Think Collaboration – Not Social

Social is the “e-“ of the 10s. Surely you remember e-commerce, e-marketing and so on? Today “social” is sprinkled on everything from customer relationship management to content management. Social media and social networking have done much in the consumer space to change the way we think about delivering information. However, social is just one type of collaboration that takes place within groups. Collaboration is putting social technology to work.

How people share information is moving rapidly away from structured content and traditional office documents. That’s not to say structured content is going away, but rather that there are new tools and techniques capable of capturing information exchange. These new collaboration tools are people-centric, where document management systems are focused on documents. Social information can be applied to reveal relevant data. When applied to unstructured content – like dialogue – this becomes immensely valuable, as new information can be collected and analyzed to give a deeper understanding of your community.

Collaboration has a clear plan and objectives, and it is measureable. To have a successful online community, it’s not enough to listen and engage. You have to analyze internal and external conversations and measure their impact. It’s what successful companies do.

Listen Inside and Outside Your Community

Measuring engagement in your own communities is essential. Online communities are a goldmine of customer information. Drilling deep and mining data about your users will help you improve your customer support efficiency and prove the value of your online communities. Internal analysis can provide you with more targeted messaging and an enhanced sales process. For example, identify the influencers for a particular topic, and then use the customers’ own voices to influence other buyers. Rather than hiring actors, use a community to let people tell their own success stories. The results will speak for themselves.

Invaluable consumer insight through online conversation can uncover trends about your brand. Peer-to-peer collaboration in online communities can also be leveraged to spur product innovation, shortening time to market for new products and enhancements.

Monitor communities like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as competitors’ sites, news outlets and virtually any other source to find mentions of topics and keywords that are important to you. Be ready to quickly understand and act on those mentions, correcting inaccuracies or heralding great stories. You can identify shifts in brand popularity and sentiment by knowing who is saying what and where they are engaged.

Leverage User-Generated Content

User-generated content is knowledge created and shared by customers, partners and employees – content that the organization did not necessarily authorize the creation of. This information is invaluable to an organization, especially one that is managing an online community. People trust one another more than they trust the voice of an organization, especially through a nameless marketing slick. If you really want to connect with customers, partners and employees, examine ways that you can enable co-creation of content. When all is said and done, the real value of peer-to-peer collaboration is still unique content.

This content can be collected and developed into a searchable knowledge base – an opportunity that is certainly a great advantage and also improves search engine optimization. Leveraging the power of the masses is a valuable tool for organizations. In essence, user-generated content helps customers help each other. In addition, peer-to-peer assistance increases the level of customer satisfaction.

In online communities, one of the greatest benefits is identifying members of the community, typically from the customer base, that will participate in the community and provide answers to questions without any expectation of compensation. Because most customers know the product better than the employees supporting it, this feedback and insight is immensely valuable.

Understand User Types

The best way to leverage essential peer-to-peer support in a community is to attract a group of influential “super users.” They will answer complicated questions that even the organization cannot. Community members will turn to these users repeatedly, fostering relationships with them.

It is with these influencers that you can create a tipping point. Identifying who your influencers are allows you to target and focus your interactions with that important customer segment.

Social analytics will tell you who is in your community and what they are talking about, helping you to seek out influencers. Drilling deep and mining data about your users will help you improve your customer support efficiency and prove the value of your online community.

It’s critical to identify influencers and track their impact. Your community influencers aren’t only your happy and satisfied customers; they might be some of your most unsatisfied and irate customers. Because people trust their peers more than messaging from any organization, these influencers will help grow your community better than any form of advertising.

While influencers are unquestionably the most valuable people in your community, a combination of different user types is required. The right balance of the user types – influencers, askers, connectors, answerers, originators, commenters and moderators – depends on your community. It is important to understand each user type so that you can leverage their respective strengths and preferences relative to how they can contribute content and interact with others in your online community.

Track, Measure, Manage

The tools and technologies used to run large social communities have well outpaced the analytics tools used to measure those investments. With the rise of social analytics, we will see demand for tools to help businesses clearly articulate the ROI from an engagement metric, not just a page view metric. Engagement gives much more in-depth insight about customers, including the sentiment (positive or negative association) of their comments and how influential they are.

By bridging these concepts, you can begin exploring some of the new analytics used to measure the success of your online community. To better understand your users, consider measuring what percentage of your user base is engaged through comments and ratings, what user profiles are most likely to make purchases, and user experience in terms of positivity or negativity.

Tailor Your Brand through User Engagement Analysis

All online communities have a common theme – the ability for people to interact and share experiences with one another. Analytics can be utilized to categorize customers into demographic and behavioral groups. Additionally, with sentiment or tonality analysis you can quickly get a pulse on the direction of the conversation: positive, negative or neutral.

A critical part of a successful online community is being able to easily identify under-performing areas. Key performance indicators like time-to-solution, answer rates, most viewed documentation pages and most popular downloads provide you with actionable insights to deliver on your business objectives.

Integration with CRM systems is immensely powerful. Access to the information and feedback can be correlated with user information from CRM systems and other customer management tools to provide more information around who is saying what. Once you can segment prospects and leads, the data can be integrated with your system to build campaigns that go from merely targeted to engaging at the right time with the right offering.

Analytics can be used to intelligently match content and people. Utilizing engagement analytics, you know much more about the customer and what similar customers have done previously. You understand who they have interacted with, what questions they asked, the tone or sentiment with which their question was answered and much more. Based on that, you can respond quicker, smarter and even preemptively.

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