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Patricia Seybold Group 
Trusted Advisors to Customer-Centric Executives 
Building Professional Peer 
Communities 
An Inter...
Patricia Seybold Group / Spotlight 
Building Professional Peer Communities 
An Interview with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal, ...
2 • Spotlight 
called Leader Networks where we enable companies 
to build online communities for their customers or 
const...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 3 
network within technology. The CIOs needed to 
share information and grapple w...
4 • Spotlight 
Illustration 1. Having launched in Spring 2006, inmobile.org is a sponsor-supported online community for bu...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 5 
ers? How do they like information? Are they deeply 
interactive and going to d...
6 • Spotlight 
trying to deepen their practice, they’re trying to 
solve a burning problem or issue in the moment, and 
on...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 7 
Women In Technology International (WITI) 
Illustration 2. Founded in 1989, WIT...
8 • Spotlight 
answer is “Because I don’t have time.” When that is 
the popular response, it means the community isn’t 
se...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 9 
What we found was a really robust usage of the 
information and connections th...
10 • Spotlight 
Ensuring Sufficient Resources 
PSG. You’ve talked about moderation and analysis, 
all of which takes time ...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 11 
and blogosphere talking about your company any-way. 
There is a lot of benefi...
12 • Spotlight 
Elements of a Community 
Content • In many and varied formats, from text to media (e.g., podcasts) 
• Incl...
Building Professional Peer Communities • 13 
Dell’s Online Support Community 
Illustration 3. Dell’s online community feat...
14 • Building Professional Peer Communities 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
MATTHEW D. LEES is a Consultant and Vice President at the P...
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Building Professional Peer Communities

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This Interview with Vanessa DiMauro, CEO Leader Networks and the Patricia Seybold Group explores the best practices for building professional peer communities. This joint collaboration was written in 2007 and stands as a classic reference for online community-building today.

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Building Professional Peer Communities

  1. 1. Patricia Seybold Group Trusted Advisors to Customer-Centric Executives Building Professional Peer Communities An Interview with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal, Leader Networks By Matthew D. Lees Vice President and Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group UNAUTHORIZED REDISTRIBUTION OF THIS REPORT IS A VIOLATION OF COPYRIGHT LAW Direct link: http://www.psgroup.com/detail.aspx?ID=787 P.O. Box 290565, Boston, MA 02129 • Phone 617.742.5200 • Fax 617.742.1028 • www.psgroup.com
  2. 2. Patricia Seybold Group / Spotlight Building Professional Peer Communities An Interview with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal, Leader Networks By Matthew D. Lees, Vice President and Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group January 11, 2007 BACKGROUND: PROFESSIONAL PEER COMMUNITIES In our reports “Enabling Customer Communi-ties” 1 and “Best Practices in Engaging Customer Community Members,”2 we covered various aspects of customer communities, groups that are built around the members’ interest in, and use of, particu-lar companies’ products and services. But other types of online communities also warrant attention, not least because of what can be learned from them and applied to customer communities. Professional Peer Communities (also known as Communities of Practice), for example, are built around a specific topic, industry, or discipline. They share many characteristics with customer communi-ties, but have important differences as well (such as size of the community and restriction of membership eligibility, among others). To explore these other types of online communi-ties, especially Professional Peer Communities, we spoke with Vanessa DiMauro, principal of Leader Networks. Vanessa has been a virtual community builder for more than 15 years, having done innova-tive work with organizations such as EMC, DCI, and Cambridge Technology Partners. Her experience in interactive learning environments, knowledge man-agement, and social networking gives her a unique perspective on why professional peer communities are important, what they have to offer, and how best to develop them. 1 See http://www.psgroup.com/detail.aspx?ID=736 2 See http://www.psgroup.com/detail.aspx?ID=745 BUILDING PROFESSIONAL PEER COMMUNITIES ONLINE Q&A with Vanessa DiMauro, Principal, Leader Networks PATRICIA SEYBOLD GROUP (PSG). What got you into the online community space? VANESSA DIMAURO. Well, my first job out of graduate school was working for TERC, the Techni-cal Education Resource Center. That was a govern-ment- funded think tank that studied science and technology in school settings for the National Sci-ence Foundation. I worked on a really innovative grant project called Labnet, that created an online professional development community for physicists and researched its implications from both social and technical perspectives. (This was back in the days before the Web.) Labnet was a social experiment to learn the boundaries and advantages of professional collaboration in an online environment. We sent a bunch of teachers and physicists these 300 baud modems (they came in a giant box!) and they participated in this research project. We would have them undergo professional development activi-ties, do knowledge transfers, and do all these won-derful thought-leadership initiatives online, and then we would study them to find out what happens. After it was deemed a success, we transitioned that community to America Online, when AOL was just starting up. It became one of the Greenhouse Projects in the early 90s. Since then, the past 15 years for me have been largely about building communities. I did extensive consulting on community building while at Cam-bridge Technology Partners, built a number of ex-ecutive and professional communities, and recently launched a boutique community consulting company Customer Scenario and Customers.com are registered trademarks and Customer Flight Deck and Quality of Customer Experience (QCE) are service marks of the Patricia Seybold Group Inc. • P.O. Box 290565, Boston, MA 02129 USA • www.psgroup.com • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  3. 