Vanessa DiMauro Vanessa DiMauro is the founder and CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building. DiMauro is a popular speaker, researcher and author. With over 15 years experience in social business leadership positions at Cambridge Technology Partners, Computerworld, Bitstream and TERC, she has founded and run numerous online communities, and has developed award winning social business strategies for some of the largest and most influential companies in the world. Many of her clients have won prestigious industry awards such as Forrester’s Groundswell Award in the community category as well as SNCR’s Excellence in Communications Award.Her work has been covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Vanessa DiMauro sits on several boards. She is former Executive-In-Residence at Babson College’s Olin School of Management, holds both a B.A Powered by Syndu Joining the Customer Journey Using Online Communities
Joining the Customer Journey Using Online Communities

Customer journey2Every marketer from Boston to Bejing seems to be focused on something called the “customer journey.” A Google search on this two-word phrase returns over 627,000 results. It’s one of those “Eureka!” moments – organizations realize buyers start researching a firm’s products and services long before they reach the point of purchase. These firms are now scrambling to find and engage with those customers while they are still on the move and before they arrive at a sales destination decision. But I gotta tell you, this is not news to those of us in the online community world.

In fact, the customer journey has long been an integral part of the online community experience. Many – dare I say most? – online communities make “the journey” a key part of their mission, aiding the customer before, during and after the point of purchase or other key decision. Communities are dedicated to helping customers and other stakeholders understand, explore, question and learn about products and services.

This “Ah-Ha!” moment for the customer journey highlights two different but parallel approaches – let’s call them tracks – for understanding this process: one is mapping the customer experience; the other is building customer engagement. In our ever-more-connected world, these two tracks are now merging to become one.

Making the Connection: Online communities and the Customer Journey

In our new world of customer-focused and customer-driven interactions, many firms struggle to engage and communicate with prospective and existing customers at appropriate times and places along the customer’s journey.

For example, when a sales person reaches out to a prospective customer, often the sales person has no way of knowing where this prospect is in their purchase cycle. Another example: anyone who has worked in customer service knows that customers typically wait to reach out to a company for assistance only after they have reached a high degree of frustration with their purchase.

Now imagine if a firm were able to build a relationship with a prospect during their research phase, or engage with a customer before their purchase problem reaches the breaking point? This is what online communities offer: a way to break the cycle of mis-timed outreach and catch-up customer care. Community offers a powerful way to move the buyer’s experience from episodic chaos to a more consistent, confidence-inspiring and customer satisfaction-building trip.

As the two tracks of customer experience mapping and engagement come together, let’s identify the four phases of the customer’s journey: Awareness, Evaluation, Purchase and Retention.


This is the initial phase, when the prospective customer hasn’t fully defined what she is looking for. She may not have a clear understanding of problem she is trying to solve, so identifying a possible solution is difficult. A community is especially well suited to supporting customers in this awareness phase. A vibrant and engaged community signals there is strong customer support for prospective buyers. User-contributed content – questions asked and answered – plus sponsor-contributed content speeds up the problem and solutions identification process, which might include specific product and service recommendations. All this occurs while the prospective customer is building relationships with community members.


During the evaluation phase the prospective buyer winnows the options and examines product and service offerings in detail. It is comparison shopping. One advantage a community can offer is creating a single point of reference and collaboration for a buyer’s team. Online communities bring together a wide range of content and conversations within a single environment. It becomes the place for a single buyer or a team to share information and compare options. The community supports information-gathering from many sources but places all this content in a collaborative framework which supports comparisons and discussions about needs, preferences and decision factors.

Consider this situation: our buyer posts a question directly into an online forum and receives a range of responses from other community members. Some of those members will have been through the evaluation phase and made a decision. Some will be in the same state of uncertainty as our buyer. Still others will have long-term experience with the outcomes of a purchase decision. Many voices, many shared opinions. Where is the voice of the firm?

Some advanced-thinking organizations have created specific discussion areas to talk with prospective buyers — dedicated forums staffed with knowledgeable sales people who can respond open way to a buyer’s questions. These skilled sales people must have incentives to participate and training in the techniques of consultative selling to interact successfully with customers in a community environment.

First Purchase

At last! The buyer makes a decision and becomes a first-time customer. The psychology is similar to other kinds of journeys; by turns exhilarating, exhausting and complicated. And once the traveler gets to the destination, the party can begin.

But this is also a delicate time for the company, because – as with a first-time traveler – the new buyer’s expectations are exceedingly high. Every new customer’s interaction with the firm is memorable. With a complex services purchase, for example, once the papers are signed and the buyer’s team dives into the project, the selling firm had better be ready. The new customers will begin making connections inside the company and with other customers outside. They become voracious learners. They are eager to prove this was the perfect decision — no pressure on the seller there!

An online community strategy can really pay off here. There are so many ways community interactions can accelerate projects and delight the new customer’s team. If there is a formal account management team in place, their presence in the community can help speed the pace of information sharing, support and relationship-building.

Another way to look at this is to consider the alternative: what if new customers were unable (no place to go) or unwilling (who are the people who sold us this?) to interact with your firm? They will take their questions and concerns to other online venues, such as: a community operated by enthusiasts or experts with no connection to your firm; an outside standards organization; a competing firm.

If your firm is not part of the conversation, it can’t answer questions; verify the accuracy of information shared or follow-up with customers. A community is your company’s opportunity to respond with accurate and authentic information.

Customer retention

Customer retention is the outcome of the three prior phases. It’s the desired end state for customer relationships — Gartner Group states 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers. What firm doesn’t want to create customers for life as part of their overall strategy?

But how many companies make building and sustaining that “customer for life” a goal? In a world of fickle buyers, loyalty is hard to come by. Switching costs are at record lows. The choice to remain a customer is critical for both the customer and the company. How does the customer feel? How did the interactions and support go? Were they listened to? Did they feel whole in the end? An online community attuned to these concerns is very powerful instrument for keeping customers.

Online communities don’t always replace traditional support models, especially with complex purchases. But well-executed communities can help the customer when they experience “The Middle Of the Night Problem,” when there is no one to call. And feeling heard and experiencing ultimate responsiveness goes a really long way with customer retention and how they feel about your firm.

The post Joining the Customer Journey Using Online Communities appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 22:43:57 +0000
An Interview With Rahul Sachdev, CEO of Get Satisfaction
An Interview With Rahul Sachdev, CEO of Get Satisfaction

rahulAs part of our ongoing interview series,  I had a chance to speak with Rahul Sachdev, CEO of Get Satisfaction, about his role, and vision of the future of online communities. He also shared some examples of exciting communities and what they can accomplish when customers and companies work together to solve problems and innovate. Here’s what he had to say…

Vanessa:  Can you tell me about your background?

Rahul:  I joined Get Satisfaction as CEO in February 2014 but I took an interesting path to get here. At heart, I am a technology guy who loves entrepreneurial environments and building product-driven businesses. I like well-designed products to meet user’s needs. I have worked in a variety of domains including CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and social networking. Earlier in my career, I worked at CRM leader Siebel Systems, where I built one of the largest product lines targeted at the telecom, media, and energy sectors. I also spent several years at LinkedIn leading several content and community products focused on driving user engagement.

I became interested in CRM because of its promise to help companies become more customer-centric. However CRM applications have largely been about delivering operational efficiencies for sales, service and marketing functions versus helping companies build better relationships with their customers. Online customer communities are bridging that key gap. They facilitate open communication between companies and their customers. They help companies engage with their customers, capture their voice and make smarter decisions about how to best meet their needs. At Get Satisfaction we like to say that customer communities create the shortest distance between a company and its customers.

Get Satisfaction is one of the largest providers of online customer community platform with around 1000 customers. Our mission is to connect companies with customers online, unlocking new value for both sides.

Get Satisfaction was founded on several core tenets. Create a forum where the customers’ voice is heard. Provide a place where customers can get their questions answered, problems resolved and feedback heard. Enable customers to connect with other customers who share their attributes and interest. If companies do these things well, then value is unlocked for everyone.

Communities allow companies to be truly open and authentic with their customers. This kind of openness is the new way of relating to customers. It’s what attracted me to be CEO of Get Satisfaction.

Vanessa:  What are the critical success factors for online communities?

Rahul:   There are several. First, to be successful, communities need to have a clear purpose. So as a member, I need a purpose or motivation to go to a community. I may go to the community to get my questions answered, or to get my problems resolved, or learn about something, or perhaps to provide feedback on a product or service.

Second, communities need to have members. Whether it’s a private community or a public community, they are about connecting members to each other and to relevant information or content. Members are critical to any community, including customer communities. They can come in several forms – customers, prospects, brand advocates, partners, subject matter experts, community managers and company employees. So understanding the difference between these member types and their motivations is really important. Motivations matter in all contexts, but they especially matter in customer communities. In customer communities, most members do not work for the company who is providing the community. So unless they derive value from the community, they will have little incentive to use the community. The good news is that companies can deliver a lot of value through customer communities by helping customers get most out of their products and services, by quickly resolving their problems, by listening to their opinions and ideas and giving them a voice in deciding the future direction of the company.

Third, communities need to be discoverable. Communities need to have ‘entry points’, which need to be where the customers are. And members want a choice of entry points – they could be searching for information on Search Engines such as Google, looking for resolution to a problem on the company’s website, looking to provide feedback via a mobile application or while using the product, and making a recommendation on a social network. So customer communities need to provide entry points through all sorts of places to make it convenient for members.

Fourth, it is about meeting the member’s need at the right moment – this could be about matching them to the right content or connecting them to the right community member, and hopefully creating an ‘Aha moment’.

The last critical success factor is engagement. Just because you provide opportunities for people to participate does not mean that they are going to do it. How do you get them to participate on a repeat basis? At Get Satisfaction, we spend a lot of time thinking about that and designing products that make it easy for members to engage with the community on a continuous basis. Ongoing member engagement within a community is what ultimately creates value.

Vanessa:  Can you share some examples of thriving communities?

Rahul:  One example of an interesting community is Prezi. Prezi provides presentation software to about 40 million people. Eighty percent of the Fortune 500 companies their product. The community business case was driven by the need to scale their premium service model without increasing the cost of service. They used the Get Satisfaction platform to create a self-service community for their premium customers. It was so successful that they rolled it out to their free customers. And ultimately, saw a larger percentage of free customers convert to premium plans.

Another great community example is Get Satisfaction customer SPS Commerce. They are a leader in cloud-based supply chain management systems. They launched their community to be a crowd-sourced online knowledge base where customers can quickly get answers to their questions for the purpose of deflecting support costs. They have deflected about 50,000 inbound support requests to email and phone last year. Support requests typically cost between $10 and $50 each. So by that logic, they are saving anywhere between $500,000 and $2.5M annually through their Get Satisfaction community. These are significant economic benefits.

And finally TriNet, who provides HR solutions to small and medium businesses and uses community to help drive product innovation. They wanted to have a culture of continuous innovation based on customer input. For example, one idea shared in the community was to create a preview page before a final payroll is submitted. Hundreds of people weighed in favorably and said, “Hey, this is a really good idea. We need this too.” Without a customer community, TriNet would have never have known that was such a high priority across the customer base. They also embedded the community right into the product so customers don’t have to go elsewhere to provide that feedback and that drives participation.

Vanessa: What is the future of online community – where are we are headed as an industry?

Rahul:  Our vision for the future of online communities is to create a world where communities are ingrained in the way companies do business. We imagine a world where communities connect any customer, anywhere, anyhow and at their point of need; a world where communities help companies be more open, authentic and help serve their customers better; and a world where communities are part of the operational fabric of a company; a world where communities help companies be smarter about their customers.

