As I talked about in my last post not everyone knows what Community really is.  If a community is just “getting people to come together to do something” the next logical question is… ok, well what can I get them to do?

I am a big believer in adapting community strategy to existing process.  The first step to developing a community strategy is to understand how things are done today.  Once you have that understanding, you can begin weaving community into the process.  In my experience most of the applications of Community come from a  need to increase efficiency, seldom is community applied after dismal failure or from the start.  So understanding where success is today and how to make it better is key.  This concept will be a primary discussion in my next blog post in the series.

So let’s talk about some typical applications of online community.

Support

Goal:  Get customers to support one another thereby reducing support costs.

The Details:  This is one of the most common online corporate communities.  The basic concept is customers come in and post answers publicly and other users and employees answer them.  Questions in the forums become content that is later viewed by the masses.  This is a one-to-many approach to support.

Baseline Strategy:  Their are three key important components to a support based community strategy.  Employee Participation, Gamification, and Integration.  Users typically will not engage on a community unless their are experts present.  When you start a new community the only experts you will have will be employees.  Gamification is all about creating thought leaders and driving participation by making it fun to participate and contribute.  Integration into your website, documentation, marketing, sales process, etc ensure that the content created by the community gets viewed by those who need it, deflecting an official support request.

Ecommerce

Goal:  Drive online sales and increase revenue.

The Details:  A community based around ecommerce is all about getting people to buy products.  This is almost always a B2C play.  Examples of this are woot.com, livingsocial.com, groupon.  There are also ecommerce community strategies woven into brand marketing communities.

Baseline Strategy:  The key to developing an ecommerce community strategy is that the “deal” becomes available or better based on the actions of the community “spreading the word”  So getting people to share and tell people about the product in turn increases revenue.   Often times people feel the brand attachment to the community itself more than the products offered.

Documentation

Goal:  Leverage customers and thought leaders to create and curate content pertaining to the companies industry or product offerings.

The Details:  A community that forms around getting users to write, edit and validate content.  The largest community like this is wikipedia.org but many companies leverage the same practices on a smaller scale to get customers to create content.  This type of community is especially crucial for the tech industry where documentation is costly, resource intensive and almost always out of date.  Another aspect of a documentation community is translation of content.

Baseline Strategy:  Development of content starts with a strong process.  Clearly mapping out things like who can create what, who can edit what, who has delete powers, and how you will validate is key.  Once this is established, Gamification is key to recognize contributors and drive engagement.  A key that many people do not consider is that it’s crucial to differentiate between corporate based and community based content, especially when considering the legal ramifications.

Development

Goal:  Leverage customers to create a product for your company

The Details:  This type of strategy typically revolves around software and app creation although can really be applied to anything.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Apple & Android all have strong developer communities to create apps and software that compliments the product offering.  Gaming has a large community of “mod” developers.  Open source software is the best example of this type of community.

Baseline Strategy:  WIIFM is the key to a development strategy.  Most people will only contribute to making your products better if they get revenue or recognition in return.  While gamification is key here, the real success revolves around helping the community members by providing tools and resources that they can in turn use to sell their products.

Brand Marketing

Goal:  Increase the perception about a companies brand.

The Details:  Communities that form around brand marketing are the most common in broad market social media.  From viral videos to Facebook pages to merchandising this type of community building involves getting users to speak positively about your products to “spread the word”.

Baseline Strategy:  While this is not my area of expertise I am a believer that the key to brand marketing is interesting and relevant content.    A strategy about pushing regurgitated marketing content will never develop a community but interacting with the community to find out what type of content they want then creating it specifically for them is key to success.  While the phrase “Content is king” is often overused in social the phrase “Relevant Content is King” speaks volumes of truth.

Effect Change

Goal: Drive change on a particular topic or theme.

The Details:   These communities typically form around non-profits, social issues or politics.  The key being to crowd-source online to change the status quo.  Examples of this can include political organization, charities, political campaigns, lobbying efforts and legislation.

Baseline Strategy:  This is a two-fold community approach.  The first is getting people rallied to your cause and spreading the word.  The second is organizing your official efforts.  In many ways this is a combination of a brand marketing community and a support community.

Organic Community

Goal: Connect to liked minded people around a personal interest.

The Details:  This is a rare type of community for a corporation to create, although it is possible.  These communities typically form around a hobby or interest (Classic cards, fan groups, etc)

Baseline Strategy:  A skilled corporation can leverage the interest of the community to drive attention to new content. products, etc that are similar to the original interest.  The real risk is intrusion as an organic community has, by definition, been formed by its members for its members.

In the next blog in my series I will talk about how to get started building your community strategy.  We will talk about some of the base-line methodologies and rules and how to apply them to your strategy.