3. 2 • Spotlight called Leader Networks where we enable companies to build online communities for their customers or constituents. Specifically, we focus on helping com-panies figure out revenue models for online commu-nities, how to best serve their core constituents, the types of content needs their users have, the sponsor-ship or marketing opportunities, and how to create and deliver on trusted relationships with their com-munity members. We also help companies figure out the key metrics and measurements for determining the returns on the community. Community building is definitely a passion for me and I can honestly say I have seen almost every permutation of community over the many community-building experiences. Early Research Issues PSG. What were a few of the key issues your early research looked to address? VANESSA DIMAURO. Just as we can see in today’s business world, there’s always the prob-lem or the puzzle of how you In traditional forms of knowledge transfer, shadowing and training classes don’t always translate well to the can bring fragmented specialists together to share information. While the technology changes rapidly, many of the driving forces for successful community remain constant. Some of the issues that we grappled with were: How do you create mentor programs for people with a lot of experiential knowledge? How do you get knowledge transfer to take place online? For example, there’s frequently a need to take experts and help make their tacit knowledge explicit. In traditional forms of knowledge transfer—we know it even in today’s business world—shadowing and training classes don’t always translate well to the online world. But what better way than to use an online environment to get senior people, very knowl-edgeable online world. experts (in this case it was businesses, but it can extend to any senior professionals), to articu-late the foundation for their thought processes and decision making? This can lead to very effective relationships that require little work and reap great rewards for an organization. Online was one of the best channels for doing so. That was really the basis of the research. PSG. What did you see in the very early days of the Web that led you to think “You know what, this online community thing is something we should be looking at, because there’s something powerful here?” VANESSA DIMAURO. Online communities are a great opportunity to extend the relationships that currently exist in the real world. In the early days of the Web, we were able to use telecommunications to transcend time and geography. Bringing people to-gether from around the world via email and collabo-ration tools was such a revolution that its value was impossible to miss. It was all very exciting, and the excitement of the opportunities hasn’t wavered. The popularization of social networking, online gaming, and other online and mobile experiences just rein-forces the opportunities to leverage technology as an additional relationship channel. PSG. Continuing in a historical context, with this group of physicists and other profession-als, you saw the promise of the online space for sharing informa-tion, for learning, for transfer of knowledge. In the real business world, that’s all important, but how did this progress from something theoretical to something practical? VANESSA DIMAURO. When the Web happened, the world went crazy. And that’s when business com-munities started to crop up. The first business com-munity that I really got deeply involved with was Cambridge Information Network, which was a divi-sion of Cambridge Technology Partners. And in that community, the puzzles and the practical applica-tions were very, very similar. The Web was happen-ing, and there were thousands and thousands of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) who needed to create a community of practice to come together to share information and best practices to learn how to network and communicate, and to create supportive ecosystems. That transition was very natural, to go from a theoretical sort of research project to a practical ap-plication, because there was a need. There was a need in the real world, as well, for people to come together and convene, because there was no old-boys A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  4. 4. Building Professional Peer Communities • 3 network within technology. The CIOs needed to share information and grapple with what the Web was doing to their business. This community really struck a chord with the CIOs and we quickly grew it to be about 7,000 of the top CIOs around the world. This community sup-ported the changing role of the CIO, generated sig-nificant sponsorship revenue, and was deeply valuable to the community members (and to Cam-bridge Technology Partners). We eventually sold the community to EarthWeb in 2000, but many of the members still meet online regularly seven years later. Dealing with Sensitive Issues PSG. When you’ve got executives and professionals from other organizations, par-ticularly competitors, how do you recommend that the sponsor of the space deal with sensitive areas, such as topics related to competition? How do you get people to open up and talk about things when there are other peo-ple there who are in competitive Just like a person wouldn’t stand up in a room full of 10,000 of their peers and share a secret, or ask a question that reveals some of their intentions, they wouldn’t do so in an online environment. businesses? VANESSA