The post An Interview With Rahul Sachdev, CEO of Get Satisfaction appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Sun, 08 Feb 2015 05:17:49 +0000
Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015: Looking Ahead and Back
Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015: Looking Ahead and Back

It’s that #CMAD time of year again: Hooray for community managers! Let’s celebrate those digital leaders for their tireless, selfless, thoughtful work which creates, sustains and expands online communities around the world.

As anyone who has ever taken on the role can tell you, the online community manager’s job is one of the most demanding and most misunderstood in the knowledge work world. You can see for yourself by doing a job search on “online community manager.” The variety of tasks, responsibilities, requirements, skill sets and educational attainments enumerated in a community manager’s job description is astounding. Or you can just glance at the accompanying cartoon to get the same idea!


I have to say — with over 20 years experience doing community management — I think the work is more demanding now than ever before. Technologies are more complex and vastly more numerous; expectations are much higher on the part of business owners and brands; data analytics are more readily available and thus far more in demand; and most important, community members — customers, partners, co-workers, professional peers and other constituents — are more engaged, more active, more involved and more aware of the powerful impact online communities provide. This is a lot to juggle.

But the good news is that online community managers now have peer groups to which they can turn for support. We are no longer working in silent, solitary outposts within our organizations. Instead, through working groups, conferences, social sharing and even (gasp!) the telephone, we can now come together, collaborate and sometimes commiserate about the special concerns of supporting online communities.

To help community managers find other like-minded professionals, we published “The Big List of B2B Online Communities,” a resource for B2B online community managers. Consider this a public gift to encourage collaboration and mutual support among B2B community managers. B2B online communities are our special interest, and the work involved is often very different from those of our consumer community counterparts. In fact, maybe next year we should celebrate and appreciate a special #B2BCMAD instead? Let me know what you think.

Of course, tell your friends and professional online community colleagues #CMAD2015 to have a happy and communal Community Manager Appreciation Day this coming Monday, January 26, 2015 at #CMAD2015

Here are a few of our favorite posts on the special role of the online community manager:

Anyone who has ever managed an online community in a high-pressure environment — B2B or B2C — knows the stress is sometimes overwhelming. Here’s our post from last year on “How to Avoid Community Manager Burnout

A few community managers arrive on the job with “a head for business and a personality for community-building,” to paraphrase Tess McGill in the 80s hit film Working Girl. But many more are unprepared for the complexities of turning online social interactions into real social business outcomes. So just in case, here’s our take on “What Every Community Manager Needs to Succeed in Business

Online communities and social-oriented media have been around for a lot longer than many people realize. Among the earliest was The Well — The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link — started in 1985 by Stewart Brand — of The Whole Earth Catalog fame — and Larry Brilliant. Among this group of pioneers was John Coate, probably the first online community manager, and author of “Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community, an essay about online community management. In our work, we are so often focused on what’s ahead that we fail to check the rearview mirror to see what’s coming up behind us. Here’s a quick refresher on how we got here, and why it’s still relevant today and tomorrow: “John Coate and the WELL: Looking ahead by looking back.”

The post Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015: Looking Ahead and Back appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Sat, 24 Jan 2015 18:30:28 +0000
How to Build the Online Community that Builds Trust
How to Build the Online Community that Builds Trust

Recently, I had the honor of being interviewed by Barry Feldman about online communities and how they can be a powerful trust-building vehicle when they are done well – which ain’t always easy to do.  An expert interviewer, Barry is able to pull great ideas out of his victims  interviewees to make for an informative and (entertaining) content.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being interviewed! This article originally appeared on KISSMetrics blog.


Want to build an online community? When you understand the power of the online community, you’re bound to answer in the affirmative.

Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, will tell you the online community is the most powerful way to connect with prospects today. Well-run online communities advance trust building.

16 key attributes to building trust

In a recent webinar, Vanessa DiMauro pointed to numerous spots on the Edelman Trust Barometer and pointed out how online communities can address the issues.

What do you say we check in with Vanessa DiMauro, a top-shelf community builder who’s been at it for about as long as we’ve had online communities?

I’ve read Vanessa’s work for a few years now and when she created “56 Lessons from 20 Years of Online Community Building,” a virtual tablet of commandments for the social age, I had questions. Vanessa agreed to answer them.

Vanessa DiMauro

First, I wanted to know what’s in the coffee cup she’s clinging to in the photo. She said scotch. I knew the rest of the interview would be fun.

Focus on a vision for your community

High on the list, Vanessa wrote community builders must create a clear, aspirational vision statement and share it with members. She told me the vision statement shapes what the community will ultimately be about and how community members interact.

“It sets the tone for the culture of the community,” she said. “Each community has its own set of normative behaviors that reflects the peer-to-peer and peer-to-company relationship style. As we all know, culture happens whether we design it or not.”

So, writing one’s a cakewalk, right? Guess not…

“Writing a vision statement can be a painful experience, fraught with group-think,” Vanessa said. “The end result tends to be some watered-down, hyperbolic declaration of nothing in particular. This serves no one’s interest.”

She offers a fix for the problem. “I often play a community ‘mad-lib’ game with my clients to help them articulate their intentions and keep the spirit alive. It goes a little something like this:

Our community is the place for __________.
Members will benefit from __________ and _____________
and will be most excited when they can ____________ online.”
Vanessa admits it’s not often perfect, but makes for a good start.

customer service statistics

Vanessa cites a survey by Get Satisfaction revealing statistics about what customers want and how brands are approaching their needs.

And then comes an operational plan

Another commandment of Vanessa’s is to create a 90-day operational plan for the community and revise it every each quarter. Why?

“Priorities often change for an organization quarter by quarter, while the overall business strategy generally stays intact. By reviewing the plan every quarter with input from product line leaders, sales, marketing and the merry band, the community can be more responsive to customer and organizational needs.”

She went on to say the plan helps different departments work together. For example, according to Vanessa, if marketing is holding an event, community needs the run time to shepherd members into securing seats. If product development is launching a new product, there needs to be time to tell the members and the early feedback will help support the release.

Creating user generated content

Rule #10: Start with an emphasis on institutional content then plan to shift to organic (user generated) content.

I asked Vanessa to explain how a B2B company could pull it off, that is, generate highly coveted user-generated content. It struck me as a tough trick.

She told me, with online communities, members come for the content and stay for community.

“Each piece of content or interaction needs to be present for a reason. Even user generated content is well served by putting it through a voluntary (user option) editing process to help make the member’s writing be as powerful as possible.”

“It could either be long tail content such as informational articles or how-to guides, or disposable topical content designed to engage in the moment,” she said.

There’s no need to be afraid of “riding meme waves” and tapping into what’s hot in the moment.”

“Successful on-site content is usually SEO-friendly guides written by the community, or articles written by the community manager focusing on community interests or topics in need of new community participants.”

She explained some communities will focus on lifestyle discussions or topics not directly related to a brand’s products, but for which the brand stands to benefit from the exposure.

B2B and B2C communities differ

In rule #23 of her list post, Vanessa wrote you need to understand B2B and B2C communities have very different best practices.

“B2B online communities are professional networks that contain a blend of content and collaboration opportunities around a shared business-based experience. They are commonly established between a business and customers, professional associations or like-minded professionals.”

Vanessa said many examples of B2B communities are not visible to the general public. They serve a specific audience with a “gated experience” for their members. B2B communities tend to be smaller than their B2C counterparts, anywhere from a hundred members upward.

On the B2C side, communities can be very large and tend to focus on a specific activity related to the use of a brand’s products.

“B2C online communities are brand-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer focused networks. They provide a platform for engagement with the brand, or support customers using the brand’s products.”

According to Vanessa, the vast majority of online communities fall under this banner, whether the online community is a Twitter account for interacting with customers or a customer service forum to support discussion around the use of products.

communities provide better customer services

Source: “Get it Together: Why You Need an Online Community” by

Finding an inner circle

I learned from Vanessa every successful online community relies on a solid core group that keeps it growing. I asked Vanessa how you go about finding and developing the ever-important “inner circle” or core.

Her answer: “Form a beta group, baby.”

She suggested the beta group could be made up of the first 50 – 250 members who are friends of the firm, clients, or partners who have an interest in being “community pioneers.”

“Be sure they are formally invited to participate in the beta program with a defined start and a clear value proposition (for them),” she said.

She pointed out that, pre-launch, it’s important to get the beta group to model the behavior the rest of the community will follow when the group officially goes live.

“They fill out their profile, participate in a few discussions with each other, submit content, sit for an interview or three and fill the community with activity, so others know what to do and how to interact online. This goes a very long way with senior level communities, but is important to them all.”

About the author: Barry Faeldman operates Feldman Creative and is known for providing clients content marketing strategies that rock and creative that rolls. And, he is quite the king himself, named a Top 40 Digital Strategist by Online Marketing Institute and one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. His blog is  The Point

The post How to Build the Online Community that Builds Trust appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 16:52:09 +0000
The Social Consumer Study and What It Means To Customer Service Professionals
The Social Consumer Study and What It Means To Customer Service Professionals

“The pen is mightier than the sword” wrote Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. Little did he know what was to come with the advent of social media? Around the globe, customers – friend and foe alike – share their experiences using indelible digital characters all across the social channel. We are experiencing a customer-driven revolution where companies are no longer defined only by what they say about themselves. Rather, customer experiences are a major force defining the strongest brands, and the Achilles heel of firms which fail to deliver on customer expectations.

In the summer of 2014, Don Bulmer and I conducted an extensive survey to better understand the make-up and impact of the social customer. As part of our role as research fellows with The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), we investigated the factors that inform, impact and shape trust, loyalty and preferences among digitally connected consumers. We tested the belief that tapping into the emotions about and awareness of a brand’s values (human/social) are likely to inspire positive action and loyalty from consumers. The findings from The Social Consumer study reflect a number of surprising insights, informed by 927 survey respondents mostly from the U.S. with about 10 percent from rest-of-world, with great distribution and balance across age and gender.

This ground-breaking study covered a number of important topics, such as: what defines trust in the eyes of a consumer; the characteristics of the relationship factors between a consumer and a brand; whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) influences consumer behavior; how strongly do perceptions of a brand’s “making a positive difference” shape consumer preferences to purchase or affiliate with the brand; the rewards (e.g. product offers, discounts, CSR) that consumers favor most from brands; and the impact of rewards on a consumer’s digital behavior. The full paper can be found here.

This week I presented the findings at the Society of Customer Care Professionals Annual Meeting (SOCAP).  This gathering of customer centric leaders spent three days talking about how to improve the customer experience journey.  It was a wonderful conference full of ideas and best practices – and social played a strong role in many of the conversations and sessions.  Here are just a few of the findings which customer service professionals found particularly intriguing:

The research confirms that a positive customer experience is the single most important factor in creating and sustaining customer loyalty among the respondents.


Once someone becomes a customer, positive customer experience is the leading indicator of whether the customer will become loyal to the company or brand– by a very wide margin. A positive customer experience is even more important than price in retaining the hearts and wallets of customers. This is especially important for companies to understand and support (as the chart above indicates) because how a customer is treated in the store, on the phone and online is more meaningful than the product offering or the overall reputation of the company. It is especially interesting to note the contrast between the impact of rewards programs and strong customer care experiences.

There were more than 900 open-ended text responses for this question. Some examples of the detailed responses included;

“Excellent customer service is so rare these days that a good experience, especially when fixing a complaint, will make me loyal… A link to reviews within the description is also helpful. A bad website will turn me off just as fast as bad customer service. If I don’t like a company, I won’t go back, no matter what the price.”
“Customer service keeps me loyal to a company. If I have any issues, they address them and don’t act as if it isn’t important.”
“A company that acts like a person and not just a company”.
“Companies with great customer support and organizations that follow up with their consumers to ensure they have delivered the intended product or service.”

Outstanding customer service also plays a strong role in establishing new customers. When we asked about the factors that lead to a purchase decision, a company’s customer care program was third on the list – above referrals by friends and family. In fact, 68% of prospective buyers consider a company’s customer care program to be moderately to very important.


