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Admit it, you do like the idea of becoming a platform. Many organizations look to build a proprietary community for their customers so they can seed their brand messaging. The smarter companies know that having a way to capture community insights and ideas is one of the best ways to create products and services customers want and need.
A wholly owned community is a way to edge risky technology bets.
What if Twitter goes away one day soon in the way many publications and media channels have in the last couple of years? What if Facebook decides to charge you a steep fee to even develop a fan page, create a group or build a community there?
What happens to your content? Where are the connections going? How will you reestablish that influence?
Build and own the platform
Having your own platform is painful at first as you'll need to work hard at seeding content and conversations to build a tool that is useful and attracts customer participation. Versus being one voice on a well trafficked channel that may go away or change the rules on you. See how social media is like sharecropping.
Your platform is worth nothing without a community. A community can be useful to company and customers in different ways.
Having built one with Fast Company magazine a few years back, and having participated in a couple since, I thought it helpful to provide a list of considerations you want to think about when going the customer community route.
Costs of building a platform.Start up costs
Many organizations that are not making headway in social media fail to understand this part. All costs are quantifiable, as long as you're ready to admit that the time and effort your team puts into potentially additional work have a monetary value associated with them.
The biggest cost an organization faces is that of lack of passion.
An organic tribe in a public tool will always trump your proprietary platform because by its very nature, it's free (each member pays a cost in time/attention), faster (participates in the knowledge flows), and flexible (doesn't have to please your boss).
1. conceptual work to map the community to the overall business strategy -- if you're ready to pay a consultant to come in and charge big $$$ to do this, why would you not put a dollar sign on an internal initiative. And your people may know a lot more about your business.
2. practical work to integrate the new technology into existing tools, for example a customer portal -- in many organizations IT handles the software and often forgets to check in with its user base. Don't make the same mistake with your customer base.
3. translation work to develop content that maps to customer needs and serves the organization -- while a lot of thinking goes into the tool implementation, often there is no investment made towards the creation of good content. Rather, many leverage what they already have, which was written and packaged for other purposes, or buy content with the same mindset of lead generation via online ads, by the pound.
Costs in the middle to make it happen
You found a common ground and built a community on your platform, now what? Engagement and activity come with their own sets of challenges and costs.
4. moderation work to facilitate conversations and information exchanges -- even more important than connecting customers to the company, it's connecting them to each other. This will begin to foster greater engagement.
5. curator work to surface information that is helpful to customers -- if you've done your job well, you will start to collect a lot of content from customers on the platform. Highlighting and making sense of that content will help time-starved customers get more value out of signing in your platform. For example, have you thought of packaging comments of a post or discussion thread in a forum?
6. formalization of a process to start documenting guidelines -- this is about making sense of what people do and want to do on the platform, as well as the kind of content that is voted as most useful to them by traffic and responses. Guidelines help with maintaining activities over the long haul and orienting new customers.Sustaining the platform will cost you
This is the critical phase of the project and one that not too many are willing to invest in. It's the dip that will take you to realizing not just the benefits, but the returns on your investments from having built a platform.
We'll go deeper on how to think about this part in another post. For now, what you should think about is the level of emotional investment both your business and customers have poured into this platform. Moving forward will require you to think like a media company.
At this point in the community lifecycle, if you've done your work well, you have in fact created a channel and platform that hosts a library of useful content and interaction for many phases of the customer buying cycle.
So much information, in fact, that you could start extending it, repackaging it for new customer calls to action, going deeper for qualitative research and business insights, and so on.
You have the tremendous potential of going from using digital media to advertise your wares to being the thought leaders and organizers of information and knowledge to benefit your customers and industry. This is especially important for B2B companies.
If you thought you were going to squeeze value out of these emerging channels because of the nearly zero costs of posting your ads and articles on them, you'll need to rethink the shiny new object approach.
Are you ready to become a media company?
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.