Adapting your online presence to meet changing customer needs

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  • 1. FROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES:Adapting Your OnlinePresence to Meet ChangingCustomer NeedsEstaban Kolsky, ThinkJarOctober 7, 2010
  • 2. IN SEARCH OFBetter Online CommunitiesThe use of social media has increased so dramatically in the past have quickly become content- and knowledge-generationfew years that it has become the fourth most popular activity in engines for organizations rather than a place to find answers.the Internet, drawing more users than email1. A large part of this Those seeking an answer many times go away empty-handed,move to social media and social networks has been the rush to or worse, with an escalated case moved to another channel.join online communities — to share knowledge, achieve recogni- What used to be a repository of useful conversations andtion, congregate as a group, and most importantly, to gain power live interactions became another place to simply search foras a collective group. answers, complementing online self-service tools. NeitherThe latest Digital Future Project report from USC Annenberg customers nor businesses are entirely to blame for this. TheSchool of Communication2 reports an all-time-high go-to format used in most online communities — forums —15% of all Internet users participating in online communities. Use just doesn’t work for today’s social customers.of social networks has increased to a staggering Organizations have tried to accommodate cus-75% of US Households3, highlighting a customer Use of social tomers’ demands and engage with them. Butbase that prefers social networks to email4. networks has in their rush to launch their own online com-There is little doubt that participation in social munities, they forgot a crucial detail. The basisnetworks and online communities will continue increased to of establishing conversations with customersto grow, as it has for the past 10 years (figure 1). a staggering is not about tools that create conver- 180MAmong this growth, support communities are the sations; rather it’s dependent on thefastest rising online communities. 75% of US attitude and transparency of the orga-These support communities draw users from Households. nization. Figuring out how to use tools 2009 such as forums to create communitiesmany places looking for answers that are hard to is short-sighted and destined to fail.find or too “new” to be properly documented by vendors. They Companies should instead be seeking methods toseek the expertise of other users who “have done it or fixed it be- encourage conversations between custom-fore.” While most of these support sites are focused on technolo- ers as well as with them.gy, software and hardware issues, other uses, like travel, retail andhospitality, are beginning to appear. Whatever the topic, thesesupport communities all share one very important trait;they were designed to house the most currentand most relevant information.It’s not surprising then, that Social Network Increaseconsumers have flocked toonline communities to find 80M Figure 1 - There is little doubt that participation in social networks and online communities will continue to grow, as it has for the past 2000 10 years. Among this growth, support communities are the fastestanswers to questions. Unfor- rising online communities.tunately, online communitiesFORUMS: THE TRADITIONALStructured Online CommunitiesAmong the organizations that deploy online communities today, Most resources used to deploy forums are spent on recruiting,forums are the chosen model1. They are steeped in tradition, maintaining and growing super-users. This rare breed of con-fairly structured and easy to control (for the organization). Plus, tributors creates content for the community without expectingusers know how they work. Unfortunately, forums have some anything in return, thereby relegating the role of communitymajor drawbacks. manager to a human resources function, rather than someone who builds and promotes the community.FROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 1
  • 3. Forums are very inflexible in how they allow communities to Forums have a place in the world of online communities, but trying happen. And, while content is the lifeblood of a forum (thus to use them for everything echoes the hammer syndrome: when the need for super-users), not all online communities require one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When an online masses of content. community is needed, one needs to step back and evaluate what will be transpiring within it and then seek a tool that will accommo- Forums are not good for simple social conversations, nor are date all necessary activity. they the best community model for ideation of feedback — both common use cases in online communities.THE NEED FOROnline CommunitiesPeople with common interests, values and needs have alwayscongregated in offline communities. With the recent adventand rapid growth of the “social customer” segment, deploying online communities hasThis new model become a viable — andrecognizes and imperative — solution. Organizations are ableleverages the power to migrate from theof the online com- traditional one-to-one interaction model tomunity for both the a socially augmented,customer and the community-centric,organization. one-to-many-to-one interaction model (figure2). This new model recognizes and leverages the power of the One-to-Many-to-One Interaction Model Figure 