Note: this is the fourth and final post in a series about community value. If you missed “A Perspective on Community Value“, “Understanding the Community Opportunity“, or “Developing Community Strategy, Goals & Measurements“ I’d recommend starting there.
In many organizations, community’s territory is often limited to an ill-defined middle ground between support and marketing functions. This can muddy the community value story, leading to a contributing – but not always reciprocal – relationship with other teams.
Further, community leaders struggle with a set of unique challenges when communicating community value:
1) they are required (more often than their peers) to demonstrate value for various invested stakeholders,
2) these stakeholder requests are often ad-hoc, contextual to a specific business function, and require specialized research, data manipulation and analyst skills that aren’t on the team or budgeted for, and
3) when the requested data and/or reports are delivered, they are often met with skepticism.
For example, we know that successful support communities can play an outsized role in deflecting inbound support cases, and therefore easing the burden on the support organization, saving the company money, and keeping customers satisfied. However, we routinely hear anecdotally that executives “don’t believe” the cost savings data, even when it is the statistically significant result of a sound, industry-blessed model.
Communicating Community Value to Stakeholders
With the reporting frameworks and examples in this series, you should be able to take a step toward establishing and reporting on your priority community measures that map to business value. The primary challenge remaining is how to best communicate your community’s impact to peers and executives, and advocate for additional resources and investment. Based on previous working sessions with our Cohere mastermind community, and firsthand experience in our practice, we suggest the following strategies:
- Arrive at a clear definition for community at your company and socialize it. You’ll never be able to communicate the value of community if there isn’t a shared understanding of what community means at your organization. You need to make clear how community is both distinct from and supports other functions. A starting point could be defining community as a group of people that share a focus (interest, intent or objective) and have the ability and motivation to work together on the shared focus, over time. Particularly with brand or business communities, the core activity is generally about “getting to the next level” – moving forward on a journey towards growth, development and mastery. Your definition should answer the following questions: Who are the members or prospective members of this community? What is their relationship to your brand? What is the shared purpose or set of goals that links member and host needs? And what is your intent for this community? This definition will ultimately factor heavily into your vision, which is an aspirational statement of the future state of your community.
Need additional help & guidance? Download our Community Strategy & Program planning templates here.
- Position your customer community as a critical part of a larger business or digital transformation initiative. We know from the ’19 Altimeter Digital Transformation Survey that executives are, with respect to digital transformation, most interested in providing a unified, frictionless experience across all customer touchpoints. Community touchpoints and content are critical aspects of the digital ecosystem, and therefore must be integrated across channels rather than existing as a siloed platform to store and source knowledge.
- Collaborate with other business units to reach a shared understanding of the value community can deliver for the entire company. As former Mars director Carlos Valdes-Dapena stated in a recent Harvard Business Review article “Quality collaboration does not begin with relationships and trust; it starts with a focus on individual motivation.” For community to break free from its silo and be integrated across the organization, it requires cooperation and collaboration with other teams. But first, these teams need to understand how supporting community programming will help them meet their own goals.
- Develop a draft value presentation and enlist a trusted stakeholder outside of your team to give critical feedback. Perhaps as important as finding willing collaborators is identifying someone senior within your organization who both wants you to succeed and can offer constructive criticism of your value narrative, methods, and measures. The right person, like a good editor, can help you refine your pitch and strategy to increase its efficacy with executives and in implementation.
- Deliver regular, timely reports for executives that clearly articulate the value of community. We recommend ensuring that community be part of a QBR (Quarterly Business Review) process, whereby you would pull together a community-specific quarterly review for interested senior stakeholders, and an annual review for C-suite. These presentations should:
- Use executives’ own language and priorities
- Include the voice of the customer
- Demonstrate the holistic value to the company
- Reveal a progressive community roadmap and plans to increase value over time
Integrating Community Into the Fabric of the Business
To further illustrate the concept of value exchange among community and other teams, we’ve documented the role each business unit can play with respect to community, what they can expect in return, and how to keep them in the loop on community initiatives.
Keeping Internal Stakeholders Engaged In (and enthusiastic about) Community
A Portfolio Approach: Balancing Investment and Performance
Two key themes in this series, as they relate to developing a new value story for Community, are:
a) it is valuable to look at the opportunity for community development in the widest possible sense and b) that community efforts must strike a balance of meeting customer needs while aligning with the purpose of the business – community goals, analytics and the community value story must ladder up to overall corporate objectives and business unit goals.