DIMAURO. The key requirement that surrounds the formation of any professional or business-to-business community is that there needs to be a burning imperative—a driving need—for people to share information. In the creation of any professional community, that need must outweigh any of the confidentiality issues that bring up reten-tion of information. When dealing with executives, it’s always a safe bet that they have a deep sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate to share. They didn’t get to be executives because they didn’t have good judgment, right? For example, right now one of the communities that I’ve been very active with is called inmobile.org (see Illustration 1). Inmobile.org is a fabulous com-munity. It’s only 500 chief executives, be it CMOs, COOs, or other wireless executives in the top wire-less companies in the world. It’s peer selected, so not everyone can join it. They have to be really sen-ior and vetted through the group. These guys are in a highly competitive space, with wireless and teleph-ony and mobile, but the world is happening so quickly that there’s a burning need to share informa-tion. Right now there’s a fantastic drop-down, drag-out fight going on around social mobile networking: What are the key features and requirements? Where is the industry going? There needs to be effective moderation in order to help shape and guide the conversations so that information can be shared. But there’s also a need for a sense of security or safety. That’s where the role of trust building in profes-sional communities is really critical and where things often go awry, because the role of trust, which is critical to the formation of any group, is much more difficult in an online environment. And that’s where size becomes very important in professional communities. If it’s a very, very senior group, the number of the participants needs to be smaller for that sense of safety. Just like a person wouldn’t stand up in a room full of 10,000 of their peers and share a secret, or ask a question that reveals some of their inten-tions, they wouldn’t do so in an online environment. But in communities that consist of more mid-level businesspeople, the size of the community can get a little bit larger and still feel safe, because the nature of the confidential information that’s being shared won’t be as deep. And developer communities can be very large and very successful, because that’s a constituency that’s accustomed to sharing informa-tion. In these communities, there’s a deep need for group-think, because technical solutions are often based on experiential best practices, and the more people you have, the better the answers are. Community Design PSG. Talk about the design of a community. VANESSA DIMAURO. There are two components: there’s social design and technical design, both of which play an important role in establishing trust and creating vibrant online communities. From a technical perspective, bells and whistles don’t always make for an engaging community. The features and the different technical offerings on the © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  5. 5. 4 • Spotlight Illustration 1. Having launched in Spring 2006, inmobile.org is a sponsor-supported online community for busi-ness executives in the wireless communications industry. With more than 400 members, it is selective in its mem-bership; fewer than 50 percent of applicants are accepted. (Journalists and salespeople are not accepted.) community must be closely aligned to the needs and the goals of the group. So if a group needs to work on documents, there needs to be document-sharing capabilities; blogging, for example, and some of the newer, cooler features may not really be needed. From a technical design perspective, trust can be established and displayed by matching the goals of the community with the functional features that they offer. More importantly and often forgotten are the so-cial aspects of trust. One great example that I use quite frequently is the idea of Disney World. When you go to Disney World, there’s an awareness of what the needs of the constituents are before their needs become bothersome. They know exactly org © 2007 inmobile.org where to put the snack bars and rest rooms, and they let you know how long you’ll probably be waiting in line for your rides. That is a very important aspect of online community building as well, really to under-stand the psychographic and demographic profiles of the group that you’re building for. You need to ask “Who are these people? What are their needs? How do they like to interact?” Break your constituencies into different groups of personas to predict some of their requirements, both informa-tional and social. For example, “How much modera-tion do they need? How much handholding? Are they a self-sufficient group that can look up how to do things in a technical wiki? Or do they need more interpersonal interactions with the community build-inmobile. A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  6. 6. Building Professional Peer Communities • 5 ers? How do they like information? Are they deeply interactive and going to do more volunteering?” One of the communities that we recently built was a developer community, where the client, EMC, wanted to evangelize a new technology. We pur-posefully created an online environment that looked very familiar to the developers. It was text heavy, it had a lot of information on it, there were a lot of ar-eas for self serve. That community is going to take on a different look, feel, and behavior than, say, an executive community. Brand extension also plays an important role. If an organization has a strong and trusted brand, it’s very important to extend that look and feel and other branding elements to the community. A common misstep that companies often make is that they don’t view an online customer care initiative as an exten-sion of the brand. That’s just unfortunate, because there’s a real opportunity to cap-ture the online constituencies’ hearts and minds a lot faster if there’s already a positive experi-ence with the