Starting the New Year Off Right: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Community

This is cross-posted from the OC Report.

In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to encourage community managers, strategists and teams to do a bit of self-reflection on the old (2007) and planning for the new (2008).

The following are five key questions you and your team might explore in the coming weeks.

1. How are your members feeling?
This is a great time of year to put out a quick satisfaction survey. Conduct a web-based survey to ask members about the quality of the user experience, how they feel about the community, and if they would they recommend your community to their peers? Finally, ask about additional features or community touch-points members would like to see from you. 50 to 100 responses to this survey would be a great baseline. As I’ve mentioned before, tying this survey into any sort of customer satisfaction, loyalty or brand-tracking research you are doing will be quite insightful.

Web-based surveys are a great tool, but if you can get community members together in-person for a roundtable session, even better. If a Survey or in person Roundtable are too much overhead, pick up the phone and call 5-10 active members.

2. How is your staff?
The first of the year is also a great time to gather staff (or, if you are just one, to do some self-reflection) to think about what went well, and what didn’t in 2007. What were the key learnings? Were your policies and guidelines clear, and did they address most issues. Were members generally happy and active? Did your key metrics grow / improve? Most importantly, how are your front line community managers feeling? Are they enthusiastic about another year participating in your community, or dreading it? If it is the latter, you have some work to do. This is also a good time to start looking around for talent on other teams. The demand for community managers, strategists and executives is only going to get worse in 2008, as more companies engage in online community building and social media activities. Hiring is one option, but growing / grooming internal candidates is another option, especially if your current community staff feels squeezed.

3. Who is sponsoring / how do budgets look?

Does you have a sponsoring executive that has a seat at the C table (or your orgs equivalent)? If not, find one! Or better, convert everyone! Seriously, this is also a great time of year for a community roadshow, to “tell the story of 2007”. All the great conversations that happened, all the key wins, key points of friction. Community and social media has a lot of visibility with most organizations senior management right now, so take advantage. Also, most of you have your 08 community budgets planned, start thinking about 09. Seriously.

4. Got Goals?
Community metrics, and in particular, ROI are going to come under scrutiny this year. 06-07 were about convincing the unconverted that it was OK to say “community” again. A lot of efforts were funded on good faith. This year, many senior managers will want to see return. One of the biggest challenges community managers and executives will face is weaving together a “tapestry of value” that contains both quantitative and qualitative information. It is key to have a set of your community goals aligned with some of your overall organizational goals. On the other hand, it is also critical to convince executives that community features, like discussion groups and blogs, are now expected by the market.

5. Where else can you participate?
One of the things that really surprised me when working on community strategy project in 2007 was the tendency for community managers and strategists to just focus on properties they “owned”, as opposed to reaching out to other adjacent community sites, social networks and bloggers. The metaphor I encourage folks to use is that of an ecosystem. There are many places your community members like to play, and your organization can potentially add value in many (but certainly not all) of those places.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the set of questions I asked. Did i miss something? Please drop me an email or leave a comment.

One response to “Starting the New Year Off Right: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Community”

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