2 - This new model recognizes and leverages theonline community for both the customer and the organization. power of the online community for both the customer and the organization.It’s important to understand why people on both sides of atransaction choose to engage in online communities. Customers join communities to share power and knowl- edge, to influence others and to be recognized. A community only works as a two-way exchange of value: Organizations deploy communities to collect ideas, Each user must perceive that the value they are getting from feedback and knowledge; to monitor user interactions participating is equivalent to the value they are contributing and requests; and to get insights they could not otherwise to the community. easily obtain. The absence of balance sets the stage for the challenges facedThe conflict that arises from these differing goals is made in communities today: communities fulfilling the needs of theworse by the disparity in value perceived by both customers organization, not the customer.and organizations.FROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 2
  • 4. FULFILLING THE ORGANIZATIONS’Need for ContentIt is easy to see why organizations deploy forums when they makes the forum so easy to deploy for an organization is theneed online communities. Forums are proven to work, they are user’s worse enemy. Forums don’t work the way users work;structured and comprehensive and they build communities they work the way organizations work. They are company-cen-that are easily recognized and adopted by users. Above all, tric, not customer-centric. Too often, users must participate inthey are focused on the value the organization wants to get out multiple forums to find the right information in the right forum. of the process. TheyThe common belief are a great way to cre- In his book, O’Keefe goes into painstaking detail on how to create and manage forums with a very heavy slant towardsamong organizations ate content that fills the organization. At no time does he talk about how the users the knowledgebase.deploying forums may benefit or leverage these communities. All that matters istoday is that the user Among other uses, that organizations save money, increase revenues and control in his book “Manag- (very tightly) the knowledge and data in the community.will come and use the ing Online Forums” The common belief among organizations deploying forumscommunities for lack Patrick O’Keefe5 talks today is that the user will come and use the communitiesof a better option. about forums being for lack of a better option. And, though value exchanged in very well suited for the community will always benefit the organization in such atechnical support, servicing extremely large numbers of lopsided model, it’s acceptable because the organization is theusers and accumulating knowledge about a specific topic in one paying for and maintaining the forum.a central location. From this perspective, it’s obvious that a new functionalWhile it may be useful to find an answer to a technical ques- model for communities is needed — one that focuses ontion in a forum, one must know how to search for the answer. fulfilling customers’ needs and wants while also bringingWhich forum? What keywords to use? How to filter the results? value to organizations.Any difficulties in negotiating this search process negate thepotential gains from a users’ perspective. The structure thatFULFILLING THE CUSTOMERS’Needs with OutcomesWhat O’Keefe and these organizations fail to realize is that this Users today are hyper-focused on having the right experiencesinside-out, company-centric approach to community is 180 — finding the right information and doing their jobs-to-be-donedegrees from where the social customer is — and what they want. in their own way. They don’t, as they did in the past, accept poorThe rules of engagement are no longer written by the company experiences and badand followed by the customer. They are written concurrently and processes. They are They don’t, as they didchange from interaction to interaction. The forum-driven model of vocal and they know thecommunities deployed today cannot support that. influence and power they in the past, accept poor have. Experiences should experiences and badUsers demand and expect better. Social Customers know thevalue of using their voice and how a community aggregates those be implemented with processes. them, not for them.voices into power. Being told how to form into communities, howto act and what community experiences to have is no longer ac- The outcome, for the users, is what counts — not the content.ceptable to customers. Once they use the answer, they no longer care for it and will notFROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 3