company. Sins of Commision/ Ommission PSG. What missteps have you observed, whether a sin of com-mission, by having something There’s a real fragmentation occurring within the blogger communities around those that will accept payment and be influenced in order to influence, and those that remain pure and removed. that wasn’t appropriate, or the sin of omission, where there was an opportunity that they lost? VANESSA DIMAURO. The one example that comes to mind was a common tactic that occurred right be-fore the bubble burst where a number of companies attempted to create online communities, for competi-tive intelligence reasons, that was completely dispa-rate from their brand, under entirely different name, nomenclature, without a strong association or any mention of association to the sponsoring organiza-tion. There are a number of technical companies that did this in the late 90s. That was a problem, because people are intelligent, and they quickly figured out that the community wasn’t being created for the right reasons. And now, in today’s world, with the advent of blogging and social networking, the opportunity for those types of behaviors can spread even more quickly, and do reputational damage to the company a lot faster. We’re seeing a little bit of that happening right now in the blogosphere, I believe, as PR agencies are trying to influence bloggers for pay, to endorse products or companies. And while it may have worked the first couple of years of blogging, people are getting smart, and there’s a real fragmentation occurring within the blogger communities around those that will accept payment and be influenced in order to influence, and those that remain pure and removed. Types of Communities PSG. How do you think about the different kinds of online communities? VANESSA DIMAURO. I break communities out into three different types (see Table A). The first one I call Informa-tion Dissemination, where the organizing body creates content, messages, and really shapes the outcome. They’re really con-trolled environments, and one great example that comes to mind is WhiteHouse.org. It’s an interactive space: there are feed-back forms. I think I even saw a blog on there a couple of weeks ago. But they don’t really care what I think. And they’re really not trying to connect me to other people that share my views or perspec-tives around issues or things like that. The site has some collaborative experience built in, but really the goal and mission is to share and disseminate infor-mation outwardly. The second type of community is Shop Talk, where discussion groups focus on accomplishing a task, or exchanging transactional information, or getting help, like “How can I do this?” or “Where can I find that?” (Customer support communities would fall into this category.) Technical communi-ties, or even WebMD or Slashdot, are great exam-ples where a deep community of practice isn’t necessarily being formed. People come on a need basis, and, while they may have an ongoing relation-ship with these communities, it’s not in a deep, pro-fessional, and longstanding way. They’re not really © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  7. 7. 6 • Spotlight trying to deepen their practice, they’re trying to solve a burning problem or issue in the moment, and only a small percentage of the visitors or the con-stituencies actually create a true network or commu-nity. And then the third type of community, which I call Professional Collaboration. Those are often found in communities of business professionals. A lot of these communities are smaller by nature. They are safe and somewhat private online spaces de-signed to foster conversation. They tend to be more membership driven or subscription based; they tend to cost money or have sponsors; and they consist of people who meet on a longstanding basis in order to learn about and engage in a certain practice. An example is WITI, Women In Technology In-ternational (see Illustration 2). There’s a senior group that sort of splintered off of the larger public WITI site, where you have to be of a certain level to participate. Types of Online Communities Community Type Description 1. Information Dissemination • Typically largest type of community • May include feedback forms and other interactive elements, but is essentially about providing information • Minimal level of trust and affinity • Participation tends to be sporadic around a needs basis • Requires limited moderation of community activities 2. Shop Talk • Includes customer support or developer communities • Can be B2B or B2C • Tend to serve as a go-to resource over time • Engenders a degree of affiliation • Requires active moderation (members hope someone responds to their posts…) 3. Professional Collaboration (a.k.a. Professional Peer Communities, a.k.a. Communities of Practice) • Relatively small in size • Requires a high degree of trust • Often integrated into work life • Engenders a sense of belonging • Thought of as a membership organization, not just a Web site • Requires diligent moderation (members expect that someone responds to their post…) © 2007 Vanessa DiMauro Table. A three-tiered categorization of online communities. A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  8. 