The irony of this blog post is that I am right now struggling where to begin a blog post about helping you know where to begin.  The good news is that most people already know what problem they are trying to solve.  Rarely does someone start to develop a community strategy and then look for a problem they can solve with it.   As we talked about in the last blog post there are many different applications of Community strategy with the core concept being to get your community to come together to do something.  For the sake of this blog post we are going to look at starting your strategy from a high level, non focused perspective.  This means that application of what I’m about to write about may differ based on the different applications, however, the concepts will largely stay the same.

Developing a Community strategy always begins with a through understanding of the problem.  As I mentioned in the previous blog post I am a big believer that Community will only function when it is grafted onto an existing process or procedure.  Even when building a brand new community there must still be understanding of “how the problem is solved today”  Community, while often revolutionary, is not a magic wand that is solving problems for the first time, it is a way of increasing efficiency, reducing costs, creating a larger think tank and fostering greater levels of buy-in.

Cross-Training-and-Creative-Problem-Solving

In understanding the problems there are a few steps you must take…

  1. Deep-dive into the problem and understand today’s solutions
  2. Understand how success is measured today
  3. Develop user personas for the parties involved today and any you want to add into the mix
  4. Map out barriers to success
  5. Begin mapping “grafting” process
  6. Plan success criteria

Problem Deep-Dive

The best way to do a problem deep-dive is a combination of research and interviews.  In a support strategy this may involve sales, operations, support, etc.  In a documentation community this may involve tech writers, product development, support, etc.  They key is to determine all the parties end-to-end that would be affected by the Community strategy, find thought leaders and start asking questions.  The research portion of the strategy development may involve looking at the marketplace including competition and partners or finding other communities that mirror what you are trying to achieve.  I have always found success is making no assumptions and exploring the issues with an intentional blind ignorance.

Today’s Success Criteria

If it’s a problem, someone is tracking it.  In a support strategy they may be tracking number of calls, tickets, cost per communication.  In an eCommerce situation there is revenue tracking.  Understanding these metrics is the first step to knowing how you can forecast your own success criteria.

User Personas

During the investigation process you will learn about the key players in the space.  Each of them are going to have their own way of looking at the problem and how they handle it.  Try to identify all the user types that you think will make up your community and start writing out what they care about, what they want, what would motivate them, what would tick them off.  This creates a good reference point for the development of your engagement strategy which we will talk about in a later series of blog posts.

Mapping the Barriers

Anyone who  has worked with me knows that I am a worst case scenario planner.  I always look at what could go wrong and make sure I have a mitigation plan to resolve it.  While I am not advising worst case thinking you do need to understand what exists within your customer base or at your company that would stop a community program from being successful.  The most common barriers I have encountered is age, corporate culture, issues with confidentiality and lack of commitment.  These are going to change company to company.

The Process “Graft”

Once you understand the problem, start thinking about where Community can fit in.  Examples might be “Team A currently answers the phones and re-routes the calls so they can monitor the forums” or “The communications department is doing an author problem so they can front line our blog section” or “Our website says to call but we should insert community first to deflect”  The key to this is, like a puzzle piece, start looking where Community can slide in.

Plan Success Criteria

I plan to write an in-depth blog post on success criteria, talking about the typical health measurements of Communities but at the strategy development stage the success criteria should provide a conservative to moderate forecast of the impact you think having a Community will provide.  For support this may be call deflection by %, for eCommerce this may be revenue forcast, for documentation it may be pages of content.  The reality is that at this stage in the game there really is no way to really know what success you will bring, but you need to identify somethings so you can sell your management on the investment.

So that’s where to start.  From there you should become a subject matter expert on the problem you are going to solve which will help you greatly down the road when designing and developing your marketing and engagement strategies.  In the next blog post in my Community 101 series I’m going to talk more about user persona development and then using those personas to locate where your community members are today.