Other findings of note: Women are significantly more likely to be influenced by information they learn regarding an organization’s positive impact on society. Specifically, women place more emphasis on the degree to which a company commits to operating with a conscience, what the media reports about a company, customer reviews and ratings, and advertisements.

The rich picture that emerges here is that social media needs to be a strong part of the customer care experience. Not something that is tagged on, but fully integrated into the support processes. In the past, call centers and social media efforts were separated – but they are (and need to) be brought together under a single umbrella. The customer expects that their online and offline interactions are seamless within the company.

An especially important point made at the SOCAP conference is that the people running the social media accounts need to have a strong customer care background.  The reason for this is because they are more likely to encounter the frustrated customer than the call center,  as people often turn to digital customer care when they have exhausted all other options.  And, it is a public exchange between the social media team and the customer – broadcasted to the masses and findable through search.


The post The Social Consumer Study and What It Means To Customer Service Professionals appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:11:03 +0000
Building the Business Case for Community
Building the Business Case for Community


In every corner of an organization, the idea of having an online community is brought up. But often, the idea remains just that – an idea – because starting the journey seems daunting. How should we begin to build the business case for it? How can we translate the hard-to-explain-and-grasp benefits of community into a comprehensive and convincing plan? What lessons can be learned from others who have succeeded? How can we report the value in business terms?

Your business case process is not simply a way to get approval for your community project. When well done, it is the outline for an effective strategic plan that includes requirements, vendor selection, implementation and operational steps for your online community launch. It will serve as your guide to develop the myriad of operational opportunities into potent complements to community initiatives.

To answer these questions and more, we are sharing a detailed roadmap to set you firmly on course!

Below is a replay of a webinar we created for DNN Software that provides the best practices we’ve learned and implemented in one shot. You’ll find all of the templates, research, and advice you need to get a substantive head start to building your informed and persuasive business case. It includes great advice and lessons from eight of the top online community practitioners around the globe: Claire Bovill from Cisco, Robin Carey from Social Media Today, Scott K. Wilder from Marketo, Jessica McDouall from SPS Commerce, Jennifer McClure from Thomson Reuters, Steve Roth from School Dude, J.J. Lovett from CA Technologies and Fernando Castagnari from Mars Petcare Brazil.

Topics covered include:

  • Defining the strategic outcomes you want from the community
  • Specifying the overlapping business and audience needs it will serve
  • Mapping business requirements into feature requirements
  • Developing business metrics and measures to determine outcomes
  • Establishing the budget

DNN_Screen_Grab2(click to play)









If you just want just the highlights, view the Slideshare presentation here.



The post Building the Business Case for Community appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 05:30:33 +0000
Social Marketing and Gender Equality through Power Networking: 4 Common Trends Related to Transformation, Power and Influence
Social Marketing and Gender Equality through Power Networking: 4 Common Trends Related to Transformation, Power and Influence

shellFor my last (but certainly not least) guest blogger in the summer series, I have invited Dr. Patrica Fletcher to share her thoughts about the impact of social on transformation, power and influence.  Patti is a real powerhouse herself – she  is the global leader of the Cross-Portfolio Marketing and Social Marketing Center of Excellence teams at IHS, and is the Co-Founder and CEO of PSDNetwork, LLC.  Her work centers on enablement and culture change with a particularly interesting focus on women in the boardroom.  I am inspired by Patti and her work and am sure you will be too! Read on….

Guest blog post by Dr. Patricia Fletcher

For well over a decade I have lived a double-life, one with a single common theme: transformation, power, and influence.

My day job as an organizational change and B2B marketing executive fuels my passion for pioneering enterprise-wide transformation. My focus is engaging all colleagues on orchestrating conversations with customers, partners, industry influencers — and each other — on key topics. My latest endeavor is a dream role: designing and leading a socially-enabled enterprise almost from the ground up. There is so much movement in the social world. The competitive landscape is always shifting. B2B use of social is quickly becoming an expectation. A recent report indicates 1/3 of the world is online. With so many conversations — so much noise – how do we engage our stakeholders in a context that makes sense?

While my day job enables organizational transformation, my nights and weekends are focused on changing the world. It’s soul-feeding work. I sit on the Astia board to increase representation of women in high growth entrepreneurship and boardrooms. I am on the Corporate Board Committee in The Boston Club so that I may help increase the number of women on corporate and non-profit boards at the top organizations in Massachusetts. I lend my voice for keynotes and writing on multiple online outlets, including my own site

The biggest obstacle for women who aspire to business or political leadership continues to be equal access to power and money: access to people with the power; access to people with the money. I am a strong believer in working with both men and women to close this gap. It just won’t go away by itself.

How do these two worlds intersect? Quite easily, it turns out. Four trends have emerged that appear repeatedly in both my worlds.

Trend #1: There is no separation between a professional life and a personal life

At their tenth anniversary conference, Facebook announced they intend to become the platform where all other social platforms convene: an online social ecosystem. We are evolving as an online society. Our online personal and professional networks have been developed based on who we know in a particular channel. My LinkedIn contacts are separate from my Twitter followers who are separate from my Facebook friends who are different from the subscribers on my website and the visitors to my company’s website ( I connect with the people in these individual channels because I know them or of them.

These siloed channels remind me how women are taught to strive for “work-life balance.” If I had a quarter for every senior executive women I have interviewed or worked with who balked at the ridiculous concept of work-life balance, I might not be rich, but I would have a lot of coins to fill parking meters. Women tend to integrate more than separate. We don’t have a work life and a personal life. We have a life! Taking that a step further, many successful female executives and millennial entrepreneurs I speak with all say they do not separate their relationships. “I don’t have work friends and personal friends, I have friends,” says Mark Johnson, former CEO of Zite (acquired by CNN in 2011, spun off to Flipboard in 2014). “When it comes to my friends I have outside of work, I ask myself if I would want to be in business with him or her? And for people I am in business with, I ask myself if I would want to be friends with that colleague.”

Trend #2: It’s not who you know that matters the most, it’s who knows you

I have studied and advocated for women on boards, in the c-suite and in high growth entrepreneurship for well over a decade. Did you know that only 4% – 9% of venture funding goes to female start-up founders and that women still occupy only 12% of board seats and 14% of CEO positions? Why is that? Because funding and senior executive positions tend to be offered to people who are known to the people who have the money and hold the power. Investors introduce and advocate for entrepreneurs and other investors they know. Board seats are filled by referrals. Who you know is still important. But the game changer is who knows you. That is a universal truth for both men and women.

Facebook’s move to be the platform for all other social platforms reminds me of real-life integration, where connections are not siloed, they are integrated. The social network is evolving into a social ecosystem. The most important part of that ecosystem is the ability to influence. In the world of social marketing, who knows you is an important indicator of influence – the kind that matters.

We B2B social marketers want our brands to be first in mind within our target topics. We want to be in the hearts and minds of our customers, industry influencers, our partners. The people who know us are far more important that the people we know. The more people who know us and will advocate for our brands — whether we are present or not — the more our brands become the go-to source for thought leadership, engagement, and eventually business.

Trend #3: Power relationships are built on mutual interests and sharing information, not on frequency of transactions

Women, even powerful women, will most likely tell you that they hate networking. Huh? We just talked about the importance of being known as a key influence differentiator for people and brands. So, how can these women hate networking? Turns out, what they don’t like are those awkward, forced relationships that feel transactional: those dreaded ‘networking’ cocktail parties where business cards are exchanged (never to be seen again) with the one hand that isn’t carrying the cheap chardonnay.

Judy Robinett, author of How to be a Power Connector,” built her career from the ground up. No Ivy League education. No wealthy or well-known parents. And certainly no shallow business-card exchange networking interactions. She became a c-suite executive in Fortune 500 companies and an investor in high growth businesses when women didn’t hold those roles. How did she get to be the person who other people with money and power would think of? “With an open heart and an open mind,” says Robinett.

Robinett connects with people on what they care about and focuses on how she can help them. And, she works hard at her relationships. “I am not going to be a one-hit wonder. I am not going to do you a favor and never hear from me again,” says Robinett. She works hard at cultivating her relationships by being the source of information and of new connections.   Sound familiar? For us B2B marketers who believe and practice contextual content marketing, it should sound very familiar.

The social marketing landscape has transformed the type of insights we can gain about our customers. We are moving away from old-school advertising categories; the color of my skin, the industry I work in or how old I am no longer determine how I am segmented. Social marketing practices segment on my interests. Yes, my interests!

Online communities have in-depth discussions on birds-of-a-feather topics. Content is created by the brand, but also by customers and partners because each is interested in the topic and has something to contribute to the discussion. This moves away from one-way communications on what the brand cares about to conversations about the role a brand plays as part of a user’s set of interests.

Trend #4: Context and strategy are critical

This one is big. Whether we are talking about building a power network of key players in an industry you are targeting for your next business, or you are trying to engage potential customers online, first you have to find out where they are and then go to them.

Robinett often hears from up-and-coming executives who have tried all her suggestions for building powerful relationships and still come up short. “The problem tends to be that people are doing all the right things, but they aren’t being targeted. They are having the right discussions but they are in the wrong room,” says Robinett. Remembering that powerful, game-changing relationships are built on common interests and sharing information, make sure you are targeting people who share your interests. You will know if they do by knowing how they spend their time, what they talk about, which boards they sit on, what companies they invest in.

It’s not different with online social relationships. Natascha Thomson, owner and founder of Marketing XLerator, says you have to understand who your audience is and where to find them in order to build meaningful relationships via social channels. “In this age of information overload, people have very high expectations and very little attention span. Every time you get in front of a potential customer, you need to personalize your message as much as possible to show this prospect that you understand their pain and have the perfect solution,” says Thomson.

Patti Fletcher is the global leader of the Cross-Portfolio Marketing and Social Marketing Center of Excellence teams at IHS, and is the Co-Founder and CEO of PSDNetwork, LLC. Follow Patti on Twitter @pkfletcher and @pattionmktg. You can read more from Patti on here, on here, and on LinkedIn here.

The post Social Marketing and Gender Equality through Power Networking: 4 Common Trends Related to Transformation, Power and Influence appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 05 Aug 2014 10:52:40 +0000
Highlights from the 2014 Social Business Benchmark Study
Highlights from the 2014 Social Business Benchmark Study

Another summer brings a new set of Social Business Benchmark study results! For the past three years, in partnership with the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), we at Leader Networks, conduct an ongoing study on the impact social practices are having on organizations. Unlike the other studies that focus mainly on social media marketing, we examine the social footprint across  four important areas: Strategic intentions, operations, staffing, governance and organizational impact.

This ongoing study has yielded responses from over 190 organizations, with 17 industries represented. Company size ranges from less than 100 employees to giants with more than 50,000. Fifty three percent of the study participants were firms who focus on business-to-business (B2B) products and services, and 48% from consumer focused organizations. One of the most exciting aspects of this study is the strong cross-functional participation from organizations as we encourage broad participation to ensure that their responses reflect the organization in whole and not just the voice of a single person or line of business. It is not uncommon to have four or five leaders from a single organization take the survey which offers an especially rich perspective.

Now, on to the study results….

We start with the Leader Networks Social Business Performance Scale (see below) which was created at the onset of this study, informed by  25 interviews with social business leaders.

Social Business Performance Scale

Using the research findings in aggregate, we then map the responses using a weighted scale to benchmark where the responding organizations fell on the spectrum of social business performance. This mapping serves as a snapshot of where organizations fall across the social business performance scale.  As you can see, there is strong concentration around the Present and Enabled stage. The net/net is that progress is being made, but there is still a ways to go before the impact social business can have upon an organization is fully realized.