8. Building Professional Peer Communities • 7 Women In Technology International (WITI) Illustration 2. Founded in 1989, WITI is a community with both an online and an offline presence. Its mission is “…to empower women worldwide to achieve unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and economic prosperity.” It generates revenue from both sponsorship and membership (with individ-ual, small business, and corporate memberships at different price points). This is not a value statement. All three of these types of communities are very important; they all serve important roles. When people talk about online communities, they tend to think of them all rolled up into one. But really there are three different types, and they serve three different purposes. And they have three different sets of metrics, goals, outcomes, and revenue models as well. The Value Proposition PSG. Why do people join professional communities? What value do they see? And why would they spend their dollars to be part of an online community? VANESSA DIMAURO. The reason people join busi-ness- to-business communities is because it helps them do their jobs better. It gives them access to © 1989 - 2007 WITI people or information or dialog that they couldn’t get in their regular course of business, or that they can’t get on a frequent or sustained basis. Communities are great extensions of conferences. Take the average conference, in which you meet once or twice a year. You’re always thrilled to meet up with your colleagues and fellow practitioners. But then you go home, and the new ideas, the excitement, the brainstorming, and all of the great learning re-wards of face-to-face conferences is dissipated, and you have to wait until the next conference to get it back. Communities are a great extension of profes-sional relationships, so that a semblance of that can be sustained throughout the year. A lot of times when we do user surveys with pro-fessional communities, one of the great questions is “Why don’t you participate more?” The common © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  9. 9. 8 • Spotlight answer is “Because I don’t have time.” When that is the popular response, it means the community isn’t serving its users’ needs to the fullest, because every-one has time to do a better job. When a community is truly useful to its users, then people log in, espe-cially when they have a work problem or informa-tion crisis, because they have learned they can count on the community to help them meet their needs. Why do people pay money? The pay model of online communities has seen a rocky road but that is definitely changing. There have been many attempts to create subscription-based communities. Some have succeeded; some have failed. In most cases, people pay for the exclusivity for the group. It gets back to the whole trust element. For example, one of our clients is a community of physicians. There’s a value exchange there, where people pay to join the community. But what they’re really paying for is to join a membership group, where they have access to only their peers. Sure, they could go to more broad-based or ubiquitous sources on the Net for informa-tion. But you don’t know who is in that room, or who you are get-ting advice or suggestions from. So when there’s a pay-for-participation revenue model, Silent readers are very active members of the community. They just make decisions not to make themselves visible in the permanent online space. very often that revenue exchange guarantees a like-mindedness that only people who are serious or are practitioners will pay the money to participate. But there are other revenue models that are at play as well. There’s been a great advent of sponsor-ships as well as advertisements. The sponsorship model in professional communities seems to be the most robust revenue model. We’re seeing a big change in the industry right now, where the media buyers and the ad agencies are starting to really un-derstand this medium, and understand that PPM (price-per-million) is not a viable model in the online environment. The mindshare and the thought-leadership translation is a more important aspect. There is great value in sponsoring business-to-business communities. While there aren’t thousands of viewers necessarily per white paper or thought-leadership element, there is an opportunity to have 100 percent market share. Everyone who is in that community has a care for wireless, or has a care for this type of storage technology, or that medical prac-tice, and so on. We work with sponsors of a lot of the communi-ties, and one of the great pieces of advice we have is “Make it meaningful; make it special.” Here’s a great opportunity. You have a captive audience of learners and thinkers and industry experts. Educate them and enhance their online experience. And put forth information that is special to them. That seems to be the stickiest model. Active Readers (a.k.a. Lurkers) PSG. What do you mean by the term you used before, “active reader”? VANESSA DIMAURO. In the 90s, a colleague and I did a really interesting study3 to answer the research question “What do people, who don’t actively post in an online community, do with the information in the commu-nity?” We so commonly use the term “lurker,” which has nega-tive connotations. But if you look at the statistics of online community behaviors, only one to four percent of all community participants actually post a mes-sage, and only about 20 to 30 percent of all private community members make themselves visible by taking a poll, posting a mes-sage, being interviewed, or showing some sign of active presence, so that leaves a really large percent-age of people who repeatedly visit. They have use patterns that are sustained and predictable. What the heck are they doing, and why do they keep coming back? So my colleague Gloria Jacobs and I decided to study what people do who aren’t actively and visibly participating. Are they just reading and lurking, as that negative word connotes? What are they doing with their repeated logons? 3 See http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=tr ue&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&ERICExtSearch_Search Value_0=ED390024&ERICExtSearch_Sear chType_0=eric_accno&objectId=0900000b80130345 A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  10. 