When it comes to community, more often than not, executives have no idea what it means or how it can be leveraged to save costs and increase brand loyalty. As it turns out, all the benefits that having a community can bring to an organization align with the goals and priorities of most executives.The problem is, trying to sell the idea of an online community forum by connecting it with company priorities and goals can be difficult, as the benefits of a community can be hard to quantify. So, how can you show that community is beneficial? How can you sell the idea or give community a proper defence to skeptical executives?
Well, the fact is that executives need to care because they should care about community.
Community offers immense value through not only impacting the bottom line but also in creating experiences that leave a positive impression on customers. Ultimately, happy customers are customers that stay, and brands who don’t align their digital strategy with customer demands are at risk of losing business to competitors that deliver.
But how important is it that executives care about community, and how their support impact the success or failure of a communities' planning process, rollout and overall results?
To discuss these issues, we invite two experts to give their two-cents on this topic. Together, they provide us with some insight, not only from the viewpoint of those working in the community space, but also from the viewpoint of an executive.
Our first expert is the VP of Strategy at Leader Networks, Adam Zawel. Leader Networks is a research and consulting firm that helps companies use digital and social technologies to gain competitive advantages. Adam has worked as a community builder and strategist most of his career and now works to help others improve their customer experience, increase revenue and drive employee productivity.
Our second expert is a Partner and Customer Success Strategist at Winning by Design, Emilia D'Anzica. Winning by Design works with companies to design and implement playbooks for marketing, sales, and customer success. After working globally throughout her 20 year career, Emilia has a deep understanding of best practices and building company culture programs and teams.
Defending the Value of a Community
Some communities can be defended using quantifiable KPI’s, such as amount saved through diverting support tickets or even through charging for a membership. For other communities, however, that have less obvious results, defending them to executive leadership can be quite challenging.
The key, as both our experts agree, is to defend community through a story.
In fact, even when there are metrics available, our experts still say that telling a story is the best way to provide a solid defence. As Emilia says, “come up with a compelling story of why you think [community] is relevant to your company and [then follow with] things like how much money you'll save.”
Making a case for community in terms of increasing your revenue from your current customer base is another effective tactic. Emilia continues, “when you are selling to your customer base, statistics show that you’re able to grow...your customer experience and income from 75% to 92% in relation to the first point of sale with that customer.” To this, our experts encourage telling a story about driving additional revenue from your customer base, as they have found it to be extremely effective.
Adam speaks to his own experience in defending community to a CEO, in which he was given about three minutes to do so. Adam’s strategy was to tell a compelling and clear story and then back it with numbers. In this case, the story Adam told was about customer retention.
As Adam recalls his conversation, he says, “so this is a B2B community where customers could be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million dollars and I was able to point to...a specific name of a customer [that is part of the community]...and I quoted [what the customer had told me] - that the community was the reason that he stayed in touch with the company and became a customer again.”
As to our point of backing a story with the numbers, Adam followed with numbers, getting into the number of customers that have also chosen to stay because of the community. Suffice it to say, Adam’s defence worked and his community remained in tact!
Leading with a story and following with numbers is something that we’ve also heard before from other experts that we’ve had the pleasure of speaking to. Take a look at our previous blog, Control your Platform & your Community Destiny, to see what others had to say about this.
Another way to effectively speak to executives is to directly address some of their biggest challenges.
One struggle that a lot of companies are faced with is the need for more in-depth customer stories in order to speak to the different personas that they are selling to. By speaking to something that directly impacts a major struggle and connecting the solution to a community, it is easier to get executive buy-in, even without metrics.
Emilia points out, “I've worked with some large companies and some of their biggest struggles have been ‘we can’t find a way to better understand our customers without picking up the phone and calling them and getting them to share information with us.’ When you have a community, you're able to really look at the voices and then from there, build a story around them.”
Engagement Equals Value
Alright, so you’ve been able to sell the idea of a community through a compelling story backed by numbers, but why should you (or executives) care about engaging the community? Well, only through community engagement are you able to see value.
Engagement is essentially the prerequisite in obtaining value from a community; and when I say value, I mean numbers, since that’s what executives like to see. Speaking to this point, Adam points out, “you need to have engagement. If you don't have engagement, you're not going to have any value. So if people aren't going to the support communities and answering each other's questions, you're not going to get any value.”
The most effective engagement, our experts say, comes from the executives themselves. It is important to know what your customers are looking for in a community, and then communicate these expectations to executive leadership. As Emilia puts it, you need to bring these ideas to executives, “and to be able to say to them, you need to actually be part of this community.” She continues, “it has to come from the top. The role of the executive is critical for the success of a community.”
Equipped with the knowledge that engagement is key to any successful community, and executive engagement has even more of an impact, how can you set yourself up for success? Our experts provide us with some information on how to plan and design your community so that it includes everything you need to succeed.
Plan for Success
Planning is the key to any successful project; if your community isn’t planned appropriately, it’s likely to fail. To plan your community in the right way, you want to start with the customer; with a people-centered design. In our previous blog, The New Role of Community Managers, we also touch on this idea of a people-centered design.
Emilia agrees that designing your community around the customer is the way to set yourself up for success. “It's really important that you understand what your customers care about,” she says, and once you know what they want, implement it. For instance “make your community single sign on [in order] to make it easy for them to get on, put in content that's relevant to them and make it mobile friendly...you want to make it easy for them to access in a way that’s relevant to them.”
Ultimately, planning a successful community (especially ones that executives will actually use) involves asking yourself relevant questions. It’s about:
Understanding what your customers care about
Creating content around what they care about
Making the content easy to access
To this, Emilia adds a bit of advice - “make sure you plan your community creation well, because the execution is just 20% and 80% of it is really planning.”
Further, to plan and build your community, you certainly need the executive “go ahead,” but in order for your community to be successful, it’s essential that you have executive buy-in. As mentioned earlier, executives need to be onboard—central to setting the framework for a successful community is having support from all levels of your organization.
You have to be transparent and have open and honest discussions about the community and the roles that all staff play in making it a success. As Emilia says, “it's critical that you tell the executives, I need every single person in this room to buy in, to actually log in, to actually leverage the community, [and] to actually give me feedback.”
To encourage not only executive buy-in, but also engagement, Emilia suggests to meet with each of them through a one on one meeting. As she puts it, “take the time and the initiative to meet with the executives [to] ensure their buy in.”
Rolling It Out
Again, a successful rollout begins with careful planning, however it always goes back to ensuring that executives support the project and encourage engagement.
The importance of having executive support can’t be overstated. As Emilia says, “there's nothing worse than rolling out a platform at a company or across customers and having executives not engaged. If you don't have executives engaged, the chances of a program launching and being successful diminished tremendously.”
Further, part of rolling out your community will involve gathering information on its performance. Executives will certainly be looking for updates on the success of the community; so it’s up to you to determine how you will measure success.
As previously discussed, it can be difficult to measure success in communities since often times, it is qualitative in nature.
To this, our experts recommend that you have a discussion with your executives and be upfront about how you are going to tackle this issue. Be open and transparent and try different methods of measuring success. “Make sure that [your methods are] agile and iterative,” as Emilia puts it, so that you can look at your results each quarter and perhaps change how you report your success.
If you want to hear more about what Adam and Emilia had to say, you can view the full webinar Why Executives Need to Care About Community on our website.