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Why Your Customers Need an Online Community (And How to Prove It's Working When You Have One)

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Why Your Customers Need an Online Community (And How to Prove It's Working When You Have One)

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Many B2B companies build reputations on in-person connections, whether that’s part of what they actually sell, or the customer service they provide. So in a world where direct mail and faxes are still used, does an online community make sense?

It does! From “Let’s try it!” to “This is actually working,” we'll share how the Crisis Prevention Institute's online instructor community, built on the Yammer platform, serves as a valuable tool for its customers. We'll also share engagement strategies, and behind the scenes analytics from tyGraph.

Many B2B companies build reputations on in-person connections, whether that’s part of what they actually sell, or the customer service they provide. So in a world where direct mail and faxes are still used, does an online community make sense?

It does! From “Let’s try it!” to “This is actually working,” we'll share how the Crisis Prevention Institute's online instructor community, built on the Yammer platform, serves as a valuable tool for its customers. We'll also share engagement strategies, and behind the scenes analytics from tyGraph.


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Why Your Customers Need an Online Community (And How to Prove It's Working When You Have One)

  1. 1. Why Your Customers Need An Online Community (And How to Prove It’s Working When You Have One)
  2. 2. Building & optimizing your online community • How to get started • How to make sure this is really about your customers • How to measure engagement and effectiveness • How to leverage online and offline worlds—together!
  3. 3. Who we are • Becky Benishek, Social Media & Community Manager for the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI). • Over 6 years of experience with strategy & tactics for external social media and internal/private online communities. • LinkedIn | • Julie Porter, Training Director-CPI Instructor Association • Supports Certified Instructors in the delivery of high- quality, meaningful training programs in their workplaces. • Recognizes instructors for their commitment to CPI standards and creating environments of Care, Welfare, Safety and Security™.
  4. 4. “Our prime purpose in life is to help others.” – Dalai Lama How do we support people so good at supporting others? “Our attitude towards others determines their attitude towards us.” – Earl Nightingale
  5. 5. Bringing The One To The Many
  6. 6. Tip #1: Know your why.
  7. 7. The boss is in Tip #2: Get executive buy-in.
  8. 8. Tip #3: Build your team.
  9. 9. Tip #4: Get the word out.
  10. 10. Tip #4A: Just don’t call it “social media.” Photo Awards 2016
  11. 11. Tip #5: Nurture-to-Grow
  12. 12. Tip #6: Lurkers gonna lurk. Dmytro_Skorobogatov/iStock
  13. 13. Tip #6A: Don’t panic!
  14. 14. Tip #7: Plan to Re-Evaluate—Constantly Ashish Inamdar / Wildlife Photo 2016
  15. 15. Tip #8: Failure Is Your Secret Bonus Nicolas de Vaulx / Comedy Wildlife Photo 2016
  16. 16. Tip #9: Remember who this is for.
  17. 17. Time to Measure! (i.e. Value Has Weight)
  18. 18. Community Snapshot Soft launch Postcard in kits Big offline conference! YamJam YamJam Teachers out Recovering from festivities
  19. 19. What Happens Offline Stays Online Big offline conference! Recovering from festivities Postcard in kits
  20. 20. Offline Awareness = Continued Engagement YamJam YamJam Teachers out Postcard in kits
  21. 21. By The Numbers 30% engagement!
  22. 22. The CPI Certified Instructor Association
  23. 23. Please join us at our next meeting on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at SEDOL administration building, 18160 Gages Lake Road, Gages Lake, IL.
  24. 24. What Our Community Does For Us (And by extension, what one could do for you.) We provide a service. Customers find value in this service. Customers use service with purpose. We learn what they need to succeed. Quality stories Challenge-to-Success Welcoming new customers “How do you…?” Resources Posted Resources Requested “I’ve trained CPI for 20 years.” Helping through example “Hey CPI, I need…”
  25. 25. Strategy Recap • Define your objective (this will evolve) • Get leadership buy-in • Have a dedicated person/team • Market offline & on with care • Nurture-to-grow • Let lurkers lurk (i.e., don’t panic!) • Continually evaluate customer needs: What do THEY want? • Continue relationship-building • Measure, measure, measure • TRY IT OUT!

Editor's Notes

  • For more than 35 years, the Crisis Prevention Institute has been helping schools, hospitals, and other service organizations throughout the world create safer, more respectful work environments.
  • We do this by providing training to human services providers in ways that prevent and de-escalate violent behavior.

  • We’ve trained over 30,000 of these human services providers (called Certified Instructors) worldwide. In turn, over the years, they’ve trained over 10 million staff.
  • Bottom line: Our customers are BUSY, just like your customers. They’re busy helping people. They’re busy saving lives.

