Back to Basics: The Community Strategy Team & Goal Definition

This post is part of an ongoing series about developing an online community strategy. As a reminder, all posts will be tagged #ocb2b

Define Business Goals and Objectives
As I mentioned in my previous post, the recommended first step in developing (or refining) your organization’s online community strategy is to answer the question: What are you, as an organization, trying to accomplish? I acknowledge that this is a simple, but loaded, question. Answering the question of Organization intention is 1/2 of the equation for a successful community strategy. The other half of the equation is understanding community member’s needs and predisposition, which I cover in the next post in the strategy series.

Generally, an executive taps a strategy lead to help develop online community initiatives at an organization. In some cases, the strategy lead actually rises out of the ranks to propose direction to the executives. In both cases, there are two essential roles:

  • Sponsoring Executive: The C-level or SVP that is the champion of community & social media in the C-suite. This is often the CMO, the VP of Marketing, or VP of Support.
  • Strategy Lead: The person charged with directing strategy development from kickoff through launch or annual engagement planning.
  • Said another way: The Sponsoring Exec has the financial and political capital to fund the community initiative, and the Strategy Lead executes research and planning necessary to create the community strategy.

    Next, the Strategy Lead forms a core team to facilitate discussion with the extended stakeholders around the following topics:

    • the intention in engaging the community;
    • the potential value the organization hopes to create for itself and its customers;
    • the risk associated with engaging, including worst case scenarios;
    • the overhead, including headcount, budgets and staff time;
    • the level of readiness to participate, and the required culture change to be successful
    • Identifying and Engaging Internal Stakeholders
      The current definition of stakeholder on wikipedia describes the role of stakeholder as “… a party that affects or can be affected by the actions of the business as a whole.” Given the inclusive nature of many social media and community efforts, an argument could be made that everyone in the company is a stakeholder in the strategy, and in a sense, that is true. In order to actually get work done, you need to trim the list a bit, down to relevant and representative stakeholders that represent key roles and departments affected by, or expected to contribute resources to the community.

      A list of likely internal stakeholders includes:

      • Marketing: Representatives from brand, field and demand generation;
      • Web Team: User experience, analytics, content and technical / development resources;
      • Product: Product management, product marketing;
      • Support: The manager of any existing support forums, knowledgeable, as potentially a representative from technical writing;
      • HR: HR representatives to help develop participating policies and guidelines;
      • Legal: to develop policies and guidelines, as well as terms of use;
      • Process: Kickoff, Work Sessions, Interviews and Synthesis
        So, how does all of this actually come together? I’ve used the following process on the job at my former employer Autodesk, as well as in our services practice here at Forum One. The process starts with a kickoff meeting, continues with individual interviews with key stakeholders, includes follow up working sessions with a core team, and concludes with analysis and synthesis of all of the inputs by the Strategy Lead.

        Kickoff: A meeting is convened by the Strategy Lead, and usually includes the Executive sponsor as well as key internal stakeholders. The group is generally no more than 5-7 people. The kickoff usually lasts 2-3 hours, and covers:

        • Project scope, participant roles, and communication protocols;
        • Review of the current state of online community and social media activities (if any);
        • Discussion of potential goals for the community strategy, related to organization’s mission and annual goals;
        • Potential sources of value from online community engagement, including qualitative and quantitative measurements;
        • Recent customer research and/or feedback;
        • Existing customer community touchpoints & activities (blogs, facebooks groups, etc)
        • Possible Inluencers / Lead users in the community ecosystem (bloggers, Twitter pundits, etc)
        • Discussion of additional stakeholders to involve;
        • Discussion of potential risks;
        • Stakeholder Interviews:
          After the kickoff, interviews with key stakeholders are held to take a deeper dive in to the questions explored in the kickoff meeting, and also to give the stakeholder “airtime” to state requirements, explore ideas and express concerns. The interviews can be done face to face or over the phone, generally last between 30-45 minutes, and are conducted by an interviewer, with backup by a note-taker. Depending on the size of the extended stakeholder pool and the complexity of the project, I generally try to do at least 8 stakeholder interviews. As an augmentation to the in person interviews, I’ve also done an online survey for stakeholders that is based on the interview script. This is a good way to reach a wider audience and get a large set of quantitative and qualitative data.

