Let's face it — keeping the doors open for your community and paying the bills (including your salary) means convincing decision-makers they are getting their money's worth. Nothing speaks louder than data that shows contribution to top line growth or bottom line savings. The key is following a strategy that enlists stakeholders to describe what success looks like, and using KPIs to keep you on course.
Your community lives in an ecosystem — the social networking (relationships) and social media (content) the community generates touches everyone in your organization, and beyond. A simple act can have far-reaching consequences. For example, the engineer who blogs about product fixes reaches customers directly. Over time, he builds a following, and his blog evolves as the source of record for the product. Customers consult the blog first, bypassing traditional support channels.
What just happened? The product support model has been up-ended. Resources spent on high-touch and low-touch customer support are now in question. Does manning a contact center and maintaining an online knowledge base still make sense? This example may seem far-fetched, but a successful organization spots game-changing trends early on and adapts quickly.
To get people on your side, describe the benefits they derive from the community in terms meaningful to them. They will tell you their pain points, but here are a few examples to get started:
- Sales — close more business and find the people who have the means, need, and urgency to buy
- Support — reduce customer calls and increase customer satisfaction leveraging social media
- Marketing — find new leads and develop opportunities by building trust in the community
- Finance — improve business performance and quantify the community ROI with real-world data
- Engineering — innovate faster with community input and reduce time to market by developing only what is needed
- PR — build brand awareness and influence perception in the marketplace by amplifying community voices
- Management — nail the vision, mission and leadership by listening and interacting with influential community members
Why enlist stakeholders? None of your efforts in measuring and analyzing the impact of your community will matter unless you can effectively communicate the value to these decision-makers.
What happens outside of your community matters. The challenge is filtering through the noise and finding the person, organization, or system that can help make or break your community, and vice-versa. For example, customers are quick to adopt new tools if they are a) easier and b) save time and c) convenient. That's why many are bypassing traditional ways to contact a company when they have a problem, and using twitter and Facebook to post problems and complaints. Companies are listening and leveraging these platforms to support their customers, and many are encouraging customers to "friend" them on social networks.
Smart companies are going a step further, and integrating customer data collected on social networks with existing information held in private customer relationship management systems. This knowledge enables them to gain a much better understanding of the customer — likes, dislikes, habits, and so on — which gives them a competitive edge.
Think about customer touch points, or the interfaces where customers, prospects, and employees come together, and ask yourself if your community plays a role. Examples:
- Company Web Site
- Contact Centers
- Social Networking Sites
- Trade Shows / Conferences
- Search engines
Reach out to the people who run these touch points, and collaborate with them. For example, how can the in-depth knowledge of support engineers benefit the community? Could the community contribute to driving traffic to the company web site? Can the SEM campaign be augmented by seeding key words on the community? Should new members be encouraged to friend the company on Facebook and twitter? The synergies may surprise you!
Ask yourself, what does success look like? What will change? How will you know you are progressing — or not? Working with your stakeholders, paint this picture and set goals (general intentions) and objectives (tangible, precise) for the community. To track progress, you'll need key performance indicators, or KPIs (metrics are the things you measure).
Think of a KPI like the steam pressure gauge on a locomotive. The needle rotates in a circle, with green, yellow, and red zones. The engineer adjusts variables like fuel and air to keep the engine running in the optimal green zone. Your task is to come up with the KPIs, or "big dials," for your community, and to identify what you can change to keep the needles pointing in the right direction. Here are a few to get you started:
- Customer Satisfaction — average survey rating
- Member Loyalty — percentage of members signing on each month
- Number of New Members — people joining the community
- Percent Questions Answered — number of questions on discussion forum awaiting an answer
- Pages Created — number of new community-contributed documents
Tracking KPIs over time also helps you to spot trends that may affect your objectives,. When the "needle swings to the red" and stays there, the KPI alerts you to conditions that require your analysis and attention. For example, if member loyalty is falls over a three month period, it could mean any number of things — a seasonal drop-off, a lack of fresh content, a competing new web portal, and so on. You at least know where the problems (or opportunities) exist, and that is half the battle.
Companies are waking up to the business value of online community and social networking, and many are still wondering how to go about this. You can guide them through uncertainty using what your community is telling you everyday — you just need to know where and how to listen.