Social Business Performance Study Results

In addition to developing the benchmark, we also examine the data points to find key points and bell-weather trends. Here are the highlights:

The lines between social media and social business are blurred. More than 50% of organizations do not differentiate social media marketing from social business. To help respondents think about the differences, we shared a definition of the activities adapted from a Deloitte’s study: The Social Business Initiative:

Social Media: The spaces where we interact with one another over the web, including public, private and semi-private spaces defined within, and by certain contexts.

Social Media Marketing: The use of social media spaces for marketing.

Social Business:Using the elements above to enable more efficient, effective, and net-new connections between people, information, and assets to drive business decision, action, and outcome across the enterprise.

Generally, firms do not consider their social strategies to be strong. Only about one in twenty-five report that their organizations have robust strategies and only 51% report their social strategies are a competitive advantage.  While companies are “doing” social activities, they typically are not creating a larger strategic framework to guide operations.  A contributing factor may be because organizations  infrequently connected the information gathered through the social channel to impact the larger organization’s behavior. About half (49%) report that they collect social outcomes data but rarely use them to drive change, account for success or failure of a larger strategic initiative.

Yet, despite social’s strategic limitations, executives generally support the work that has been done on the social initiatives. Almost 60% report that their executives support the social strategy that their organization has in place. We wondered if there is a gap in executive level understanding of the potential for social business impact that contributed to the low expectations of leadership.

Marketing typically leads their organizations’ social media strategy 50% of the time, and but chart the social business strategy course in only 32% of firms. As social business operations is often close to the heart of call centers, new product development and R&D, it makes sense that social business is not typically lead by marketing.  Interesting, close to two in ten organizations report that they currently do not have a leader for social business strategy. Makes you wonder whether in those cases, social business is happening in silos or management by committee?

Reach/awareness and collaboration with customers are the primary drivers for social strategy: Reach/awareness (76%) and collaboration with customers (62%) are the primary drivers for social strategy. While the focus in 2014 has been on moving from reach to engagement on social channels, this shift remains an aspirational goal for many organizations. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is lack of advanced collaboration skills among social media marketing and social business professionals. Only 24% of organizations reported have trained key personnel in social media skills.

Organizations are more focused on using social media to support externally-facing activities such as recruitment, than on supporting staff collaboration needs. The majority of organizations use social media platforms to recruit. Only 37% of organizations report having have a useful intranet.

Stay tuned as we will have more to share regarding this research, will be releasing the findings report on our current study on the impact of societal good on consumer’s social media behavior, and launching an updated “Big List” of B2B online customer communities – all in the coming weeks! If you would like a custom social business benchmark study done on your firm, please let us know.


The post Highlights from the 2014 Social Business Benchmark Study appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 11 Aug 2014 15:54:52 +0000
Spotlighting *Your* B2B Online Community – Call for Participation
Spotlighting *Your* B2B Online Community – Call for Participation

file4141278348464Calling all B2B community builders, the Big List is back!

In 2011 Leader Networks, a well known social business research and consulting firm, researched and published a list of the top 71 online customer communities –drawing attention to thriving, dynamic, communities that didn’t receive much fanfare due to their focused audiences and limited public exposure. It holds true today that little is known about many of the most vibrant and visionary B2B communities due to their role as competitive advantages and their importance to their company’s strategic mission. In fact some of the most important and innovative B2B communities aren’t visible to the public at all.

The limited exposure of many B2B communities is why the Big List was so valuable as it generated countless conversations and insights into the diverse eco-systems of B2B communities. And, for the record, when we say “online customer communities,” we mean an interactive, often gated, website that a company sets up for customers to collaborate on topics of mutual interest.

We decided that it’s time to revamp the list and dig deeper in the hopes to provide even more nuanced and generative research about the spectrum of B2B communities, and to highlight those that are knocking the ball out of the park.

Cue the 2014 B2B Customer Communities Research Project! Our mission is to collect and share information about B2B community powerhouses and shine the spotlight on these community building heroes. We’ll be compiling another list and following up with the most intriguing communities for case studies.

Here is the link to the study:

As community builders ourselves it’s important to us to make the Big List 2.0 as interactive and collective a process as possible, that’s why we’re asking you to fill out the form and share it with your networks. We’ll then analyze and aggregate the data and share our findings back with you, making our research available to you and your team. And, of course, all of your information will be kept strictly confidential. Only a few of the questions are required (like name of community and URL), the rest optional – but remember we can’t showcase your community if you don’t tell us enough! The whole form takes under 3 minutes, don’t worry!

The form will be open until September 4, so be sure to submit as soon as you can. Thank you for your support of this project, we look forward to sharing the results with you soon!

For more on B2B community best practices see these posts:

The post Spotlighting *Your* B2B Online Community – Call for Participation appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 19:56:13 +0000
Big List 2.0: The Top B2B Online Customer Communities 2014
Big List 2.0: The Top B2B Online Customer Communities 2014

Big List Graphic

I am thrilled to share the most comprehensive directory of B2B online customer communities on the web and perhaps even the planet! We published our first Big List in 2011 and just finished an exhaustive period of research and review to bring you the following 106 dynamic communities.

From IT pros and CIOs to plumbers, baristas, and dentists. From frequent fliers to small business owners, you’ll find them all and more, right here.

The Big List functions as a much deserved acknowledgment of B2B communities and their dedicated community managers, fierce executive champions and collaborative members. A lot has happened in the world of B2B online communities over the past three years. Some of the communities from the original Big List have grown exponentially in size and influence, numerous new ones have been formed and some have faltered; a number of those in our 2011 edition have since closed or become inactive. So, hats off to the shining stars –you have opened the door to enormous transformational opportunities for your organizations, and power to the new pioneers –may the force of operational alignment be with you!

The limited exposure of many B2B customer communities is why the Big List has become such a valuable resource –it generates conversation and insight into the diverse eco-systems of B2B communities and gives community professionals a chance to applaud the great work being done among B2B community builders. And, just for the record, when we say “online customer communities,” we mean an interactive, often-gated website that a company sets up for customers to collaborate on topics of mutual interest.

We look forward to featuring some of the communities below in case studies, and further spotlighting intriguing and innovative communities!

Big List 2.0

  • The first 11 communities (green) are ones we chose to highlight due to their breadth, an innovative approach, or a unique feature for members.
  • The rest of the list is organized in alphabetical order, for a grand total of 106  126 as of 10/14 because we added more!
  • And, if we missed citing your community please take a moment to fill out our short B2B Customer Community Project questionnaire so that we can learn about your community and potentially include it in the future.
  • Be sure to subscribe to our blog and follow me on Twitter @vdimauro to receive information about updates to the Big List.

SCROLL down on the right to see the entire list:

Special thanks to all who helped grow the Big List even bigger!  To those who participated this year and in the past, our many friends and influencers who shared the call for participation to their followers, and a special thanks to  Paul Gillin for brainstorming with us about the cream of the crop and to Mike Ellsworth for adding to the Big List and including it in his forthcoming book, Infinite Pipeline: v. 1.1.

The post Big List 2.0: The Top B2B Online Customer Communities 2014 appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 21:00:09 +0000
The Future Of Social Business [Video]
The Future Of Social Business [Video]

At the Social Shakeup conference in Atlanta (hosted by Social Media Today) I was delighted to participate in a keynote panel with Jeff Dachis and Renee Ducre to talk about the future of social business. A video of the session was just posted online so I am sharing it here as I think we covered some interesting ground.

Our panel discussed where social has been and where it’s headed. Many smart people have been saying for years that at some point in the future we would no longer distinguish “social” business from ordinary business. Now we find social expertise in many enterprise endeavors, from the usual suspects like customer service and marketing to more unusual ones like product development and even, yes, legal. We tackled the topic of what “social,” really means- what is its future? What are the current strategic concerns with social and what will be the ones we can anticipate next year, and the years to come?

@shaymoser wrote a super summary of the session as well and you can read the synopsis here.

Where do you think social business is going? Is it dead, or just beginning?

The post The Future Of Social Business [Video] appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:36:12 +0000
Gender vs. Generational Divide Tops Findings From The Social Consumer Study
Gender vs. Generational Divide Tops Findings From The Social Consumer Study

Don Bulmer and I are thrilled to share the findings of our  latest study, The Social Consumer,  and we think this is the most exciting one yet!  We researched the factors that inform, impact and shape trust, loyalty and preferences of the digitally connected consumer. We tested the belief that brands which can tap into the emotions about and awareness of their values (human/social) are most likely to inspire positive action and loyalty from consumers.  This is our third research collaboration since 2009, as part of our fellowship with The Society for New Communication Research.

We were driven to do this study because we were noticing the massive changes happening in our world and work.  Th super-connectedness of global communications is challenging how companies interact, engage and maintain relevance and trust with their key audiences and the public-at-large. Consumers are more discerning about the companies they choose to do business with and support. We are now in a “so what”, “show me” or “can I trust what you say” business, political and social economy.

The findings from The Social Consumer study reflect a number of surprising and validating insights, informed by surveys completed by 927 respondents mostly from the U.S. with about 10 percent from rest-of-world, with great distribution and balance across age and gender. The study explored:

  • Expectations for brands by digitally engaged consumers
  • Characteristics of the relationship factors between a consumer and a brand
  • Whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) influences consumer behavior
  • How strongly do perceptions of a brand’s “making a positive difference” shape consumer preferences to purchase or affiliate with the brand
  • The rewards (e.g. product offers, discounts, CSR) that consumers favor most from brands
  • The impact of rewards on a consumer’s digital behavior (e.g. purchase, endorsement, vote, rate, etc.)

Here is a summary of our key findings:

Gender vs. Generation Gap: There are greater differences in consumer decision-making behavior between genders than between generations. While we expected to see a strong difference between Millennial consumer behaviors vs. older generations, the findings overwhelmingly support gender as a stronger factor than generation. Women are two times more likely to turn to social channels to inform their decisions about purchases than men (31% vs. 15%). Moreover, women place more importance on the degree to which a company commits to operating with a social conscience, and are influenced most by: what the media reports about a company, online customer reviews and ratings, and a company’s advertisements. Twenty-five percent of women are more likely to make a purchase when they learn about an organization’s positive social impact actions compared to only 12% of men. And, women (regardless of age) are more likely than men to engage online as advocates or activists on behalf of or against a brand.

The Social Influence Factor: Social Media sharing plays a significant role in influencing buyer decisions. A seemingly small percentage of people who share online one or more times per month (24%) have great influence on a much larger majority of consumers who read online sites to inform decisions or opinions (67%). Consumer ratings/commentary and personal recommendations are most frequently cited as the top sources to inform decision making and purchases. Clearly, word of mouth — or keyboard and touch-screen — matters. In the absence of personal recommendations, buyers frequently go online to inform their decisions. The majority of respondents (71%) regularly read social media sites as part of their information gathering routine; 76% consider what their friends, family or other trusted information sources say about a company when they are forming an opinion about a company.

Loyalty is a Big Win: Once a company earns a consumer’s loyalty, the typical factors a consumer uses to make purchase decisions becomes less scrutinized because the customer trusts the company to serve them well. Quality and price (75% vs. 72%) rate as the most important factors when choosing to buy from a company followed by trust (50%), positive ratings online (43%) and personal recommendations by family and friends (42%). Once loyalty is established, consumers depend less on the input or opinions of others. In these situations, continued loyalty is more heavily weighted towards quality, customer service and price.

Consumer Advocacy is Hard Won: When taking action to share an opinion online, people are slightly more inclined to do so based on a negative experience. 70% of respondents report sharing a negative experience online (sometimes/frequently), while 68% state they have shared a positive experience online (sometimes/frequently). Respondents who advocate online on behalf of brands to which they are loyal tend to focus on clarifying inaccurate information about the company as an advocacy activity.