10. Building Professional Peer Communities • 9 What we found was a really robust usage of the information and connections that people make in professional online communities, even if they never make themselves visible. They actually have a ten-dency to use the information that they learn in their real life, in some cases more actively than the active posters or participants. We were able to track behaviors such as printing out information or emailing it to others (when it was appropriate); using information in meetings; con-necting with colleagues or people that they met in the online community via phone or at conferences or through email. So the silent readers are very active members of the community. They just make deci-sions not to make themselves visible in the perma-nent online space. That was a really interesting finding for us, be-cause it rounded out the great question “Why are these people coming if they’re not doing anything?” But they are. They are choosing to mani-fest their connections in the real world, in the public-facing world, just not online. Soliciting Content PSG. But there still needs to be a core that is creating content, ask-ing questions and helping to It’s very important that the company figure out what success looks like, what is the success definition to them, and what are the metrics and measurements in defining success. solve problems. You can’t have 100 percent active readers, because then the only content is from the company. So what balance do you look for to ensure that there’s enough going on? VANESSA DIMAURO. That’s where the art and sci-ence of active moderation becomes critical to the success of any online community. So often when you think of moderators, you think of people who post and guide discussions and send out newsletters. But we have found in building scores of online com-munities that at least 60 to 70 percent of the role of an effective moderator takes place behind the scenes. So the role of an effective moderator, or moderating group, is really to outreach to participants, to invite them to share their thoughts and ideas, to opinionate about things, and to bring them into the community through various mechanisms. That’s an often forgot-ten aspect of moderation, and one of the reasons why many communities do not succeed, because they don’t understand the critical nature of that dynamic. For example, with a lot of our clients, we’ll put together outreach cycles that are very programmatic in nature, but really break down the constituencies and say “You need to outreach to this group of peo-ple when this trigger event happens.” Private per-sonal emails, or quasi-personal emails, are a great way of connecting people and engaging them to find out what’s on their mind. Very often, active readers and silent participants will respond to another human, to a phone call, or an email. That’s where you can do a lot of trend analy-sis and find out what topics are of interest, or how they can deepen their use and value for the commu-nity. That actually has an ability to convert a per-centage of the active readers into participants because they have been actively invited into the fold. PSG. So this kind of outreach can help to move people along the spectrum of participation. VANESSA DIMAURO. Exactly. Take customer care communities, for example, which are built around a specific product or ser-vice. People’s opinions about a dissatisfaction with a product or service that gets communicated to the governing body of the community is just as valuable to the company, and in some cases more valuable, than a similar message through another channel. From a client-facing perspective—and we’re all very deeply dedicated to serving customers in meaningful ways—it doesn’t matter how you find out what the customer really wants, as long as you get the mes-sage and can act on it. And, from a competitive intelligence perspective, the log analysis provides deep insight from a high level, such as what content is important to what per-sonas. So you can really learn a lot about what’s im-portant to the group by looking at what they visit on the site, and making sure to meet their needs from that perspective. © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  11. 11. 10 • Spotlight Ensuring Sufficient Resources PSG. You’ve talked about moderation and analysis, all of which takes time for someone to do. How do you advise clients to ensure that, post-launch, there are enough resources to keep the community vibrant and successful? VANESSA DIMAURO. One of the things that is really important is to figure out what success means to the company, and what are the behaviors and the outcomes that are anticipated and required from the community. In some cases, it might be increased sales, for others it might be to get customer feedback. For others it might be sales objective—sell more products and services, cross-sell, and up-sell. For others it can be to evangelize and deepen market share. So it’s very important that the company figure out what success looks like, what is the success definition to them, and what are the metrics and measurements in defining success. From there, the staffing, support, content, and all the aspects that go into creating an online community must be weighed and balanced to these measures of success. Getting back to the idea that there are different types of communities, it’s important to discern what type of community you want, move into what you want the goals and outcomes to be, how you’re go-ing If a company isn’t really good at customer care in real life, they probably won’t do such a good job online. to track and measure those successes, and then to staff accordingly. Overcoming Hurdles PSG. Say you’ve defined what kind of community you are and what you want the outcomes to be for you and for the community members. You’ve got some goals and metrics. You’re setting dollars and staff accordingly. What are some of the other hur-dles that can prevent you from being successful? VANESSA DIMAURO. The most important thing is to begin with the end in mind. Very often companies will fall in love with a tool (for example, a commu-nity platform or a collaboration tool, such as a wiki editor). “Isn’t this tool great? It’s got the neatest fea-tures in the world.” And then they try to retrofit their strategic elements into the tool. But the tools are constantly changing. And it’s so much more impor-tant to figure out the strategy of what you want as the outcome of the online community, and then to integrate the learnings from the community into the organizational. A lot of times these communities wind up as the red-headed step-sister hanging off the side of an or-ganization. This even happens in billion-dollar or-ganizations, where the project is