    And only about 5% of them actually “do” CPI training as their full-time job. The rest have to fit it in where they can. And every single one of them have to work with their staff’s time and availability.

    Plus, we’re a person-centered company. We have a two-ring maximum on our phones in our support center. We do loads of direct mail – including sending out newsletters and publications throughout the year to about 25,000 people each time.

    We accept and send faxes. We even have a typewriter that is still in use. Even with email, internally, we’re more likely than not calling each other up or walking over to someone’s cube to ask, “Did you get my email?” We’re used to being face to face, or voice-to-voice. And so are our customers.

    But here we come with this idea: Let’s give them an online community! --and even daring to say that they NEED it.
  • Sometimes there is only a single CPI Instructor for their entire district or facility, state, or region. Or they don’t know there’s another trainer the next town over. And sometimes people have questions when CPI office hours are up, because we’re global.

    Or sometimes they need to talk to someone else who does what they do, who really gets what they do.

    And the thing is, this is something they told us they want. Not necessarily in so many direct words like, “I want CPI to build us an online community.” It’s when they’d mention after training classes how they wanted to keep that excitement going, as well as staying in touch. How they enjoyed meeting each other during our conferences. How they liked being connected to us.

    So we wanted to provide a way for these 30,000 Instructors to help each other out: Exchange tips, ideas, strategies on training and strengthen their own knowledge and skills. And along the way, reconnect and form new friendships.

    But still: Will this online community really work for our customers, given how busy they are offline? And how will we really know it does?
  • I can’t resist: Here’s the home page of the CPI Instructor Community! From just this snapshot I took, I can keep scrolling down and finding new conversations, or click into any one of the groups I’ve joined on the left, or see what other people are viewing on the right.

    But this conversation in the middle touches my heart, and not just because of the content. It’s because it began June 4, 2015. And here it is, getting comments in November of 2016.

    And this is by no means unique.

    But first! Let’s get into how you can get something like this.
  • Tip #1: Before you start building—or re-launching: Understand and define your objective. Evaluate your customer needs and find your why.

    Is it to foster meaningful collaboration? Connect around common objectives? Measure for business outcomes? Even replace existing process and tools? Or is some of it really about building, maintaining, and fostering that relationship between you and your customer, and among your customers themselves?

    Whatever you do, make it about your company’s goals and overall culture. Your best benchmark is against yourself.
  • Tip #2: Get leadership buy-in. Go as far up as you can.

    I went to our CEO. I had reasons prepared in advance that made sense for our company goals, culture, and our customers. And he agreed to support our cultural change.

    Even if you’re launching for internal employees only, the reasons are still important. The What’s In It For Me—from your audience’s point of view—that you worked on in Tip #1.
  • Tip #3: You’ve got your why. You’ve got your executive support. Hopefully you already had a platform in mind.

    You need a dedicated community manager, or a team with a team leader, or a handful of volunteer colleagues who can act as community ambassadors.

    You also want to think big: Company-wide. Ideally, you want to get to a point where everyone in the company who talks to customers (or everyone, period) can also talk about this great space for them.
  • Tip #4: Promotion! You want to extend your reach and capture as much interest as you can, so use a variety.

    If you’re focusing on an internal company launch, or getting the word out that there’s an external community coming, use the intranet. Use email. Use staff meetings, bulletin boards, signs in the restroom. Make it big. Make it fun. Include food.

    If you’re launching externally for customers, your methods will understandably a little different: Email, phone calls, website announcements, talking in person where you can. But you can also use direct mail (and you’ll see an example of that later).

    There’s a theme here: Yes, you can use offline means to get people online.

    LESSON LEARNED: And be intentional about what you’re saying, including what you’re calling this space. At first, we interchanged “Yammer” with the “CPI Instructor Community.” But Yammer, while important, is just the platform that drives it; the Instructor Community is the spirit that fills it. The spirit of inspiration, of connectivity, of relationship-building. And that’s what makes it relevant for our users.
  • Tip #4A: Your online community may very well remind you of Facebook or LinkedIn. It may have chat tools that remind you of Messenger. It may have badges and other fun icons.

    But too often in professional settings, the moment someone hears “social media,” the stigma is TIME WASTING. Or value-LESS.

    You’ll go a lot further if you adjust how you think of it and how you market it.