          Work Sessions:
          In addition to the kickoff, there are generally 1-3 work sessions to review and refine key points from the discussion in the kickoff meeting. These additional working sessions are a great place for brainstorming potential community features and engagements, and to discuss examples of online community and social media from competitors, leaders in the industry, or shiny object examples outside of your industry. The outputs of the work sessions are analyzed in the Synthesis phase.

          The outputs of the kickoff, working sessions and stakeholder interviews are analyzed by the Strategy Lead, and summarized in to a working strategy brief (typically a word doc). The key elements of the brief generally include:

          • A statement of purpose or intention for the online community strategy;
          • Business goals for the online community initiative, ideally showing support of organizational mission and goals, and with initial metrics of success;
          • Key findings from the stakeholder interviews (which will have informed, and ideally support, the two points above)

          • Next Up: Member Needs Analysis

            As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Organization’s goals are half of the equation for a successful community strategy. The other half is obviously assessing the needs and predisposition of the community. In the next post in the series, I will talk about how to find and solicit feedback from potential (or current) community members, and what to do with that information.

            Posted via web from Social Architect

            My SxSWi 2010 Panels – Please Vote (Because My Mom Can’t)

            Please Vote!
            Please Vote!

            It is that time of year again… SxSW Panel Picking!!!

            I have two proposals this year, and I would appreciate your support for either or both.

            Panel #1:

            What community and social media metrics are organizations tracking?

            Bill Johnston, Chief Community Officer for Forum One (that’s me), will present and then lead a discussion about best practices with community & social media metrics and reporting, based on 4 years of ongoing research and data from thousands of participants on the topic. This session will dive deep into the topic of online community and social media metrics and reporting to explore:
            • The role of community strategy in shaping reports
            • Specific data sets that should be included in community and social media reports
            • The limitations of native community and social media platform reporting
            • Report design, distribution and frequency
            • Stakeholder satisfaction with current community and social media reports

            And Panel #2:

            Where the Hell Are We In the Evolution of the Social Web?

            Social media practice and implementation is a dynamic and volatile subject that effects all functions in a company from the obvious (product, support, marketing) to the not so obvious (hr, operations). Hear from 5 seasoned social media practitioners (plus YOU!) about where we are on “the map” of social media adoption and practice, and where we are headed. The mood will be lively, the panel bright eyed and prepared, and the audience smart (and involved).
            Questions Answered:
            1. Where are organizations on the social media adoption curve?
            2. What departments should be involved with online communtiies?
            3. What online community and social media metrics are organizations tracking?
            4. What is the level of satisfaction with community and social media efforts by stakeholders?
            5. Is ROI important?
            6. How is the “static” organization web site being impacted by social?
            7. How will online presences evolve?
            8. What role will employees play in expression of brand online?
            9. What’s on the horizon for online presence?

            Check out this panel of Awesomeness! I’ll be joined by:
            Aaron Strout – Powered
            Jake McKee – Ant’s Eye View
            Shawn Morton – Nationwide
            Sean O’Driscoll – Ant’s Eye View

            Online Communities and Sustainable Development: Supporting “Green” and Beyond

            Online Community Engagement: Recent Research

            Cross-posted from the Online Community Report

            Current Research: Online Community Marketing, Engagement and Growth

            The Online Community Research Network is kicking off our next research project to study online community marketing, member engagement and growth strategies.

            The goal of the study is to get direct feedback from community managers and strategists about:

            • most effective ways to market their communities
            • the definition of community member engagement
            • best practices for fostering member engagement
            • fostering community health and and driving growth

            We have found that the best source of information about community best practice and strategy comes from the collective experience of real-world practitioners.

            If you would like to participate in the study, please send me an email ( with your contact info, your organization, and a link to, or description of the communities you manage or guide.

            Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting – Research Study Posted

            Research is a large part of the activities that I and Forum One Networks engages in. The Online Community Research Network studies and publishes 6 times a year on topics that matter to those responsible for guiding online community and social media activities in their organization.

            The Online Community ROI Models and Reporting research study was initiated in February of 2008. The study was created in order to investigate further into the ROI research that we conducted in the last half of 2007, and to gain insight into specifically how organizations were valuing and reporting on their online communities activities. Further, we wanted to gain insight into who the stakeholders were for ROI metrics, and how the reports were being received.

            I will be blogging highlights of the report over the next few weeks. To obtain a full copy, as well as access to all of our other research, and the professional network of online community pros, please consider joining the Online Community Research Network.

            We received approximately 150 completed surveys. Participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, platform providers and interactive marketing and advertising firms.

            Q16: Which of the following quantitative and qualitative metrics are critical for communication ROI at your organization? (question 16 from the study)
            The top-ranking metrics are: Traffic patterns & statistics; Community member engagement; Unique number of visitors; New Member Registrations; Member Satisfaction; and Product Feedback / R&D ideation.

            The middle-ranking metrics are: Number of referrals to the community by members; WOM generated by community; transition of lurkers into active community members; impact of the community on revenue; organization or brand-mentions on other sites; and ratio of comments per post.

            When looking at the data segmented by type of respondent organization, Traffic patterns, member engagement and unique community visitors scored consistently high.

            Top-ranking Metrics

            Middle-ranking Metrics

            Lower-ranking Metrics


            Q23: What were the 1-2 compelling sources of value from your community or social media efforts that you constantly communicate?

            This question was intended to solicit the “elevator pitch” stats or metrics that community managers and strategists use internally to their organization to evangelize community and social media efforts. Answers ranged from the unique ability of online communities to create value to cost reduction of existing communication channels and corporate functions.

            These were all write in answers. The main themes are as follows, with selected quotes inline below. (full report contains all write in data).

            1. Community helps problem solve faster and more efficiently than Customer Support, saving our company time and money:
            • “Customers are able to get faster response and answers to their problem utilizing the community over contacting Customer Support.”
            • “Knowledge share, and hence problem solving, is more efficient due to the community model.”
            • “Using WebBoard is more efficient then email, telephones or fax. It saves us time and money and increases our ability to service the consumers in our sector.”
            • “The ROI on employee time devoted to the forums far exceeds the returns on the usual support methods.” [Thus saving our organization time and money.]

            2. Availability of information and content for specific areas of interest:
            • “Expanded resources & knowledge for specific areas of interest and centralized resources.”
            • “Niche communities, focused on specific areas of interest. Market leaders on-line and in print with high cross over traffic.”
            • “You won’t find this content anywhere else – written by our members to raise best practice within vendors.”

            3. Increases site traffic / more engaged relationship with us:
            • “The more we invest into community, the more organic traffic we get.”
            • “Our members consume 49% more average page views per session every month than non-members.”
            • “Our community sites get more than 3 times the engagement for solutions, capabilities and use case content than our traditional sites.”
            • “Our forum generates more page views than the site itself.”
            • “Our community traffic by far exceeds traffic to all traditional product areas.”
            • “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”
            • “Our programs on average engage participants for 45 minutes each time they visit.”
            • “Time spent on the site is higher on forums pages than anywhere else on the site, indicating that community members are more engaged.”
            • “Views of photo albums remain the most popular area of the community. Members may not wish to participate in discussions, but they do want to see photos of their events.”
            • “An online discussion moderated by subject matter experts that followed an in-person event with the same moderators achieved the most participation of any attempts to engage our users.”
            • “Our social media content generates more content and discussions off site, increasing our reach.”
            • “The ability of our blogs to drive customer engagement and PR activity.”

            4. Idea Creation / What we learn from members of the community:
            • “Ideas for our books.”
            • “It’s all about what we learn from the developers through our community interactions.”
            • “We will have the opportunity to get first hand feedback on products and ideas for improvements and enhancements.”
            • “We discovered some problem areas in usage and service adoption that caused us to change our materials and strategy.”
            • “We have been able to gather more than a thousand best practices/lessons learned in two years use.”