not taken with the degree of seriousness that it should be, despite the reputational risk of these things failing. Further, the company then doesn’t integrate the knowledge assets that come out of these communities throughout the organization. You ask about common problems. When I think about advice, it’s really that the “Build it and they will come” philosophy really just doesn’t hold true. Enough learning has been done in the social networking and online community space. This is really similar to any other Web project and needs to have that degree of budget, staffing, and timeliness around maturation, with effective goals and metrics aligned to it. Commonly, com-panies will build communities and not know what to celebrate, because they haven’t done the ground-work to say “This is what we need it to do, and this is how we’re going to measure it, track it, and pro-gress it.” Also, the bells and whistles don’t always matter. It’s really about taking face behaviors and group dynamics and extending them to the online envi-ronment. So if a company isn’t really good at customer care in real life, they probably won’t do such a good job online. A lot of times, we have clients come to us and say “We have problems. We have angry customers. We want a community.” Great, that’s one step. The customer care philosophy and behaviors need to come from within the organization and then be re-flected in the online community. But it won’t fix customer care problems. A customer support community is a great way to harness the voice of the consumer and the voice of the customer. After all, they’re out on the Internet A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  12. 12. Building Professional Peer Communities • 11 and blogosphere talking about your company any-way. There is a lot of benefit to harnessing that en-ergy, whether it be positive or negative. But it won’t replace poor customer care practices in the “face world.” Organizational Buy-In PSG. How and when should thinking be done on how to generate organizational buy-in for an online community? How do you work with your clients to involve different departments appropriately, particu-larly if there are ones that are extremely busy and may only go kicking and screaming to a new thing that’s on their plate? VANESSA DIMAURO. We find the most successful communities, at least from a strategic element, de-rive the metrics and measurements and success man-tras from all facets of the organization. Sometimes it’s as simple as sending out a questionnaire to key constituents within the organization; sometimes it’s just a planning meeting. But it’s very important that all key constituent voices from sales, marketing, IT, product development, and business strategy get heard in the formation of the community, or at least when identifying some of the key high goals and objectives for the community. In the olden days, what did we do? We went out and we hired marketing and survey companies, who then hired junior kids to go out and survey thousands of customers, type up what they found, and report it back. Companies made important decisions based on thick reports of information gathered by third-party firms. But now we have this absolutely phenomenal opportunity to actually talk to the customers in a longstanding and repeated way, in group dialog, as opposed to one at a time. Communities don’t need to be a crippling en-deavor for the organization. It doesn’t take a lot to build and sustain them in terms of person power and time. Oftentimes, it’s important to get the customers involved, so that they help run the community, put up content, and moderate. But there has to be aware-ness of the goals among key stakeholders within the organization. Communities Are about Relationships PSG. What haven’t we touched on? VANESSA DIMAURO. The only other point that’s important for people to think about, and why a lot of communities failed when the bubble burst, is that people misunderstood communities to be purely about marketing. It’s not really about marketing, it’s about relationships. What usually works in the in-person world will usually work in the online world. But where these things tend to go awry most com-monly is when marketing takes over and views the community constituents as objects to be marketed to, not people who have a relationship with the organi-zation. And that’s a fragile balance. A lot of respect needs to be given to the constituents of a community, because they can choose not to come. Community Lifecycles PSG. How do you think in terms of community life-cycle, in terms of key stages? VANESSA DIMAURO. People come for content and stay for community. In the formation of any community, they are naturally content heavy. But as the group grows in size and maturation, then they start to become more interactive. A typical community program has four different elements. Normally, when people think of communities, they think of forums. An important distinction, and one I probably should have mentioned up front, is to think in terms of a digital ecosystem. Communities have 1) Content, including member-generated content; 2) Events, everything from guest events to virtual and in-person events; 3) Member-to-Member Interactions, like discussion forums, blogs, wikis, podcasts, phone calls, and; 4) Outreach, pushing information, whether via newslet-ters, polls, surveys, and gathering qualitative as well as quantitative information. (See Table B.) Commu-nities have a balance of those four aspects; it’s not justT fhoer urmolse. of governance is really important. Of-tentimes, communities get envisioned without a deep understanding or planning for what it will take to sustain it over time, including defining roles and re-sponsibilities, establishing continuous improvement metrics, or budgeting cycles. For whatever reason, people tend to be very shortsighted with communi-ties and only focus on the first six months. They as-sume “and then magic happens.” © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  13. 13. 