Consumer Good vs. Societal Good: There is a significant gap in consumer views and expectations for a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts and societal impact. Less than 10% of respondents indicated the CSR or societal impact of a company is of high importance in making a decision to purchase. Many respondents described societal good using “good for me” examples, such as low prices and discounts, rather than “greater good” outcomes for the planet, social causes and others. While this is a disappointing commentary on consumer behavior at large, it suggests there are opportunities for companies to educate around what societal good really means, especially if they connect this message to how their CSR programs help the world and the consumer.

When quality and price are largely equal in a purchase decision, nearly three in five people report a moderate to strong positive impact on likelihood to purchase when they discover information on the positive societal impact of a company. Slightly more people (61%) report a moderate to strong negative impact on likelihood to purchase when hearing news on the negative societal impact of a company. Product or service experience (positive or negative) is two times more likely to be shared than news of a company’s social impact (positive or negative). News of the negative societal impact of a company has greater impact on women (13% more than men).

Power of the Medium: Social media maintains a strong influence in the lives of consumers. Reading social media sites is the second most popular activity consumers engage in – just behind watching TV. It rates higher than listening to the radio or reading the newspaper. Consumers frequently use social channels to share their experiences with companies – both positive and negative – and this, in turn has a material impact on influencing buyer decision making.

The complete report can be found here. We encourage you to read, share and comment.

The post Gender vs. Generational Divide Tops Findings From The Social Consumer Study appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:10:09 +0000
Why Listening Communities Belong in Your Marketing Strategy
Why Listening Communities Belong in Your Marketing Strategy

feet-wooden floor-cco logoYour content is well-written and well-produced, engaging, even useful. But is your audience really paying attention? We all know what it’s like when someone won’t stop talking — it’s very hard to stay engaged. Have you tried listening to your audience instead?

Online communities are primordial (pre-web, even) discussion, content-sharing, and collaboration applications. While many brands use online communities for bottom-line-focused activities such as lead generation, others focus on listening, which helps them uncover powerful sources of customer insights, content, and industry credibility — all of which can support their marketing strategy. 

First, let’s understand what is meant by online communities. Online communities are dedicated, brand-sponsored platforms that enable the exchange of ideas and content via a suite of interactive features, such as discussion forums, polls, content libraries, and member directories. These communities generally fall into one of the following four categories: 

  • Lead generators: These communities are established by brands to bring members into conversations solely to generate sales leads. When a prospect joins the discussion, the sales team jumps in to press the sale. It’s a Trojan horse, inspiring neither trust nor engagement. 
  • Marketing speakers: Long on broadcasting messages to members, short on interaction, the primary mission of “megaphone” communities is to share the brand’s new developments and latest accomplishments with prospective and current customers. Often designed and managed to optimize SEO measures, they also typically fall short on member engagement. 
  • Customer huggers: Staffed by customer service employees assisting members in need, “closed tickets” is the key metric here. But in the absence of additional in-depth interactions and collaboration with members, valuable insights remain undiscovered. The community is just a “nice-to-have” cost center, rather than an outreach mechanism. 
  • Innovation centers: Dedicated to achieving deep collaboration with customers and partners, these communities seek to share information, glean insights, and put community-sourced ideas into action. Through continuous engagement around the ideas, concerns, and hopes the membership has for the products and services, these communities identify areas of internal improvement and growth and provide ongoing feedback to members about their contributions. Innovation centers can have a profound impact at all levels of the organization.

Successful online communities often combine aspects of each of these four styles: identifying future customer needs (lead generation), sharing marketing information (marketing speakers), reducing problems and increasing customer intimacy (customer hugs), and collaborating on innovation opportunities for both members and the organization (innovation centers). Yet true listening communities — those that offer brands the greatest potential to source content — emphasize the latter two styles (customer huggers and innovation centers).

Companies like HP, Whole Foods, and Mindjet use brand-owned online communities to connect more deeply with customers, prospects, suppliers, and partners. And they do so by listening much more than they talk.

Sourcing content through listening to an online community can take many forms:

  • Thought leadership from highly engaged member experts: One example is the award-winning LexisNexis Investigators Network (LNIN). Here members (all law enforcement professionals) share best practices across local, state, and national law enforcement agencies within a secure online community.

Another is the Palladium Group XPC Community. Based on the balanced scorecard management system developed by Kaplan and Norton, this community of management consultants, strategy professionals, and operations executives pools expertise to develop best practices for use within the organizations.

A third example is HP’s IT Expert Zone, where corporate IT staff can interact directly with HP’s IT experts, asking complex questions and receiving detailed responses. By listening to this content, IT managers and directors can better understand the pitfalls and opportunities within their IT environment.

  • Process improvement and operational efficiency case studies: SPS Commerce, a supply chain solutions provider, created a public community for customers to collaborate on solving all manner of supply change management issues. Thomson-Reuters operates a global online community (intranet) for employees to improve collaboration and speed up innovation across offices in over 100 countries.
  • Case studies from member stories about products, services, or solutions: These are especially helpful for B2C or B2B firms where it may not be easy to identify engaged end users. For example, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) maintains close relationships with its large corporate customers, but may not know the specific details of an end user’s implementation. The HDS Innovation Center Community provides a forum for end-user innovators within large organizations to share their forward-thinking approaches, and offers a way to develop case study content HDS might never learn about otherwise.
  • Problem-solving testimonials through collaboration with customers: Analog Devices’ (ADI) EngineerZone online community was cited by 76 percent of customers as a reason to purchase from ADI in a 2012 customer survey.
  • Customer-generated endorsements and recommendations: Wireless networking firm Aerohive leveraged positive user-created content to build brand equity and customer acquisition. Mindjet’s collaboration tools saw a 5 percent increase in referral traffic after opening its online community.

Marketers considering a listening approach must beware of the impulse to focus too much on quantity metrics (e.g., number of conversations, articles, or members). A community with a seemingly high number of likes, for example, may not generate the kind of thoughtful exchanges that support a brand’s content marketing strategy. Instead, examine whether your community provides deeper insights, such as a case study worth sharing, an insight worth pursuing in a long-format report, or an idea around which to build a new product.

5 tips for building a successful listening community

Online communities are social entities. Even the most focused and defined membership will display a remarkable range of behaviors and contribution styles. Community managers should foster a diversity of opinions and avoid closing down fruitful, if sometimes intense, discussions. Attentive listening by community managers — signaling they are actively observing your community’s conversations — will confirm to members that your organization is paying attention to what they are saying.

Caveat: Don’t stifle disagreements, disputes, or complaints. Online communities are an early warning system for product and service issues — and, sometimes, the next big thing that could transform your firm. Redirect or resolve problematic discussions through engagement rather than censorship.

Tip 2: Encourage conversations through engagement

Community members can supply clues — and contributors — for great user stories, case studies, and thought leadership. Encourage in-depth discussions, especially among subject matter experts, and highlight their contributions. Internal communities can be a rich source of insights and ideas for improving operational efficiency, product/service enhancements, and innovations — if members have an incentive to contribute. Be sure to ask good questions, solicit feedback, and invite others into the conversation.

Caveat: Sustaining the flow of ideas and insights from the community is a marathon, not a sprint. A long-term marketing strategy for member engagement should attract new members and reward long-time contributors.

Tip 3: Empower members

Reward active participants with opportunities to guide discussions and share their expertise. When a community attracts or develops its own subject matter experts from within the membership, their contributions add to their own reputation and to the unique value of your branded community.

Celebrate this homegrown thought leadership by rewarding those star contributors with offline and online appreciation.

Caveat: Empowering members may mean respecting their privacy and sheltering their discussions from public view — especially for executives, established experts, and others with confidentiality concerns. Creating private peer-to-peer networks can encourage more candid conversations.

Tip 4: Respect and reward contributions

While the terms and conditions governing your online community contributions may allow you to use your members’ contributions however you wish, common sense and courtesy dictate that you request permission before doing so. Acknowledgement and an honorarium for the most valuable contributions are usually all that’s needed.

Caveat: Don’t overtip. Your community members will be highly attuned and aware of the most valuable individual contributors and contributions. Make sure the rewards match the community’s sense of value, not just your organization’s agenda.

Tip 5: Build trust

Online communities quickly develop a keen sensitivity to what is authentic and what is not. Organizations that remain authentic, maintaining trust with their online community members, will see that reflected in external perceptions of the firm across all its activities. Building and maintaining trust is an essential component of a successful online community.

Caveat: Authenticity takes work, strong governance, constant attention and vigilance. Internal teams working with community members need clear guidance on handling issues where evasion or inauthenticity may appear to be the best option. Keep it real.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer.

The post Why Listening Communities Belong in Your Marketing Strategy appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:29:11 +0000
TLC for Community Managers – Tips To Avoid Burnout
TLC for Community Managers – Tips To Avoid Burnout

flower- jessCommunity management burnout – its impact and how to avoid it – is an evergreen topic at every gathering of social media practitioners.  It is a tough, never ending job that knows no bounds – all done through email and online communications. I doubt there are many other professions where time online is so high.   We all know the problem exists, however until the typical online community scales their resources to offer their fierce leaders some breathing room, it remains a job hazard.  My favorite insider community manager joke is “I am smiling from my wrists down!”. You *know* what I am talkin’ about!

Recently, I was speaking with my colleague, Jessica Fish, about this issue after she returned from a conference for community managers in NYC.  She has a suite of self-care approaches that can help community managers fend off stress and strain, and she should know!  Jessica is a community engagement specialist and has a Masters Degree from Harvard Divinity School (in conflict resolution no less).  Here is her sage advice on why those who live their professional lives online need to breathe….

Overcoming Email Apnea – Why community managers are more susceptible and what they can do about it

The first time I heard the term email apnea, I knew I had it, bad. No google search or WebMD diagnosis required, I saw myself hunched over my computer, holding my breath as I attempted to manage the anxiety provoked by my overflowing inbox, social and community feeds.

Linda Stone, a researcher, thought leader and former executive at Apple and Microsoft coined the terms email and screen apnea. She describes it as the “temporary cessation of breath when we’re in front of a screen, especially when texting or doing email. This chronic breath-holding puts us in a state of fight or flight, affecting emotions, physiology, and attention.”

If you’re anything like the community managers I’ve spoken to about this you’re probably thinking something like “Holy smokes, this is MY life!” or “Breathing? Who’s got time for that?!” I encourage you to take a deep breath, exhale (Slowly! That’s the important part!) and let’s talk it out.

The Science

Over the course of six months Stone observed the breathing patterns of hundreds of people while seated at a computer. She found that 4 out of 5 held their breath or breathed shallowly while checking their email. NIH research conducted by Dr. Margaret Chesney and Dr. David Anderson found that regularly holding your breath correlates to stress-related illness: bodily acid rates rise, the kidneys reabsorb sodium, and our oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide levels are all thrown off. They also found a correlation between prolonged stress and inhibited breathing leading to hypertension.

When we breathe deeply and slowly we bolster our immune system, as well as our autonomic nervous system -which governs everything from heart rate to healthy organ function. This is why yoga instructors are always telling us to “focus on the breath”–it really is connected to everything.

When we’re slumped over computers, tablets, and phones, our chest is compressed and our breathing suffers. When we’re dealing with stress –email overload, angry tweets, hard-to -satisfy clients–our response is to gasp and hold it, and then hold it some more.

Community Managers and Screen Apnea

Community Managers (CMs)  are in the business of caretaking. We’re stewards for communities ranging from a few hundred to millions of people. This means the opportunity for CMs to experience screen apnea exponentially increases according to the size and activity of their community. Reading hundreds or thousands of comments a day? Managing egos? Responsible for illustrating how your community produces ROI? All this on top of your email? That’s fertile ground for some world-class breath holding.

What can we do about it?

