own platform, evaluate whether it may be better to engage with them on other platforms like YouTube or Facebook.
- Have a clear purpose for your community
What problem is it going to solve? How is it going to help people’s life? If you cannot articulate the purpose of your community clearly, chances are that your community members will come once, be confused about what’s going on, and never come back.
- Understand the kind of technology that your audience uses
If they don’t use wiki’s, then don’t deploy wiki-like features as part of your community. If they don’t give credibility to blogging, then don’t ask them to blog – let them have discussion threads. Not only should you deploy the type of tools that they are used to, you also need to use their language.
- Start Simple
Don’t add too much functionality as you start your community- start simple with a few features. Scott used to make the point that if your community would not survive in a plain old discussion group, it would not survive anywhere.
- Add a “heartbeat” to your community
Communities need a “Heartbeat.” You can provide that by having periodic webinars or online roundtables. Some companies also do it by having offline events and activities, while others do it by having time bound activities (e.g., this week we are looking for ideas about power supplies).
- Pay attention to moderation
You do not need an army of them, but you need to get the right people, and realize that in the beginning of your online community you build trust through moderation. Keep the community in good shape and the conversations civil to avoid the “broken window theory” – if people will see that others can trash the place, they will do so as well. Have domain experts and make sure you don’t have explicit selling within your community.
- Make sure you capture all the value
Even though your community may be set up in support of one business process, most communities deliver cross-functional benefits over time. So a customer support community will deliver marketing and innovation benefits. You need to capture that value and report it back to the groups that can use it in a way they understand. At Intuit they set up the community group as a cross-functional center for excellence which reported back to the various groups using their own KPI’s.
- Let the community decide what they want
Don’t decide for them what it is you will be building. Show them your budgets and let them vote or have discussions about what they want you to do. Co-create with them and make sure that the various departments pay attention to the real voice of the customer – in the end it will help your Net Promoter Score or other metrics you use to measure customer satisfaction.
- Don’t start if you don’t have a customer-centric DNA
If you don’t have a customer-centric culture, chances are that your online community efforts will fail. Scott believe that Intuit’s customer-centric culture is what allowed communities to be successful (e.g., the “follow me home” program, where they encourage employees to go to retail stores and follow customers who purchased Intuit products to their home to see how they use it).
- Don’t be a control freak – be transparent
Do you trust your employees to do what’s right for the customer? Do you trust that your customers will behave themselves and help one another in your online communities? Not only that, but provide transparency in the data with both your employees and customers.
Great pieces of advice…let me know if you have others.