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    « General features and benefits of collaborative community solutions | Main | Showcasing Cynthina S. Heinsohn -- Developer extraordinaire »
    Tuesday
    Sep022008

    Why companies should build collaborative online communities

    As a marketing professional, I spend large chunks of my day thinking about my company or client's corporate brand or identity and finding ways to communicate the essence of the brand to customers, prospects, partners and other audiences.  When I do my job well, then the company readily attracts prospects and retains customers.  If I don't, then we lose business opportunities because others won't recognize who we are or what we do.

    One way to successfully communicate is through collaborative online communities.

    Now, if you're a company with a strong consumer focus, the idea of creating online communities is more obvious.  What if you're focus is B2B?  And what if you're organizational focus isn't business at all? 

    Does an online community make sense for you?

    To answer that, ask yourself two questions. 

    1. How important is it to your organization to communicate to your various external audiences (for example, customers and partners) or internal ones (for example, employees or association members)?
    2. How interested are you in fostering a two-way conversation with them?

    If the answer to the first question is "very" and to the second is "yes," then you should consider building an online community.  Today's technology makes it easier than ever to implement both internal and external ones to support the various aspects of your business.

     

    Benefits of collaborative online communities

    As I mentioned above, collaborative communities allow you to spark a two-way conversation with your external and internal communities but they do much more than that.  Benefits include:

    Benefit External community Internal community
         

    Building/increasing company loyalty by strengthening your relationships with your communities.

    Y

    Y

    Building/increasing brand loyalty.

    Y

    Stimulating collective intelligence, leading to increased creativity.

    Y

    Y

    Offering dynamic, up-to-date information.

    Y

    Y

    Offering timely information, including real-time.

    Y

    Y

    Increased corporate visibility

    Y, from an advertising mode

    Y, in terms of internal issues and opportunities.

    Increased corporate pride

    Y

     

    What are the components of a collaborative community solution?

    Collaborative communities offer companies the opportunity to push information out from the company to its audiences and pull information into the company from those same audiences.

    Community solutions are multi-dimensional and most are modular in nature, allowing you to take the ones you want and scale up later if desired.  You can elect to push information out, pull it in or do some combination of the two.  Common options include:

    • Blogs.
    • Wikis (ideal for collaborative documents storage).
    • Knowledge base (ideal for static, "official" documents).
    • Group forums.
    • Personal user profile pages and blogs.

    How are some ways that a company might deploy these modules?  Let's take a look.

    Blogging is a great, informal way of conveying information to your communities. You can use a blog to push out and pull in information.

    Wikis are an excellent means of sharing collaborative documents.  In contrast, a knowledge base is ideal to store more static documents like training manuals, user manuals or product release information for external audiences and HR documents or other company policy docs for internal ones.  Both offer searchability, although a knowledge base usually offers more flexible searches. 

    A knowledge base will push information out to your communities and this is also generally true of a wiki, unless you allow your community to contribute to the the wiki.  In that case, it can pull information in as well.

    The idea behind group forums is they allow your communities to posit questions or seek information.  Answers are supplied from forum moderators within a company and also by members of the group. 

    Personal user profiles and blogs are the equivalent of company-specific Facebooks or MySpace pages. 

    You can set up public or private communities and you can also elect whether to use a hosted service or host your own. 

    In our next article, I'll spend more time discussing the features and benefits of each of these components.


    Summary

    Collaborative communities give your company another channel to reach out to your external and internal communities.  Unlike other channels, though, communities are ideally suited to allow two-way interaction from the company to its various communities and back again.  Communities are dynamic and, if done well, can foster loyalty within your community.

    There are a number of service providers out there offering collaborative community solutions.  We one of them and are happy to talk to any folks that have questions or want to explore the possibility. 

    Just give us a ring or submit an email to us.


    Until next time, over and out.

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