12 • Spotlight Elements of a Community Content • In many and varied formats, from text to media (e.g., podcasts) • Includes both company and member-generated content Events • Both online (such as Webcasts/Webinars) and in-person (such as conferences) Member-to-Member Interactions • Online: includes discussion forums, blogs, wikis, email, private messaging • Offline/Face-to-Face: includes phone calls, in-person meetings Outreach • Pushing and pulling qualitative and quantitative information, both online and offline, via newsletters, polls, surveys, and other methods © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group Inc. Table B. Successful communities have a balance of these four elements. Examples of Success PSG. It’s not necessarily easy to check out some of the private communities, but who’s doing this well? VANESSA DIMAURO. I appreciate Dell as an ex-ample of a transactional community. The Dell sup-port communities (see Illustration 3) are really strong. You can get the answer to your questions quickly and in meaningful ways. I’ve also been im-pressed with the About.com model, although it’s a little untraditional, because they are creating topical sub-communities out of the larger group. So you can find an area of deep expertise and exchange around a very narrow topic, which is very hard to do in a large public-facing Web community. And there are some communities within the legal profession that are interesting. There’s one, Law-yers. com, where lawyers provide advice to people in a broad-base way, and help steer people who are trying to understand certain legal issues. And I love The Vault’s ability to provide HR content and community to small and mid-size busi-ness HR professionals. This is an example of a trusted source that is also a public-facing community. TAKEAWAYS Many of us have at least observed, if not partici-pated in, different types of online communities. Vanessa DiMauro’s insights may have you nodding your head in agreement, as the context she provides resonates with your own community experiences. For example, have you dealt with issues surrounding organizational buy-in of an online community? Are you an “active reader”? Have you ever gone hungry at Disney World? (If you’re not nodding in recognition, please let us know how your online community experiences have been otherwise.) It’s not easy to build a successful professional peer community. While the guidelines discussed in this report can be of great help, a few things have particularly resonated with us. • TRUST. Note how essential it is to build and maintain trust, especially in professional peer communities. And keep in mind the inverse rela-tionship between the size of an online commu-nity and the importance of trust between members. • ONLINE AND OFFLINE INTERACTIONS. Take seriously the additional value of comple-menting online with in-person events. The effi- A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.
  14. 14. Building Professional Peer Communities • 13 Dell’s Online Support Community Illustration 3. Dell’s online community features discussion forums for helping registered members (membership is free) find solutions to their problems. ciency and efficacy of virtual communications have come a long way, but there’s nothing like face-to-face interactions. • COMMUNITY SPONSORSHIP. Media buyers are recognizing the value of connecting with professional peer community members. © 1996-2006 Dell Inc. • MEMBER RELATIONSHIPS. The closeness and focus of online communities can be a marketer’s dream. But let the group evangelize at their own pace, and on their own terms. As Vanessa says, “It’s not really about marketing, it’s about rela-tionships.” © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law. A Customers.com® Research Service
  15. 15. 14 • Building Professional Peer Communities ABOUT THE AUTHOR MATTHEW D. LEES is a Consultant and Vice President at the Patricia Seybold Group. He brings over 15 years of experience in helping organizations leverage technology to build stronger relationships with customers. As an Analyst in the group’s Strategic Research Service, his current research is focused on customer communities and social networking. Matthew was previously the principal of Lees Consulting, a provider of strategic and tactical services to businesses and not-for-profit organizations on their use of technology and the Internet to communicate and collaborate more effectively with customers. He worked with clients to identify and implement technological solutions and develop organizational processes that were not only consistent with the missions of their clients, but also measurably and successfully met their needs. Prior to his work as an expert in technology-based community and communications, Matthew taught physics and astronomy at the Pomfret School, a college preparatory school in Connecticut. He has also worked as an optical engineer for the Technicon Instruments Corporation (now part of the Bayer Corporation), designing the optical systems for medical blood analyzers. Patricia Seybold Group Trusted Advisors to Customer-Centric Executives If you're a visionary customer-focused executive, the Patricia Seybold Group should be your first choice for ongoing strategic advice, business and technology guidance, customer experience best practices, and help with customer-centric initiatives. Founded in 1978 and based in Boston, we provide consulting, research and advisory services, peer groups, and interactive workshops. We help clients to design and continuously improve their customer-focused business strategies and processes using our proven consulting methodology, Customer Scenario® Design. The CEO and founder, Patricia Seybold, is the New York Times best-selling author of Customers.com and The Customer Revolution. Patty's latest book, Outside Innovation, is available now. Patricia Seybold Group 210 Commercial Street Boston, MA 02109 Phone: (800) 826-2424 or (617) 742-5200 Fax: (617) 742-1028 Email: feedback@psgroup.com Web: http://www.psgroup.com A Customers.com® Research Service © 2007 Patricia Seybold Group • Unauthorized redistribution of this report is a violation of copyright law.

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