Something I have come to understand because of this new community wave is that employee and customer communities have existed in our corporate spheres for a long time, even before the modern day internet. Anyone remember CompuServe or the old dial-up bulletin boards? (If you can’t remember, rent the movie “WarGames” starring Matthew Broderick).
The pre-internet crowd used dial-up communities for all the things that we now do with MySpace, Facebook and Second Life (and the water cooler has existed even longer than dial-up bulletin boards). Before you decide to launch your own community, analyze existing communities. Find out where your customers and employees hang out in both the virtual and real world. Listen to them there. Determine why they are gathering and what problem(s) they are trying to solve by doing so. etermine what your company’s roles have been and should be. You may find that it may be better to join an existing community (online or not) as a guest rather than to force your community concept on an established group.
By the way, I would recommend either dedicating an existing Generation X, Y, Z or V (for Virtual) employee or hiring one who is already deep in social networking to help in this process. They are already tuned-in to that world and will be much more efficient at finding your existing community. Better yet, find someone who is already an engaged customer advocate and team them up with your cyber-genius to tackle this endeavor.
Do you have the willingness to be completely forthcoming? One of the evolutions in this new phase of the Internet is that users and the virtual communities they inhabit are increasingly requiring a bi-directional relationship as mandatory for citizenship/membership. Relationship is no longer just two entities interacting. A Web 2.0 relationship now implies openness, long-term commitment, genuineness, and a willingness to put the concerns of the other party above (or at least equal to) your own. One litmus test as to your readiness is to ask yourself, “How would our company feel if an irate customer posted a less than flattering story about your company on a public or your own community?”
If you are confident that your company would honestly be grateful for the opportunity to publicly admit culpability, apologize to the community, and work with the citizens toward a mutually beneficial solution, then you are ready to dive into this new world.
So before you blog, chat, write on someone’s wall, or otherwise step out into the bright sunlight of communities, please take the time to “consider” these things. The good news is that great benefits await those who do.
Terence Fugazzi is the VP of Demand Marketing at Allegiance (http://www.allegiance.com). His company provides Customer Engagement Software that helps organizations grow and increase profitability through improved customer loyalty and engagement.