One advantage of this alignment is the ability to create a bigger picture with customer profile and account activity data, and understand community activity, contribution and value in relation to other customer touchpoints. For instance, understanding how a customer’s digital activity (corporate website, social media, self-paced learning and community activity) relate to product usage frequency and depth of feature use, as opposed to many current approaches where those touchpoints are looked at in isolation, by different business owners.
Although there currently aren’t “off the shelf” comprehensive models and tools for measuring the relative impact of community in the context of (and compared to) the range of other customer touchpoints, there are related models that offer valuable direction on potential paths forward. These methods take a portfolio approach – looking at individual touchpoints and activities as they relate to other, complementary touchpoints.
In particular, marketing mix modeling has been used to establish a econometrics model for community impact on sales size, velocity and amplitude (Dell, 2011). marketing mix models “are based on microeconomic models of product demand linking business outcomes to marketing investments. Once the appropriate demand structure is specified, the next step is the quantification of sales response to variation in each of the marketing mix investments. This is the focus of econometrics – a statistical regression-based procedure to estimate the parameters of the theoretical demand functions.” (“Econometrics in marketing mix modelling” 2013)
While extending Marketing Mix Modeling can give a comprehensive and precise view of the revenue impact of community, there are a few key challenges to be aware of:
- A thorough Marketing Mix Model development exercise requires a large amount of data from the full range of customer touchpoints to be measured, as well as an economist to build the model;
- Model development can also be cost-prohibitive, as projects can easily require 6-7 figure budgets;
- Models are snapshots in time and do become inaccurate over time
The question of correlation vs causality often surfaces when exploring the impact of community engagements on customer behavior. Marketing mix modeling is one of the few certain ways we know to get to a relative financial impact vs other marketing spend. Doing A/B testing is the best option for establishing causal effect, but is obviously problematic on a “live” community, for a number or reasons. Developing synthetic control groups via “look alike” cohorts of member / non members, or split testing beta features are potential workarounds.
The next few years will likely see greater coordination of data management, analysis and reporting across all customer-facing functions to develop the next generation of methods and tools needed to more easily quantify community impact and guide future investment. Holistic approaches that combine customer data from multiple sources & touchpoints, like marketing mix modeling, provide a solid methodological baseline from which to start.
Throughout this series, we’ve sought to document the current state and highlight future possibilities for better understanding, measuring, and communicating the value of brand communities. Through Structure3C’s work experience, a literature review of academic studies and business publications, and the collective wisdom and practices from our Cohere workgroup participants, we’ve provided recommendations for:
- Positioning community as a competitive differentiator and guard against the potential negative effects of disruption;
- Understanding the total addressable market and most relevant contexts for your community efforts;
- Developing a community strategy that is both forward-looking and aligned with the language and objectives of your unique business;
- Setting measurable goals for your community that ladder up to your community and corporate vision;
- Developing formulas for value metrics that extend beyond community health and map directly to business outcomes;
- Embracing a portfolio approach to achieve buy-in across business units and prioritize community investments;
- Communicating and reporting on community value to C-suite and other stakeholders across teams in a clear and timely manner.
As stated above, many organizations are missing the community opportunity because of a short sighted focus on transactional value in the context of specific use cases. Growth-minded companies are fully embracing community as a concept and integrating community-building practices into the fabric of their business with great success. The guidance in this series should help you plot your journey toward the latter.
I hope you have found this series on Community Value helpful – if so (or if you would like to discuss your community strategy) please message me.
