Thousands of professionals collaborate to solve workplace challenges each and every day in online communities such as focus.com, stackoverflow.com, and toolbox.com. While working at Toolbox.com I had the pleasure of seeing this collaboration in addition to working with many multi-national / global organizations interested in engaging with the community.
In 2011 we experienced a clear shift in the appetite for social driven campaigns over traditional online campaigns as social strategies emerge, take hold and in some cases mature within organizations.
Below is a list of 10 reasons engaging in a professional community should be core to a social strategy:
- Shortlists are formed and buying decisions can be made in a community. The 2011 Toolbox.com IT Purchasing survey found >62% of decision makers cited they use best practice communities to support purchasing decisions – see A future for lead generation.
- Conversation about products and services take place daily – it was not unusual for a company’s prospects, customers and employees to already be engaged in conversation – yet without social monitoring a company often has no centralized knowledge or visibility of this effort.
- Scalable social efforts. Altimeter Group stated this well with the research on 1:1 dialog citing as a model it is not scalable in social media. Leveraging the community (brand advocates, employees, customers) and providing visibility to a centralized social model is a good path to scale.
- Communities are a business priority for many engaging in social programs. According to Altimeter research published in December 2010, ‘community platforms’ are a top social business priority for 2011.
- Identification of brand advocates and influencers. The 2011 Toolbox.com/PJA Social Media Index survey found that >70% of the members who actively participate in the Toolbox.com community do so to help others. Communities provide a great vehicle to identify brand advocates, potential employees and influencers.
- Communities are strong and resilient. Social networks continue to struggle to spawn successful communities. Communities are often formed and held together by an interest in the topic, where a social network is formed and held together by a past, present or future relationship. Whilst they are not mutually exclusive – a social network can form within a community and vice versa for example – Social networks have so far failed to build successful community with valuable dialogue. Communities are very much about social discovery – a topic which is heating up right now. Are social networks the correct or best place to offer thought leadership and support of your products and services? What is the true ROI – are you investing ‘scarce’ resources in the right place? See ‘Can a social network form a successful community?‘
- Communities provide an opportunity to engage (and develop lasting relationships) in every stage of the customer cycle from sales pipeline through to customer support. At Toolbox.com we regularly shared examples internally where a member has been helped by a company and as a result the company has won new or repeat business. Answering questions, addressing concerns or providing thought leadership provides another opportunity to offer an excellence customer experience – whether it is answered by an employee or a brand advocate (as is often the case in a community).
- Participating in an established Community removes the overhead of technology. It is very much a service model. Let Toolbox worry about the cost, audience, moderation (to prevent spam and misuse etc.), the platform. Remove the overhead and focus on your prospects and customers. On a recent customer call, a fortune 100 company said, “I’ve stopped counting the number of failed communities we’ve been involved in over the last 5 years.”
- Communities provide an excellent source of feedback (product innovation, customer feedback) and reusable content. Both these items which were traditionally costly to source can now be obtained for little to no cost by engagement.
- Professional communities are made up of professionals. In the majority of cases professionals are employees of companies. As companies look to leverage / market talented employees, and integrate social engagement into workflows, its often a lot easier than you would think given many employees are already participating.
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