In content marketing, you hear a lot about how content is king. I’ve always believed it’s more accurate to analogize content to currency, a means of non-monetary compensation publishers give in exchange for their audience’s time and attention. This also applies to the world of
online community, where I’ve spent the last seven years. Content is the currency that ultimately fosters a high level of trust, in both the community host as well as in fellow community members.
A traditional business approach seeks ROI and ways to capitalize on and
measure the effect of having community. Community is often predicated upon its direct or indirect role to achieve a financial or numerical goal for the host organization. While none of that is wrong, it’s important to also anticipate the human elements in constructing key performance indicators.
In this piece, I explore examples of communities where user-generated content has been an essential building block for success.
Cisco Learning Network: Anticipate Emotional Glue Among Members
I worked for 4 years on the team that launched the
Cisco Learning Network. The community began as a virtual place to foster collaborative learning among individuals working toward Cisco certification.
Hundreds of discussions were contributed to every day by people working through the technical learning process and preparing to take certification exams.
But among the users, there was also a wide range of emotional highs and lows people chose to express and experience together online in a very public way.
One of the most popular types of post was about someone logging in to share news of failing or passing their Cisco certification exam. A few community members from among the global audience would respond, often within minutes to offer words of encouragement (like: take the exam again!) or congratulations.
While we didn’t have sentiment algorithms back then, it’s important to note here that words expressing negative emotion (like frustration in this example) were probably indicative of success. Success was that the learner who had failed his or her exam had turned to the community for support.
Could IBM Watson Be an Online Community Manager?
By Dennis Shiao
Schwab Learning: A Well-Defined Tribe
Community unites people into a tribe because of their shared passion for a particular topic or challenge. It’s up to the host company or organization to set clear boundaries on what is permissible to discuss and how.
Eventually, every host will face the challenge of a grey area in how to enforce policies in response to offending content and/or contributor(s).
Online community expert and co-founder of The Communal Group, Scott Moore shared his user generated content experience while working with SchwabLearning.org, a community of parents of children with learning disabilities. Moore worked on the community from 2001 to 2008 and since then the SchwabLearning.org domain name has been given up.
SchwabLearning.org included users with widely varying perspectives on how to help their kids with ADHD. Moore notes that parents in the community tended to invest more trust in contributions from other parents vs. experts with credentials and years of experience in favor of shared circumstance.
The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation was strongly committed to evidence-based advice and dialogue free from promotion and preachiness. However, it was also interested in dialogue that fostered a diverse viewpoint within its community. Moore notes that because the community had clear statement of purpose, it also became a common governance action to redirect people to the other communities where they could engage with people who shared a purpose different than that of the SchwabLearning.org community.
The defining factor for SchwabLearning.org was being very clear about what type of engagement the organization wanted in its community. When you adhere to your community’s mission, it sometimes means you can’t include everyone.
QuickBooks: Contribution Creates a Strong Sense of Ownership
Companies that have been around a long time may be able to tap their long-time users for user generated content. While working with expert contributors in Intuit’s
QuickBooks Help community, external volunteer contributors shared deep product expertise with other customers in response to posted help questions.
These “super user” contributions happened alongside those of paid Intuit agents doing the same job. A few super users even expressed that the community was a peer-to-peer support forum to the customers they were helping. That was their perception, but it wasn’t actually true.
The key is to channel that energy community members bring through their sense of “ownership” as contributors into reputation programs and incentives such as making them more prominent through a reputation program. In some cases, saying “thank you” may go farther than you think.
At a recent
CMX Summit in San Francisco, Douglas Atkin, Airbnb’s Global Director of Community shared Airbnb’s community growth story. The company leveraged the talents of its own community to scale up around the world and invite in collaboration on tasks such as re-creating Airbnb’s company logo. The 80,000 contributors weren’t just creating a logo, they were building a brand and ultimately deepening their connection with Airbnb.
Much can be taken from the real world of face to face relationships to guide a company’s efforts in building community. By anticipating emotional connection, defining the community’s guidelines and giving passionate contributors a way to grow how deeply they are involved, companies can build in these elements for KPIs that look at both quantitative and qualitative measures.