    LESSON LEARNED: At first, we called our community a social networking site. That’s actually how Yammer bills itself. Eventually we realized that this didn’t sound as good as it should for our purposes, because of the above reasons. So we changed it: We call our community a “professional learning network” or a “professional development network.” We emphasize how people on this network exchange helpful training tips and insights far more than we do the more social, meet people who do what you do aspect—even though that happens organically. It helps if there’s more than a bit of truth to it, too.
  • Tip #5: There is no “Build it and they will come.” You cannot set it and forget it. With that team you built, or even if it’s just you at first, you’ll need to be there. You need to be prepared to listen, manage, nurture, engage, expand, evaluate, lather, rinse, repeat.

    This includes all the offline efforts to remind people that this wonderful thing exists.
  • Tip #6: Something to know about all communities: 90% of your members will lurk. 9% will contribute. 1% will carry the community. However…
  • Tip #6A: Don’t panic! That 90% doesn’t mean they aren’t doing. As long as you’ve got content there that people can learn from and take with them, whether they read it on-site or download it to share, you’re winning. You’re providing value.

    Lurkers need to figure out that they are confident enough to post. Sometimes, we need to build their confidence for them.

    (The 90-9-1 rule is under debate, and you can measure this in different ways, of course. But it’s oddly true that you have a very good chance of ending up with most people seemingly silent. )
  • Tip #7: This goes for everything from your basic “How do we get people in here?” strategy to how you envision people using this space. For example, through evaluation, our starting strategy remains the foundation to this day: Keep the community entirely opt-in. Because of how busy our customers were, we wanted people in this space who had both time and inclination to be there.

    But your community, adding in people may work for you. You might be able to stick with a one-size-fits-all policy for a long time. You might evolve to a wholly different model from where you started. It’s down to your culture AND how you see people using the space.
  • Tip #8: We had a community before this on a different platform. Hardly anyone knew they were part of it, because they were auto-opted-in the moment they registered on our website. The layout wasn’t user-friendly. There were no notifications if someone responded to you. We had less than 1% engagement. It just wasn’t right for our customer base—as we discovered.

    But this failure was ultimately good. Because by the time Yammer came around, I was able to identify it as something where we had a pretty good chance at succeeding, because our customers told us loud and clear what they wanted and what they didn’t want, simply through how they used—and didn’t use—that old community.

    I’m not doing a pitch for Yammer; Yammer isn’t going to be right for everyone. What I am saying is platform choice matters. It’s not the most important thing, but you can’t ignore it.
  • Tip #9: This is something you need to remember at every stage.

    Whoever this community is for, internal or external, clients, customers, or advocates, a combination of all the above—what you’re building is for them.

    This is capital-letters THEIR community.

    Yes, you’re going to learn a lot from it. Yes, you can tout it as a value-add to whatever program or subscription you’re selling.

    But it’s still about THEM.

    You may want big words such as: Synergy! Collaboration!
    They may want: Help. Answers. Meetups.

    What do you do? Let them have it.
  • Now moving to the analytics portion of this event…
  • This trend chart is literally a map of our community. After I set my launch date internally, I put in a couple beta testers to give me feedback. Then we invited in very select groups of Instructors to start out with. It’s important to make customers feel special.

    And then came the most difficult part in these early days: We waited. We watched. We called it a soft launch to cover ourselves in case it didn’t work.

    And as we said, in the beginning, we didn’t have enough people in there to get real conversations going, so we at CPI would jump in and respond, and hope that by SHOWING what to do in this brand new space, others would follow.

    And as the months went by, we noticed that more people were joining. More people were doing. More questions were being answered, and not by us.

  • This focused view shows that we had a huge conference in July 2015, and in our training classes, our literature, and on our website, we directed people to the online community to talk about it; our network returned to a more “normal” state of engagement after that, and then we fully expected everyone to be basically gone over the winter holidays.

    As 2016 began, we expected our customers to start calling us and planning training, so we thought it was the perfect time to…
  • …introduce an analog way for people to remember this thing called Yammer!

    An initial training class is 4 days, and can bring people from different organizations and areas. You tend to form bonds during this time, which is where you get that excitement and interest going that people want to keep up. You also get a lot of information in a relatively short time.

    So we created an oversized postcard that is included in their Instructor Kits. Side 1 here has the value proposition.
  • Side 2 has a space for people to write the names of people they meet during their classes, and a space to write a question or comment they want to post when they join. There are also easy instructions on HOW to join.

    This is so after their training, when they’ve had time to decompress, they’ll pull it back out and say, “Oh yeah, I need to join this Community and here’s what I can do first.”
    And this concept was thought up by one of our own staff trainers, who saw the need for it in her training classes.
  • So the inclusion of that postcard has been steadily contributing to the increase of our membership and engagement.