  • 5. come back. To them, it is not content, it is simply an answer ally seek. They are not going to get organized as the company(and all they are looking for). John Hagel, John Seely Brown, wants them to, but they are going to contribute in their own wayand Land Davison cover this difference between what the and add immense value.organization seeks and what the users can contribute very well The role of the organization is not to draw from the users whatin their most recent book “The Power of Pull”6. They say that they think they need, but rather to provide a model for customerspeople (mostly customers, but also consumers) bring the value to contribute and for the company to receive value fromto the organization that is beyond what organizations tradition- that contribution.A BETTER SOLUTIONA Platform for ConversationsThere is a new engagement model that allows organizations and Integrate with other networks or communities, or evenusers to create and run their conversations any way they see fit. connect with enterprise systems that retrieve and store data.It is less structured, there are no rules and there is no supervising These are just some of the functions a platform can provide, andentity hovering over. The organization that installs these Conver- any user can pick the ones they want to create the communitysation Platforms benefit not only by having access to customers they need.and prospects freely discussing their needs, wants and desires,but also by having a platform they can use to deploy their own Adopting a platform means that instead of deploying communi-conversations — internally or externally. ties, organizations provide the storage space, the software and the website, while users use that infrastructure to createPlatforms make creating new conversation simple, flexible and the conversations they want, in any model they want, for as longrewarding. Once a user (customer or organization) decides that a as they want.new forum, a new group or a new community is needed, they canuse the platform to build it to required specifications. They can, The freedom of being able to build a one-million-user, open login,among other functions: support community next to a 20-person, closed-group, ideation community allows organizations and customers to leverage com- Provide open or login-only access leveraging a munities as intended. corporate directory To provide the flexibility needed to build a community with as Add guidelines and rules of access and use many features as the user requires, the platform must have Create a new knowledgebase or leverage an existing one three layers: ES N ERVIC RATIO ITY M ON S INTEG MUN COM COM1. Community 2. Common Services 3. Integration Connectors to back-office and The core of the solution, it These extensions, such as strategic applications and enables conversation creation; security directories, knowl- data stores, the integration manages content created, edge repositories, and many layer makes for easy and including comments; and other systems, make the model powerful customization of the delivers the basic functional- powerful. communities. ity used in a traditional online community.FROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 4
  • 6. LEVERAGING THE PLATFORM TODeploy Multiple ConversationsWhen an organization wants to hold different conversations at the Deploying a Conversation Platform offers virtually unlimitedsame time, it becomes clear how a platform distinguishes itself possibilities for organizations to create conversations, to offerfrom traditional online communities. Forums and other styles flexibility for other users to do the same and to get the valueof structured online communities shine in a few limited cases: from the free-form feedback created in those communities.Forums are better suited for support communities, but do poorly It also allows them to create what feel like traditional onlinewhen faced with ideation, social engagement or even feedback communities but use them effectively for ideation, support andinteractions. Other similar models of structured communities are feedback as needed — all from a single platform.better suited to social engagement, ideation or feedback but notso much for support.In the end, they all have the same problem: the interaction be-tween users is pre-determined by the structure of the deployed Ncommunity. This lack of flexibility in the manner and style of the RATIO I NTEGconversation ends up frustrating users who cannot get what they ICES SERV MONneed out of the community. COM Y UNIT C OMMFOOTNOTES1. http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/what-americans-do-online-social-media-and-games dominate-activity/2. http://www.digitalcenter.org/pdf/2009_Digital_Future_Project_Release_Highlights.pdf3. http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=2257003334. http://mashable.com/2009/03/09/social-networking-more-popular-than-email/5. Managing Online Forums, Patrick O’Keefe, 2008, AMACOM (http://books.google.com/ books?id=wD1A5rrD8w4C)6. http://books.google.com/books?id=hJvZPwAACAAJ&dq=power+of+pull&hl=en&ei=YDBsTJrRG4v2tgOAup 3Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAAFROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 5
  • 7. CONTACT USGet Satisfaction provides a community-based software platform that helps 400 Second Street, Suite 400companies engage online customers wherever they are—a company website, the San Francisco, CA 94107Get Satisfaction network or inside social systems like Facebook. Get Satisfaction (877) 339-3997 Toll-Freeenables open, transparent conversations between customers and their peers, info@getsatisfaction.comand with employees of the brands and organizations they are passionate about. getsatisfaction.comGet Satisfaction supports more than 36,000 customer communities with more twitter.com/getsatisfactionthan 20,000 organizations participating. Companies use Get Satisfaction to facebook.com/getsatisfactionengage their customers in an effort to improve customer satisfaction, reducesupport costs, provide market feedback and increase online awareness. youtube.com/getsatisfactionFROM FORUMS TO COMMUNITIES: ADAPTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE TO MEET CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS OCTOBER 7, 2010 | 6