Ideally we’d all be working at sleek, standing desks, exercising at lunch and drinking kale with delight until will leave the office to tend our rooftop gardens. Not your reality? Not mine either, and until we all reach work-life Nirvana, here are some other ways we can tackle the apnea issue.

1. Awareness. Are you holding your breath at the computer? Take notice of when and why this is happening. From my anecdotal research CMs tense up most when writing critical emails, dealing with acerbic community members, or commenting on threads by thought leaders or senior executives in their communities. Once you’ve pinpointed your triggers, remind yourself to check your posture and breathing before you start typing. It’s simple, but it really does prepare you to better communicate online. I promise.

2. Exhale with gusto! Stone has found that exhaling for at least twice as long as you inhale helps reset the body. She recommends breathing in for a count of three, holding for a count of two, and exhaling for six. Try. It. Out. Feels pretty great, right?

3. Incorporate reminders to breathe in your workspace. I have an index card taped to my screen that reads “Breathe. Hold. Exhale.” If you’re a Chrome user, I recommend a beautiful free app called Momentum. A stunning photograph pops up every time you open a new browser window with a space to set a “focus.” Most days, I set it to something simple like, “breathe” or “take a walk at lunch.”

jess image


Linda Stone likes the emWave device by HeartMath which tracks heart rate with an ear clip and teaches users to better manage stress levels.

Communities require a lot of energy, and we know they do best when we’re fully engaged, curating authentic and generative conversation. In order to do that, especially over time, we’ve got to be healthy and grounded. Mindful breathing is an essential part of the CM self-care tool box and with a bit of time and attention you can kick the apnea habit to the curb.

Did you have a screen apnea a-ha moment? Had you heard of it before? Got any advice for others? Tell me in the comments, I can’t wait to see what you have to say!


Fish Headshot2Jessica Fish, Engagement Specialist at Leader Networks,  is a skilled community and social media marketing practitioner. For the past 10 years, she has held leadership positions for influential collaboration initiatives at organizations such as Harvard University, the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium and the Palladium Group’s Execution Premium Community (XPC). Her expertise ranges from developing training programs aimed to empower and support community managers, creating compelling and unexpected communication strategies, to facilitating on topics such as mindfulness, diversity, and social justice.

The post TLC for Community Managers – Tips To Avoid Burnout appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 21:05:42 +0000
Measuring What Matters: Those Addictive Numbers
Measuring What Matters: Those Addictive Numbers


I’ve done it. It’s gone. Cold turkey. After years of asserting we need to measure what matters in social business – as opposed to just tracking outcomes we can count easily — I decided to take down the social sharing counter on my blog. You can still share our blog items on social media tools – please do! –but we won’t be quantifying every act of sharing anymore.

Walking the talk? Well, the fact is my social sharing tool was unreliable. When the Leader Networks site re-launched about a year ago, we “lost” all our counts. Thousands of tiny emotional validations which confirmed what we say to our readers matters all disappeared. I mourned the loss. Then my trusty tech team went to work, and soon those big braggy bunches of tweets and likes were back. All better now, I thought.

But as I went on banging the drum of what really matters in social business on stages and talk shows, at conferences and with clients, I realized I had developed a little social sharing addiction. I knew those numbers were not meaningful, but when I posted on the blog I would peek at those numbers over the days that followed. They influenced my satisfaction with my writing. I would feel proud when my posts would trend, and discouraged when they didn’t make a big social bang. I would even tweak a perfectly good post here or there in hopes of improving its numeric fate. Just a few weeks ago, I had a post reach 18,000+ views on LinkedIn Pulse overnight. That was fun, but a closer examination of the comments suggests many people didn’t actually read the article or understand it. Did I achieve my business goals with that post? You tell me….

I went back to my poor tech team who spent hours restoring my broken social share counter and asked them to drop it. They understood and agreed with the decision when I explained why. If my own behavior is any measure, those little counters have created an army of modern marketing monsters who write for the “hit” and not the POV. The share-counter drug is distracting writers everywhere as they focus on the spinning numbers to “prove” their worth, all the while losing sight of the real business purpose of thought leadership.

During this journey over the past year, I’ve seen how social share counts don’t matter the way we think they might. This is especially true in the business-to-business world, where decisions are complex and the most valuable leaders and audience members don’t work in a non-stop social sharing environment. Even if my thoughtful missives may not win a “Miss Popularity” contest, their depth and accuracy triggers a response, and people reach out to learn more about Leader Networks and my work. That is the business value – meaningful connections and new clients. They were also the ones I most enjoyed writing. The numbers didn’t matter and did not predict success.

Taking down the social sharing counter means I’m no longer beholden to the sharing metric. No more temptation to post sexy fluff (haven’t we all done it?) just to boost the sharing number. Instead, I can remain focused on delivering meaningful thought leadership and building mutually beneficial connections.

After all, that’s why I blog. I want to share what I know with people who need help. I use thought leadership to educate and inspire social business leaders, and build awareness of my company’s services and capabilities. I want social business decision-makers to know I have explored and mapped many paths across the social business landscape. My success has nothing to do with counting social shares. Instead, I value the professionals served and connections established though our content. No more sharing counters to influence my feelings … or your first impressions of our work. Maybe we all should dump the counters. That way none of us will be swayed by meaningless metrics, and we can all focus on what really matters.

The post Measuring What Matters: Those Addictive Numbers appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:27:55 +0000
Social Business and the Responsive Enterprise
Social Business and the Responsive Enterprise
  looking_over_londonThe Social Business era has arrived, and with it, individual customers now have a voice. “Listen to me,“ they shout from digital rooftops. “Meet my needs and exceed my expectations,” they demand – online and offline. They’re not passive recipients of products, services and one-way messaging any more. Since the dawn of commerce, businesses have tried to get closer to their customers. That day is here.

Customers are clamoring for greater intimacy with firms they trust, to drop the veil, raise the shades, get close and personal, have a real conversation. Sadly, many customers get no response, no invitation, no further discussion. Those companies simply don’t know how to build a relationship with the people who matter most – their best, most engaged customers.

Many firms have been very busy building out a suite of software tools, aligning their brand messaging to the buyer journey, convening ad nauseum to refine their KPIs. But they still haven’t given any thought to caring for their customer on a human-human level. The strategy remains: telling customers why the company is great, strong and handsome, and then using the new tools to repeat the same old message on social channels. Some firms are fickle — on one channel they are engaging, but on another … not so much. The whole relationship cadence is a mess. And the customer is left dangling, waiting, feeling ignored.

What‘s a poor traditional company to do?  How can a firm save this relationship and act on their commitment to the customer?  As an expert social business therapist helping organizations build better relationships with key stakeholders, there are two first steps you can take to become a Responsive Enterprise.

First, shut up and listen. Learn what your customers really want and need from your organization. Find out what they want from other customers, too.  No more one-night stands, where your firm only gets in touch when there’s a problem, you need a case study or it’s time to renew a contract. Let customers share information with you. Be an active listener by sharing information back and forth to build a real, ongoing relationship.

This human-to-human style will also force a change in how you interact with customers across all your lines of business. Marketing, sales, call centers, delivery teams will need to approach their tasks in new ways, updating business processes to ensure consistency.  Establish a cross-functional Social Business Center of Excellence with a clear mandate from senior leadership. Use it to develop a customer engagement program with an eye and an ear to spotting and listening to customer insights.  Create a real, functional customer advisory board — once you’re ready to handle the truth.

Second, take your online customer community to the next level. If you don’t have one, examine the reasons why not. This isn’t the place to do online marketing. It’s where you listen closely and connect with customers. Take down all those virtual brochures and banners. Stop peddling your wares, and instead, educate your organization about the power of an online community to be the premiere 24X7 customer relationship-building center. It will become THE place for strategic engagement with customers and prospects, and a key source of ideas, suggestions, customer service and support. Bring these engaged customers into the center of your business. Showcase their contributions. Insofar as your firm is concerned, they are everyday heroes. Say so, and respect them. How? Don’t manage this valuable community as a side project, cobbled together with “barn-raising” funds and staffed by a couple of summer interns. This is an uber-strategic initiative for your whole enterprise. Online communities are where your customers convene. Listen, learn, and treat them well — they can deliver tremendous value.

Building a Responsive Enterprise takes more than a conversation with a social business therapist. It requires planning, patience, steadiness and a crawl, walk, run approach. Your firm has spent years – decades — dreaming of the day customers might care about and become more involved with your brand. Now that they have, embrace the opportunity to build relationships, learn about customer needs and uncover new insights about your products and services. Everyone’s a winner.

The post Social Business and the Responsive Enterprise appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:35:10 +0000
Social Media for Strategy-Focused Organizations
Social Media for Strategy-Focused Organizations

By Vanessa DiMauro and Adam Zawel

As social media is growing up, so is executive leadership’s understanding of how it can support or enable an organization’s strategy. My colleague Adam Zawel, community director for Palladium Group’s online community and I wrote an article about the powerful impact social can have in aligning strategy with operations. Palladium was founded by leadership giants Drs. Robert Kaplan and David Norton.  The firm helps organizations effectively and sustainably execute their strategies through the use of the Balanced Scorecard, Strategy-Focused Organization, and Strategy Management System frameworks. This article, reprinted from Balanced Scorecard Report (volume 14, number 1),  Harvard Business Publishing, was a bold declaration a few years ago, but rings even more true today! It is a long read, but well worth the time. 

Social media is useful for more than just social connectivity and entertainment. Political revolutionaries are using social networks to topple regimes (e.g., Egypt, Tunisia), and angry customers can launch social-media campaigns against organizations (e.g., the Dell Hell blog). Organizations can do more than simply react to society’s embrace of these new capabilities. In the hands of a Strategy-Focused Organization, Web 2.0 technologies become “social business” tools and processes, and enable collaboration among employees, partners, and customers. In this article, we focus on the significant benefits that leading organizations are realizing from the integration of social business processes with strategy manage­ment frameworks. In particular, we learn how social businesses have tackled some of the perennial challenges of implementing the Kaplan-Norton Management System, including building effective strategy maps, achieving alignment, and gaining the Execution Premium. We use the term “Social” to denote the class of new and emerging tools that enable new forms of communication and collaboration.

Designing the right internal objectives within the process perspective of the Balanced Scorecard, leading to market success in the customer perspective, is a key challenge. In this article, we learn from SAP how the use of an online community with customers and partners can improve the feedback loop on product innovation and help close the gap between internal processes and external customer objectives.

In large organizations, even when a Balanced Scorecard has been rolled out properly, silo mentalities and communication breakdowns can also represent significant obstacles. Alignment is a significant challenge facing many organizations. We learn from New Zealand Post how to structure conversations in online employee communities to communicate strategic objectives and overcome impediments to alignment.

Technology, when used properly, can support the strategic objectives of an organization. Infosys, as part of its Strategy Surround initiative, integrated Social tools with its all-encompassing change process. Social has become an integral part of its efforts to achieve superior economic returns from better strategy execution (the Execution Premium).

Social for Better Strategy Maps

Until recently, most organizations believed that Social was primarily a marketing tool to be used by “millennial” staff to drive traffic to webinars and serve other marketing purposes. However, a number of organizations have begun integrating social business processes into the value chain in a more strategic way.

Social can enable strategy execution by facilitating communications and information exchange with customers and partners. From accelerating research and development efforts to deepening product adoption and customer retention efforts in a more dynamic 24/7 environment, leading organizations are now using Social business processes to support and accelerate their strategy execution programs.

Social business processes sit at the collaborative intersection of business needs and customer desires. This intersection goes well beyond social-media marketing and gets at the heart of the core processes that are integral to an organization’s strategic success. For Social business to be successful, it must solve a real business problem or make a business process easier using the online channel.