    Then in March and again in June, we tried YamJams. These are live chats held right in the Yammer platform with a dedicated topic, hosted by subject matter experts drawn from our customers and within CPI.

    And even though both of these were on very specialized subjects, they skyrocketed our engagement. Plus, I have data that shows that the summary documents I posted after the YamJam, that include links to all the conversations and resources, were accessed by a substantial amount of people above the number we saw actively participate.

    Then summer came. Education is our biggest market, and with all the teachers and other educators taking a break offline, I knew we wouldn’t see them online either. But when school started again, I expected our engagement to start climbing, and it did. So I’m able to see the direct impact on our community based on what’s happening in our customers’ lives.
  • So I’ve been talking about how we have 30,000 Instructors. When I took this snapshot, we had less than 4,200 active users. (It’s over 4,300 as I type this.)

    But you’re going to get that with a true opt-in approach, and that’s just looking at sheer quantity anyway. Here’s why this relatively small growth doesn’t bother me:

    I’ve got 30% engagement, month after month. 1% is still the holy grail.

    I’ve got over 2 threads per contributor, and an average of 3 responses per thread.

    I’ve got over 8 messages per contributor.

    And I’ve got a great metric called the Responded Not @Mentioned %, and that’s stayed at 58% for months now. And what that means is people are seeing conversation threads and not waiting to be tagged to jump in and add their insight.

    You don’t get that on email. You don’t get that on the phone. But you do get that with an online community.
  • Throughout all your processes (and processing), keep remembering what communities are really about: People! We work to maintain authenticity offline and on, including:

    --Personal touchpoints (phone, email)
    --CPI newsletter articles about the community, such as in our direct mail piece, Instructor Forum
    --Tiered customer membership offline; all can benefit from the experiences of others online

    We also feel it’s very important to be transparent. All of our staff who participate in the Instructor Community have (CPI) attached to their names. It’s respectful of the customer.
  • This Yammer Group is an example of that beautiful mix of offline and online.

    The green box was a message posted in the group about an offline meeting.
    The piece on the left is the online recap of that offline meeting.
    The piece on the right is a press release for all the public to see—which came from the results of that offline meeting organized online!

    The relationship we have—that offline piece, the face-to-face--is critical to making the online work.
  • The bottom line is, we’re providing this service for our customers. If they can’t use it, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. But they are using it. And they’re using it with purpose. We can see it through what people are posting about. Is it resources they need? Are there recurring topics? What do they need from us?

    These people are story-tellers. Most of them don’t know it. You ask them to write a blog post, and they’ll balk. “I’m not a writer!” But then someone in the community asks, “How do I handle this situation?” and suddenly they’re writing paragraph after paragraph. And we look at that and say, “You just wrote a blog post. Can we have it?”

    Challenge-to-success is big here. Someone who’s done what other people are now going through, and can help through example.

    That’s all quality.

    And because of this, we can extrapolate and anticipate the needs of our customers and determine what we can do as a company to help them succeed.
  • Final thoughts: In 2017, we have another big offline conference, and our Certified Instructors have a big role in that. And part of that role will be them taking others through the Community and getting them excited about it. So it’s not just CPI saying it’s a good thing. It’s peeps talking to peeps.

    Word of mouth = advocacy.

    We always keep in mind that our main connection with our customers is offline—in person, direct mail pieces, on the phone. So as we adapt, we take that with us.
  • What is Yammer, anyway? (Microsoft provided this slide.)

    I don’t work for Microsoft, but I love Yammer. is part of Office 365, which means it is becoming fully integrated with Outlook, OneDrive, and SharePoint.

    For itself, as you saw, it’s a place for people to connect around common objectives and have meaningful collaboration, sometimes even in real time. Everything is searchable, which is why you see responses to topics started a year ago. Users have the ability to customize some features to their liking, such as notifications; they can put as much or as little information about themselves as they want; they can join, leave, or create as many groups as they want. And it’s accessible through your phone or browser.

    Yammer actually began as a platform for companies. Yammer Basic is the free version that any company can start for your own private, exclusive, “home” network. What I built for our customers is called an External Network. It belongs to us, but customers in that external network can never come back to our home network. As far as they’re concerned, this is stand-alone. That protects our privacy and also reinforces for them how this space of theirs is indeed theirs.

  • Where’d I get my cool analytics from? tyGraph!

    I don’t work for tyGraph either, but they provide an awesome set of tools for my Yammer network, plus for O365 in general and now Twitter.

    How do you know unless you measure? You don’t. Successful social networks need more than a vision and strategy.

    tyGraph is ready to use and is purposefully built to handle organizational data making employee, workgroup, business unit and company dimensions a standard part of your decision-making capability.