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The topic of online community strategy is one of the things that occupies a large chunk of my mental cycles. I’ve written about a pretty basic process and framework a few times over the years, and I think the baseline concepts have held up well. You can read a couple of relatively recent posts here (I’d love to hear your thoughts):
How to Develop a Community Strategy
Holistic Community Strategy
I’m very passionate about the opportunities that online communities and social media bring to the table, and I’ve had my fair share of real world experience (10+ years), but the primary reason I want to write this series is pretty simple:
Organizations are still challenged with setting strategy. From our efforts with the Online Community Research Network, we still see that only about 25% of our participant organizations have a comprehensive community strategy in place. Over the next few weeks, I will explore the following topics, offering my own opinions and insight, data from our ongoing community research, as well as other relevant content from experienced community-building professionals. I’ll also try to post as many templates that I use (or can borrow), where appropriate. In short: I’ll be posting, you will be adding to the discussion, and we will all (hopefully) be making our day to day community practices a little better. I hope that sounds like fun The Topics
The topics, which generally follow my strategy development process, will be: 1. Goal Definition:
How to assemble an internal stakeholder team and facilitate definition of business goals for the community. 2. Member Needs Research:
Processes and techniques for engaging community members in a process of discovery and conducting member “needs” research. 3. Social Media Ecosystem Research:
Methodology for conducting a discovery exercise of the relevant parts of the social web to find out where your community (or potential community) is already working and playing. 4. Designing an Online Presence Architecture (with a hat tip to Chris Brogan):
Factoring the goals of the business, the needs of the members, and the opportunities in the social media ecosystem to create a presence architecture that maps out where to focus engagements. 5. Engagement Planning:
How to develop content & activity plans for the community, including
–Where: to engage (home, outposts)
–Who: responsible party
–How: specific activity
–When: frequency of activity
–What: expected outcomes (prototypical metrics!) 6. Community Platform Selection:
Guidance on how to select a community platform, along with recent ratings for major platforms. 7. Management & Moderation
An overview of the important and evolving role of the Online Community Manager, building an online community team, and best practices on moderation. 8. Metrics & Reporting
What metrics to collect, what they tell you, who to report them to, and how often. 9. Policy Creation & Roll-out
How to develop community and social media policies that fit your organization, and how to deploy them. 10. Governance
Creating a governance structure in your organization, keeping exective stakeholders informed and engaged, and achieving the right balance of of inter-departmental communication and guidance. 11. Superusers / Elites
A review of the best superusers programs, with a focus on process, identification and incentives. Again, I would LOVE your feedback on the topics above. My goals is to write an article a week over the next 12-14 weeks. Each article will be labeled “Back to Basics”, and will be tagged #ocb2b
We’re just about 2 weeks away from our 8th annual Online Community Summit in Sonoma, CA, on October 8-9. We have a fantastic speaker and session line-up that I’ve detailed out below.
If you’d like to attend the Summit and you’re a senior online community or social media practitioner, please go here to request an invitation. There are limited tickets still available.
Please note: We restrict attendance of platform and service vendors to those sponsoring the event. If you would like information about sponsoring, please email me.
Check out the event site here for more information.
We have a great group of folks coming, including: Answers.com, Apple, Autodesk, Inc., Cisco, CNN, GlobalGiving, Moshi Monsters, Edutopia, LinkedIn, American Legacy Foundation, SEGA of America, Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital, WestEd, TripAdvisor, Dell, Executive Networks, Inc., Microsoft, REI, Care2.com, Stupski Foundation, The MathWorks, and more.
Thursday, October 8th
8:00 – 9:00: Registration / Breakfast
9:00 – 10:00: Introductions & Welcome
Bill Johnston – Chief Community Officer, Forum One Networks
Joi Podgorny – Head of Community, Mindcandy
10:00 – 11:00: Session 1 /Turning to the Crowd: Ideas and Contest Sites
How can you generate great ideas and enthusiasm for your organization at low cost?
Session Lead: Anil Rathi, Idea Crossing
Session Lead: Ryan Wilson, XPrize
11:00 – 11:30: Break
11:30 – 12:30: Session 2 / What You Need to Know About the Mobile Communities Revolution
As mobile usage explodes, the importance of mobile communities is increasing dramatically. We’ll review experiences from Obama to Armani to the American Cancer Society and demonstrate the coming wave of change that will impact your organization.
Session Lead: Kevin Bertram, Distributive Networks
Session Lead: Miles Orkin, America Cancer Society
12:30 – 1:30: Lunch
1:30 – 2:30: Session 3 / Social Marketing & Advertising
Communities and traditional forms of marketing and advertising have historically acted like oil and water. Progress is being made by innovative organizations that involve the community in feedback, permission-based programs and even advertising creation.
Session Lead: Paul Levine, Current.com
Session Lead: Bruce Smith, Answers.com
2:30 – 3:30: Session 4 / Break Out Sessions
3:30 – 4:00: Break
4:00 – 5:00: Session 5 / News Communities
While the importance of PR and marketing hasnʼt changed, the ways to influence major news sites has transformed radically. Weʼll discuss the news landscape and what it means for your organization.