Case Study: SAP

SAP is a software system used to enable financial, manufacturing, distribution, and other critical operations. Based in Walldorf, Germany, SAP is a $17 billion company. The company’s technology has long been complex. Therefore, the goal of helping prospective and current customers understand what it is, how to realize its potential, and how to adapt it internally has fueled considerable marketing, R&D, and service investment over the last 20 years.

One SAP executive board member, Shai Agassi, believed that SAP could sell its products more efficiently if customers, business partners, and SAP itself could teach one another about their experiences with the system. That kind of education typically would happen (and did) at company customer events such as Sapphire. But Agassi wanted such experience sharing to happen all the time.

In 2003, the company began building its online customer community (the SAP Community Network or SCN). Today, the firm has five separate online communities under the SCN umbrella: for software developers, business process experts, universities, customers of its Business Objects products, and partners. SAP’s online customer communities have more than 2 million members from over 150 countries. New commu­nity members sign up at a rate of more than 30,000 per month. All told, com­munity members see 6,000+ messages posted in the various communities every day, and their questions get answered quickly: 17 minutes is the average time before a first reply comes in.

Many SAP customers love having so much expertise about the company’s complex products so readily at hand. “It has allowed us to save a lot of time and resources and . . . to get a deliverable so­lution much faster than we would have otherwise without the community,” says an IT manager at the Walt Disney Company, in a video on the SAP website.

The value to SAP (and its network of business partners) is the opportunity to generate more business. For example, current customers, who more readily understand the value of SAP’s products, are likely to buy more once they have heard new products touted directly by other customers in the online commu­nity. Says Mark Yolton, SAP’s senior vice president of the SCN, “Being engaged in community and social media has brought SAP tremendous benefits, including product adoption, market penetration, and so on . . . I know that these communities have brought SAP tremendous financial and non-financial benefits.”

Social for Better Strategic Alignment

One of the more challenging aspects of strategy execution is aligning the strate­gic vision with staff execution. In more socially active organizational cultures, the internal community has a better chance of embracing the strategy of the organization in actionable ways on a daily basis. The question becomes how to go about creating a socially engag­ing environment. Often, the message becomes diluted. Staff members don’t always understand the nuances of the vision and often do not have forums for exploring what the strategy means to them. The workforce is often at a loss for finding the best ways to perform work that aligns with the strategic direction. This is where Social can play a starring role as a platform for strategy communication. It offers an opportu­nity for executives to clearly articulate the vision, not just at staff meetings, but publicly and in an ongoing way using internally facing social-media tools. It also can enable staff to have a voice, share concerns, and raise issues related to strategy execution. By creating a platform for internal knowledge exchange, internal teams can support one another, share ideas and resources, and express misunder­standings and questions in a way that can be addressed in real time.

Case Study: New Zealand Post Group

New Zealand Post Group is a group of businesses that provide communication and business solutions in New Zealand and Australia, including the core mail business in addition to banking and digital communication services. New Zealand Post Group is also a leader in strategy execution. In 2009, Kiwibank, the consumer banking subsidiary of New Zealand Post Group, won the Pal­ladium Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame for Executing Strategy®.

According to the Strategy Execution Hall of Fame Report 2010:  “After it became clear that assigning individual executives to be ‘objective champions’ only perpetuated the silo mentality, Knowles [Kiwibank CEO] created cross-functional theme teams structured around the bank’s four strategic themes: Excellence in Business Processes, Sales and Service Leadership, Sustainable Growth, and Learning and Growth . . . Thanks to these changes, the BSC ultimately became an organization-wide framework for action—a report­ing, management, and communication tool embedded throughout every level.”

With 17% of the workforce assigned to these strategic teams, the question emerged, “How can you coordinate the communication and work flows across such a large and newly formed group?” Not surprisingly, Kiwibank, and the parent organization, NZ Post Group, were quick to recognize the opportunity to leverage Social to aid this silo-busting exercise. NZ Post decided to leverage third-party technologies to build communities.

In 2010 and 2011, NZ Post invited employees to join two community platforms:

  • Using intranet collaboration technol­ogy, the company launched a private community open to all employees to discuss issues from social to business. All employees have been encouraged to join.
  • Using private group functionality within their Social platform, the company launched a collaboration space for members of the extended strategy execution team. The purpose is specifically to overcome strategic alignment roadblocks and mobilize senior and middle management.

According to Craig Holloway, head of Strategy Execution at Kiwibank: “We are finding the NZ Post Group [Social platform] to be a powerful channel for strategy communication and an effective platform for discussing and overcoming obstacles in strategy execution. This is the first time we have really been able to make strategic con­nections across our businesses.”

Use Social to Achieve the Execution Premium

Organizations that succeed in this new environment are able to leverage information and relationships gathered through the Social channel and apply them throughout the organization’s value chain. Social can be used to solve specific problems in the strategy execu­tion process, such as tightening the customer feedback loop or facilitating internal alignment. Social, however, can be applied even more broadly to help organizations execute strategy.

Case Study: Infosys

Infosys is a very successful software and services company with more than 100,000 employees. It holistically incor­porates Social into its strategy execu­tion process. By using Social as part of its strategy development and commu­nications approach, the company has changed its culture by including more people, especially younger employees, in the strategy development and execu­tion process. Younger employees are typically more comfortable with Social business processes, as they have been educated in a more collaborative learning environment. This broader inclusiveness—engaging younger employees in strategic discussions—was itself a strategic goal at Infosys.

Infosys wanted to “change the rhythm” of work. It didn’t want to “prepare the same code and catch the same bus,” says Sanjay Purohit, vice president and head of Corporate Planning and Business Assurance. To accelerate the company’s strategy execution program (called “Strategy in Action Planning ” or STRAP), Infosys developed “STRAP Surround.” STRAP Surround, which organization’s value chain. Social can be used to solve specific problems in the strategy execu­tion process, such as tightening the customer feedback loop or facilitating internal alignment. Social, however, can be applied even more broadly to help organizations execute strategy. began in 2010 includes a Social platform with blogs and discussion forums, and a range of physical activities (games, cafeteria information, and various forms of interaction) that engage employees. Both the Social and physical components of STRAP Surround are intended to increase awareness of the strategy and improve the company’s performance. Infosys learned that engagement in any messaging or social platform must be associated with offline physical activity. “Life has to change,” says Purohit. The expectation that “people will come and talk about strategy, and things will change is a dream. People have to interact in the physical world for real meaningful change to happen.”

For Infosys, Social is no longer an ex­periment. Infosys learned from two pre­vious initiatives that Social should not be treated as a stand-alone experiment, but rather must become an integral part of the strategy execution program. Within the STRAP Surround program, the Social channel was especially effective in bringing the discussion to the enormous workforce, including thousands of employees who were joining the company each year. Infosys developed an in-house version of YouTube. (This is a technology company after all, so it enjoys building its own tools.) The video channel enabled chief executives to share their views and get everyone on the same page.

But the true power of Social is in the opportunity for interactivity. Infosys wanted executives to preach, and em­ployees, especially young employees, to respond and participate. The execu­tives, in turn, had to react to this input from the workforce. In a culture that typically respected older employees, Social became a channel in which the young felt empowered and welcomed to participate. The Social medium became the democratizing force that Infosys wanted it to be.

In one particularly successful example of the use of Social with other commu­nication channels, tens of thousands of ideas were shared online after 46,000 employees participated in a variety of live events related to a strategy execu­tion topic. Infosys found that employ­ees related better and participated with more specific answers once the dialogue was structured and moder­ated. Social facilitators found it useful to encourage employees to respond online to specific questions related to strategic themes such as technologies for future growth, asset efficiency, digital consumer, pervasive computing, and healthcare.

To keep the momentum flowing after the initial input from employees, discus­sion moderators individually thanked contributors for their suggestions. Each comment was forwarded to a theme owner for further development. As an enticement and reward for particularly passionate and useful suggestions, theme owners chose some employees to become members of their theme teams. Keeping the spirit of the online collaboration, these theme teams con­tinue to collaborate in sub-communities online.

Infosys says it is “just getting started” and is now sharing its experiences with Social with its strategic partners. This is not surprising, since Infosys is a leader in sharing and integrating many of its own processes with partners.

Lessons Learned

Effective Social business approaches can connect people, processes, and technologies in ways that strengthen an organization’s competitive posi­tion and increase its brand value with customers, employees, shareholders, partners, and other stakeholders. Here are four wins that Social can deliver:

 Accelerate innovation of products and services. Opportunities exist for companies to engage with customers via social media to test concepts, elicit feedback, and validate ideas through “collaborative influence.” This is a powerful way to capture insights that can improve existing products or services and identify needs that can expand business opportunities. This move to Social, or “collaborative influence,” requires a shift in sales, marketing, and development philoso­phy for most companies.

Strengthen customer loyalty. Social business provides the opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty. For example, organizations that use online communities now have an opportunity to open a dialogue at any time in the customer lifecycle—not just at the point of sale—to find out what custom­ers like and don’t like about a product or service. Nothing is more dangerous to an organization’s brand or product than dissatisfied customers who, today, can activate a global voice. Yet many organi­zations may not be aware of customer issues until they have incurred signifi­cant reputational damage or a decline in revenue

 Improve strategic alignment and increase employee productivity. Research conducted by The Society for New Communications Research ( has found that many professionals are collaborating more outside their organizations than within, a result of social media. This is a signifi­cant issue for many companies and ex­ecutives, who may not fully understand or appreciate the value derived through adoption of social-media tools and approaches for internal use.

 Attract and retain star staff. The future of business lies in the hands of today’s millennial generation. The expectation of pervasive digital connections means they have a distinct outlook on collaboration, and enter­prises must accommodate this desire to attract and retain them.

As the political revolutions that leverage Social show us, Social is powerful. Social gains power when online discussions lead to “engagement” in the street. Infosys and other leading organizations are discovering the same dynamic in the business environment. Social leads to and accelerates activities that are taking place offline in the real world. It can be the glue between your company and its customers, a way of breaking through barriers to allow alignment to happen, and an accelerator for transformation throughout the organization.

Reprinted from Balanced Scorecard Report, volume 14, number 1,  Harvard Business Publishing


The post Social Media for Strategy-Focused Organizations appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 19 Jun 2014 21:17:31 +0000
Secrets of Great Communities And Community Managers
Secrets of Great Communities And Community Managers


Last week I delivered a presentation “Secrets of Great Communities and Community Mangers” at the KAConnect conference.  It was a wonderful, inspiring event for knowledge management professionals in the Architecture & Engineering (an $11B industry). Given the focus of their practice, this industry is fueled by a unique balance of structure and creativity.  The gauntlet had been dropped on helping make sense of the complexities of employing  professional collaboration to create buildings, cities and parks.  While there are many things to be said about this topic, here are 5 important performance themes:

Secret #1:  Great online communities are strategic.

Superior online communities, those that achieve breakthrough results for their organizations, all share a common trait.  Namely, they are treated as strategic initiatives and not campaigns, marketing programs, or skunk works efforts.  Great communities are holistic, integrated initiatives that support an important business need, accelerate a business process, or make something possible that couldn’t be done without an online collaborative environment.

Great community managers are the orchestrators of the strategies that are fueled by the lines of business. They reach out to business leaders to learn what they need and shape the responses by connecting the dots and maintain the tenor of collaboration.

Secret #2:  Great online communities develop a 90 day plan, every 90 days. 

The real work begins the day you launch the online community, and not the day you select or launch a tool. Too many organizations launch their communities without a 90 day plan which includes member acquisition, beta group participation, ongoing content and conversation programs, member outreach plans.  Great communities have a thoughtful program and revise it every few months to accommodate for the cadence of the community and business needs. As online communities have a doubling factor of 6 months, swift growth and participation is a bell-weather for future success.

Great community managers are great planners, know how to shepherd people to share in the initiatives, and are able to display urgent patience. Urgent patience means having a keen eye on tomorrow while being completely immersed in the needs of the day.