            5. Lead Generation / Conversion:
            • “Converting contacts, acquaintances, and other informal relationships into donor relationships.”
            • “Converting contacts into activists and issue leaders.”
            • “When we enlist our community members to represent us physically or virtually, our reach and conversion metrics dramatically increase.”

            6. People are saving time / building skills by using our site:
            • “In our Sourcing Professional Forum, procurement professionals are constantly sharing templates and best practices across organizations, bootstrapping their RFP effort, saving time and increasing value.”
            • “People creating and building productive relationships with people that help them improve their practice or do their work better.”
            • “The National Board of Certified Teachers can share best teaching practices with ease never before possible.”
            • “In our premium areas, customers are using online training and certification to manage global implementations, knocking down traditional barriers to skill building in an online, social learning setting.”
            • “Our users have access to every single college coach in the country. This is something no other site offers. Our site is always free to the users and they will never be charged. All of our competitors charge users to use their recruiting website.”
            • “Our community members credit participation in our community with their increased skills in using our products.”

            7. Build customer loyalty:
            • “Anecdotal stories of knowledge sharing, connections made for business purposes and special access created through connecting members.”
            • “Community members are more likely to volunteer their time, services, advice, and financial support than non-members.”
            • “Employees who belong to the community almost never ‘turn over’. They are consistently the best performers out in the stores.”
            • “Offering a community to your clients where they can speak to you and each other significantly increases customer loyalty.”
            • “More connected members spread the word and come back frequently.”
            • “If you want to understand your stakeholders and develop the relationships, you have to think in communities.”
            • “Online dialogue creates a more open environment that deepens trust and team work throughout the organization.”
            • “Our community has one of the highest net promoter scores for our brand of any corporate offering.”
            • “Our members say that they like the site and related services – direct comprehension of value, esp. during account meetings.”
            • “Research shows that customers in a community can have a sense of involvement with the company as long as we make sure they are heard and that involvement can lead to great loyalty.”
            • “Our community members are actively engaged with the brand and don’t hesitate to tell us what they like, and don’t like. They feel a real sense of ownership of the brand.”
            • “Our ability to personally communicate with future users of our product substantially influences their perception of our company.”
            • “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”

            8. Online community is growing our membership base:
            • “In a climate where professional associations, and especially manufacturer associations, have struggled to maintain members, we have consistently and significantly increased in membership year-over-year for the past 5 years. This growth directly coincides with our implementation of online community services. Over 85% of our members find our member-only e-mail discussion groups alone to be worth the price of annual membership.”
            • “95% of our members would recommend membership in our online community to other parents raising children with food allergies.”
            • “Our blog has increased community participation by 80% over the past year.”
            • “We boast membership in 125+ countries.”
            • “We have 8000 registered members across 95% of local authorities.”
            • “We have doubled the size of our community membership in the last 6 months. 2 years ago, only 34% of our Company’s upsells and renewals were also members of the Community. In 2007, 75% of our upsells and renewals were Community members.”
            • “We have the largest active user community in the marketplace.”

            Online Community ROI – Models and Reports 2008 (.pdf)

            Again, to get access to the full report, as well as other research and the professional online community network, please check out the OCRN site.

            Update: 9/29/18 – the OCRN was a membership network for Community Managers than ran from 2007-2010.

            Online Community Unconference – 2/21 in New York City

            We are about a week away from the The Online Community Unconference East. There are a fantastic group of organizations coming, including:

            • Alliance to Save Energy
            • AOL
            • Business Week Digital
            • Changing The Present
            • Consumers Union
            • Cyworld
            • EchoDitto
            • Family Justice
            • Gartner
            • IBM
            • Mercy Corps
            • Patricia Seybold Group
            • Showtime Networks Inc
            • Socialtext
            • Texas Instruments
            • TV Guide Online

            We have about 15 tickets remaining, and we expect to sell out this week. To register, go to

            We are holding a handful of “scholarship” tickets for those that are still in school, or those whose budgets are tight. Please email me directly to inquire about one of these tickets.