Session Lead: Lila King – CNN.com
Session Lead: Chris Tolles – Topix.net
Friday, October 9th
8:00 – 9:00: Registration / Breakfast
8:00 – 9:00: Community and Good Ideas Demos (open podium)
9:00 – 10:00: Session 6 / Social “ME”dia: Employees as Advocates
How does an organization combine employee passion with social media tools to meet organization goals?
Session Lead: Erika Kuhl, Salesforce.com
Session Lead: Lucia Willow – Pandora.com
10:00 – 11:00: Session 7: / Break Out Sessions
11:00 – 11:30: Break
11:30 – 12:30: Session 8: Operationalizing Social Media – Reshaping the Organization
As social media and community programs move form short term, tactical engagements to longer-term business strategies, organizations must transform to take full advantage of the possibilities. Hear about the topography of the “social organization” from our panel of experts leading the charge to transform their organizations via social media.
Moderator: Rachel Makool, Makool Consulting
Panelist: Larry Blumenthal, Robert Wood Johnson
Panelist: Dawn Lacallade, Solar Winds
Panelist: Jordan Williams, REI
12:30 – 1:00 Conference Close and Wrap up
Some of the current attendees include community and social media practitioners from leading companies including: Apple, GlobalGiving, Autodesk, Inc., Leadership Corps, Moshi Monsters, Edutopia, LinkedIn, American Legacy Foundation, SEGA of America, Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital, WestEd, TripAdvisor, Dell, Inc., Answers Corporation, Executive Networks, Inc., Microsoft, REI, Care2.com, Stupski Foundation, and The MathWorks, Inc.
Note: This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report.
I’m pleased to be kicking off the 2nd topic in the #octribe discussion, following the kickoff topic of “Influencers” by Gail Williams two weeks ago.
How OCTribe works
Write something tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28), tag it #octribe or tweet it as #octribe, and your post will be linked from the recap page. Moving forward, each 2nd Tuesday and 4th Tuesday of the month, the call and the recap will be hosted on the site of another one of the bloggers in the loosely defined OCTribe group. This conversational project is just starting, so please join in!
The Topic: Valuing Member Participation and Contribution in Online Communities
Admittedly, this topic is a bit of a double edged sword: Assigning financial value to online community member participation and contribution.
On one hand, a community manager could can paint a compelling portrait of value for internal stakeholders by determining a financial value to member participation (assistant moderate, guiding discussions, welcoming new members, etc.) and assigning value to member contributions (support forum posts, tutorials, reviews, feedback and ideas).
On the other hand, if an organization were to make the valuations of member participation and contribution public, it would likely set off a firestorm of debate about member compensation, legal boundaries around “volunteer opportunities”, and ultimately, force the host organization to account for true cost and true value of the activities and content created in their online community.
It seems clear that it would be useful for organizations to have at least notional values for member contributions and participation. What is less clear is how (if at all) to talk about this value with the community, and how (if at all) social capital is exchanged for financial capital in online communities.
The questions I would like to explore in this #octribe series are (feel free to pick one, all or explore your own!):
• Do you currently assign an internal financial value to member contributions and participation?
• Do you use an assumed value as part of your communities ROI reporting?
• Do you account for social capital in your system of accounting for online communities?
Reading the following article from forbes (2001) spawned the “participation value” question for me. In the article, staff writers sketched the value of the cost savings AOL benefited from via their volunteer program.
“How much has AOL saved by using volunteer labor during the past nine years? That’s not an easy question, and with AOL involved in litigation, the company is not eager to furnish the answer. But even with the most conservative numbers available, we estimate that by using volunteers AOL escaped nearly $973 million in expenses since going public in 1992. That poses the question: Would AOL have thrived-or even survived-on Wall Street without free help from volunteers during its first seven years as a public company? Not likely.
The many jobs that volunteers have performed for AOL would be compensated at a wide range of hourly rates in the labor market (see story). To be safe, we used a conservative figure of $15 per hour-about equal to that of a security guard-as the median salary for today’s AOL volunteers. We adjusted the hourly rate backward using an annual rate of inflation of 4% (historical note: Inflation hasn’t been as high as 4% since mid-1991). For the purpose of the model, each volunteer is assumed to have worked 10 hours per week, 50 weeks a year.”
Please note that I am including the article because it is one example of valuing member participation.
So, to wrap up:
• Please post your thoughts on valuing member participation on Tuesday, July 28th
• Tag the posts and any related tweets as #octribe
• I’ll compile a wrap up post that includes all tagged posts by the end of the week
If you have any questions, please email me.