Secret #3: People come for content and stay for community.

Creating meaningful content for an online community is a tricky business. Few online communities survive solely on member discussions. However, if online community management shares too much content of marginal value, members can be overwhelmed and distracted. And of course, too little content usually results in an empty community. So great content is the honeypot for great online communities. And not just any content will do!  It need to be largely derivative of the insights shared in the online community – of the members, about the members, but *not* entirely by the members. Highly curated and representative of the community members’ collective experience is the most sought after community content because it is that which cannot be gotten elsewhere.

Great community managers are great researchers.  They are able to create high quality content from the unstructured and structured data shared in the online community but bring an overlay of sense-making to the ideas so that the output is useful, useable and engaging for all.

Secret #4: When online communities become great, the members take control. 

The greatest fear many organizations have is that people will say bad things online about your company. While online communities (and any online activity) can certainly expose problems with products and services, social responsibility and customer care weaknesses, there are plenty of channels where customers can disparage your company. If you have failed them, it is most likely that customers are already “out there” spreading their message. And if they are delighted (as in most cases for solid organizations) you want to help them share their experiences. Great communities invite in the supporters and detractors and offer them a proverbial cup of tea. By engaging around hot topics, the company has a chance to learn more about key issues and resolve problems before they boil over.  In many cases, the most vocal outlier can become your strongest champion when treated with respect, and the brand supporters appreciate a vetted platform.

Great online community managers know how to share the reins of control, empower others, develop volunteer cadres, and support member-member interactions without losing control. They know how to lead and create balance in human power relationship.

Secret #5: Great online communities demonstrate tangible value over time. 

Great communities adhere to clear metrics and measures that align with the business (see Secret #1). Their value is firmly rooted in a business case that goes well beyond cost-reduction.  The metrics are focused on measuring the right things and not just that which is countable, regardless of whether the metric matters to anyone.

Great online community managers collaborate with business leaders (i.e. PSO, marketing, R&D, customer support) to develop meaningful business measures,  report outcomes (both leading and lagging indicators) on a regular basis, showcase progress against standard practice and serve the executive in communicating online community value in terms that matter to the business.

The net/net

  • Great communities and the people that run them is that they create a balance of super value for both the business and the member,
  • They are maniacally focused on serving member needs and creating outcomes that are bigger and better than the individual,
  • They are a strategic investment that offer unlimited potential for innovation and uplift to any organization that does it right.
  • And a critical success factor is giving the keys to the kingdom to the right, skilled community managers as they are the first line of relationship-building with your customers, partners and key stakeholders.

The post Secrets of Great Communities And Community Managers appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:51:06 +0000
56 Lessons From 20 Years of Online Community Building
56 Lessons From 20 Years of Online Community Building


Ever wonder what it takes to succeed with online community strategy and operations?  Here are 56 lessons learned culled from 20 years of online community building experience.

1.  To succeed at online community building, your organization must be able to give members a reason to convene – online or offline.

2.  Take time to validate your community strategy with prospective members. They will likely help you make important adjustments to the plan.

3.  The sponsoring organization must create a balance of “gives” to members and “gets” from members – no community can be one-sided; every community is collaborative.

4.  Involve stakeholders across lines of business and the organization as a whole when determining what the community must accomplish.

5.  Create a vision statement that is clear, aspirational and achievable.

6.  Share the vision statement within the community so members know what to expect.

7.  Define your audience clearly – who the community intends to serve will dictate how you go about serving them.

8.  Create a 90-day operational plan for community; revise it every 90 days.

9.  The Big Idea: People come for content and stay for community.

10.  Start with an emphasis on institutional content, then plan the shift to organic (user generated) content.

11.  Get to know your industry influencers on and offline.

12.  Engage your industry influencers early and often.

13.  Bring legal into community planning before you launch.

14.  Make sure your organization’s social media policy is in effect and your people are trained on what it really means.

15.  Create clear KPIs for the community and socialize them well.

16.  Be sure community success measures are aligned with (at least!) 1 strategic goal of the organization.

17.  Don’t expect a miracle. Communities take time to grow.

18.  Communities can generate revenue with the right business model in place.

19.  Cost reductions can be a short-term win for a community, but long-term ROI is built on innovations, process improvements, increased customer satisfaction and R&D.

20.  Know your community’s business goals before shopping for a software vendor. Otherwise you could be buying a boat when you need to cross the desert.

21.  Map your business requirements to the software offering’s strengths to enable the right choices.

22.  Don’t expect community software to meet your all your needs straight out of the box.

23.  Know the difference between B2B online community best practices and B2C best practices — they are different. Very different.

24.  Decide early which online community model you will adopt: public, gated or hybrid.

25.  If your organization is not good at customer engagement, an online community won’t solve the problem. In fact, it will make your flaws more visible. To everyone.

26.  Start with a beta group of friendlies before launching your community to the world.

27.  Hire skilled online community managers and treat them with professional respect.

28.  Don’t launch the community until you have an online community manager in place.

29.  If you don’t let staff speak directly to your biggest client in the offline world, don’t let them run the community.

30.  Member acquisition for an online community is not a marketing campaign.

31.  Prospective community members don’t respond well to highly-graphical invitations. They think it is marketing spam.

32.  Prepare a weekly or monthly newsletter – it will drive about 60% of your traffic in the first year.

33.  Outreach often to members to invite them into discussions. They are unlikely to come in on their own at first.

34.  Create an outreach database to log member interactions: who, when, why, what happened?

35.  Use the “three bears” model for member outreach: not too much, nor too little. Just right means testing, watching and responding  to member behavior, tenure and intimacy.

36.  Create an editorial calendar for the community. You need to know where content is coming from and when it is going online.

37.  Make sure you have low risk (e.g. polls), mid risk (comments, document sharing) and high risk (discussions, interviews) features in  the community.

38.  Think through the process impact of features and document workflows to ensure closed-loop cycles.

39.  Members who upload a photo in the profiles area are 7X more likely to post in the future.

40.  Establish a baseline for key measures before the community starts so you know when success happens.

41.  Develop an “inner circle” of select members who will form the core of the community and keep it growing over time.

42.  Ask your members’ opinion about topics that matter. They are smart and insightful and can help you steer the ship.

43.  Integrate the community operations into the lines of business.  Communities can help fuel conference attendance, support new product launches and identify early market trends.

44.  Share your findings strategically. If you spot a trend or a customer dissatisfaction issue brewing, let the business know.

45.  Keep your executives informed on community successes as well as challenges.

46.  Make every-day heroes out of your members – let them tell their story.

47.  Don’t use a community to sell to members.  They will be disappointed and will stop participating.

48.  Measure what matters. Your community will become what you measure — plan accordingly.

49.  Give your online community a “health check” every 6-9 months to ensure you are making progress on your chosen goals.

50.  When discussions are quiet, talk to yourself online. Eventually someone will empathize and join the conversation.

51.  Don’t take down posts you don’t agree with. Instead, engage in the conversation with transparency.

52.  Put a crisis management plan in place as well as a clear triage process. It will save you pain in the long run.

53.  Use the community to do research on topics that matter to members and your company. Everybody wins.

54.  Blend offline and online member engagement whenever possible.

55.  Even the busiest of members will participate if they find value in the community.

56.  Community is the epicenter of customer engagement.  Let your members know they are heard and respected.

So many lessons, so much to learn. Good thing Leader Networks is there to help!


The post 56 Lessons From 20 Years of Online Community Building appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 15:41:29 +0000
From like, to want, to need to love… The Social Consumer Research Study
From like, to want, to need to love… The Social Consumer Research Study

The Social ConsumerA new research study by Vanessa DiMauro and Don Bulmer, Board Members and Fellows of The Society For New Communication Research.

From likes, to wants, to needs, to love…

The super-connectedness of global communications has challenged how companies interact, engage and maintain relevance and trust with their key audiences and the public-at-large.  The reputation of a company is no longer defined by what they “report” or what they “say” they stand for.  Instead, they are increasingly defined by the shared opinions and experience of socially-connected consumers.

With greater access to information and news, heightened awareness of economic and (geo) political matters and – most important — the experiences of other individuals (through online communities and social networks), consumers are more discerning about the companies they choose to do business with and support. We are now in a “so what”, “show me” or “can I trust what you say” business, political and social economy.

Who do you trust?

How do companies break through the incredibly high volume of marketing noise to sustain awareness, relevance and preference with consumers?  What do consumers care about — and respond to most positively through their actions and choices — when it comes to brand engagement?  If consumer loyalty and advocacy are signs of trust, what shapes trust between consumers and a company or brand?  What are the characteristics and motivations of the social consumer? What moves them from likes to wants to needs to love it, gotta have it?

Our view is this: consumer choices are increasingly driven by new factors of influence which are not entirely driven by the image that a company markets or projects , but rather, through the demonstrated impact of its actions and behaviors. This is core to our hypothesis about what motivates the social consumer to act.

About the research

Today, we launch a study with The Society for New Communication Research (SNCR) that seeks to explore the factors that inform, impact and shape trust, loyalty and preferences of the digitally connected consumer. We will test the belief that brands which effectively tap into the emotion and awareness of their values (human/social) are most likely to inspire positive action and loyalty from consumers.

Specifically we will explore the following:

  • Expectations for brands of a digitally engaged consumer
  • Characteristics of the relationship factors between a consumer and a brand
  • Whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) influences consumer behavior
  • Whether a consumer’s preference to do business / affiliate with a brand that (they believe) is making a positive difference, weigh high in establishing trust and loyalty
  • The rewards (e.g. product offers, discounts, CSR) that consumers favor most from brands
  • The impact of certain rewards on a consumer’s digital behavior (e.g. purchase, endorsement, vote).

We seek to offer a model and approach for brands to engage and reward consumer behavior (i.e. taking action/engagement in exchange for “something” they deem of value) to increase higher levels of loyalty and brand preference.

This is open research, with results to be shared publicly. We encourage you to take time to contribute your views through completion of this study and share with your friends and colleagues.   We hope to complete and share findings in mid-summer.

About the authors:

Vanessa DiMauro is the founder and CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building. DiMauro is a popular speaker, researcher and author. With over 20 years of experience in social business leadership positions she has developed award winning social business strategies for some of the largest and most influential companies in the world.

Her work has been covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Vanessa DiMauro sits on several boards including The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR)  whre she is a senior research fellow and co-chair of the research cohort, and Social Media Today. She is former Executive-In-Residence at Babson College’s Olin School of Management, holds both a B.A. and M.A. from Boston College.

Don Bulmer has over 19 years of multi-national experience leading innovative, award-winning marketing and communication programs at top energy, enterprise technology, internet startup, and professional services companies.  He currently leads Shell’s social media and brand innovation efforts.

Don serves as a member of the board of directors at The Churchill Club, an internationally-respected independent business and technology forum located in Silicon Valley, where CEOs, thought leaders, global business executives, and senior political leaders meet to discuss and debate important issues related to innovation, leadership, and economic growth.

Don also serves as a senior fellow and member of the board of directors at The Society for New Communication Research.

About SNCR

The Society for New Communications Research is a global nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education foundation, think tank, and public service organization, dedicated to the advanced study of the latest developments in new and emerging communications tools and technologies such as digital, social media, and mobile, and their effect on business, culture, and society.

SNCR is dedicated to creating a bridge between the academic and theoretical pursuit of these topics and the pragmatic implementation of new media and communications tools and methodologies.

The Society’s Fellows include a leading group of futurists, scholars, business leaders, professional communicators, members of the media and technologists from around the globe—all collaborating together on research initiatives, educational offerings, and the establishment of standards and best practices.

To learn more about SNCR’s Fellows and their work, visit the Fellows Directory.

The post From like, to want, to need to love… The Social Consumer Research Study appeared first on Leader Networks.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 12 May 2014 23:16:00 +0000