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  • Kathy Baughman
    09.16.2009

    The Gravity Rule

    When helping brands and organizations think through community strategy, we are asked a handful of questions by almost everyone. They fall into three major categories:

    · Overall approach and program design

    · ROI

    · Resource allocation

    The first two are very specific to the mission, objectives and business drivers of the organization. To some extent, so is the third but I think the ‘gravity” rule applies. What’s that? Pauline Ores, a community whiz at IBM, is fond of saying, “Community is like gravity; it only come in one flavor.” She goes on to make the case that fundamental principles of community design apply equally across every industry. What works in tech also works in consumer products. The customization comes from the content, tools, and engagement strategy that you employ.

    Here are xxx “gravity” principles that apply to community resource allocation.

    · Designate a community strategist: This person is primarily responsible for:

    •  Identifying business goals and aligning them with community and social marketing programs.
    •  Ongoing approach and applying a best practices orientation to the program.
    •  Integrating the program with other marketing and operations campaigns
    •  Identifying key social marketing and community trends and separating fads from useable applications and tools
    • Assuring community profitability: developing cost/benefit models and developing ROI modeling

    · Assign a public community manager. This person has several responsibilities. including:

    • Serving as the human face of the community. This is the go-to person for members when they want to interact with the company; not just each other.
    • Engaging members in a variety of ways. This requires a comfort level with chatting with customers, understanding their concerns and being open about the probability that desired actions will actually occur in a stated time frame. In my experience, many marketers only deal with customers in the abstract. They view them as personas, objects in a video, data points or from behind the mirrored glass of a focus group. They don’t really deal with them day-to-day. The community manager needs to be comfortable in this role and can offer invaluable insights to the organization.
    • Managing key community functions and activities. These include:
    1. Create quarterly engagement approach
    2. Maintain Reputation Management system
    3. Direct other team members
    4. Analyze trends and work with Community Strategist to determine implications and impact
    5. Serve as community advocate for internal company audiences and business units
    6. Field and manage requests from other business units for advocate or program access
    • Being the voice of the brand throughout the social eco-system. The community manager should be visible both inside the branded community location as well as maintain a high profile at other social destinations.
    • Managing customer advocate relations. Care and nurturing of customer advocates is essential for optimizing this strategic business asset.
    • Moderating disputes and community sentiment. It is essential for the community manager to intervene as appropriate when the community is veering into negative territory or one of its members is behaving badly. Often, self policing among community members handles this before formal intervention is needed, but the manager must be aware and know when to act.

    · Give an Engagement Manager responsibility for:

    • Executing engagement strategies including online and offline events
    • Managing ongoing recruitment and advocate on-boarding

    · Appoint a community operations manager. This person could be the same one as the public community manger but has very specific skill sets. H/her is responsibility for:

    • Monitoring community health and wellness. Maintaining an early warning system signals when the community is in distress or thriving. Each call for action; just different ones. This person is part strategist; part analyst.
    • Moderating specific actions and activities. The majority of this can be automated if you put in the right back-end and admin tools. Someone with half a lobe working needs to watch, though.
    • Overseeing everyday QA of the platform. Nothing frustrates visitors and members more than slow nav and broken tools.

    · Allocate dedicated tech genius. Every organization I’ve ever worked with has a long queue for dev work. If your community is going to be successful, you’ll need more than a few forums and standard widgets. If no one inside your company’s IT department knows and understands community beyond what comes out of the shrink wrap, find a go-to outside resource that is platform agnostic, can help you choose the best platform for current and future needs and can help you scale. This person should also bring you new ideas and new social tools that can help you integrate your social presence both inside and outside of your community.

    According to Forrester community expert, Jeremiah Owyang, successful community marketing requires dedicated staffing. In addition, a study by Forum One quantifies the optimal staffers for community is 6.5 FTEs. In our experience, this resource load is often too steep for organizations in the formative stages of community building. ComBlu typically takes a “build, grow, transfer” approach with our clients. We serve as an outsource for much of the heavy lifting during the early stages of community building. As we move past pilot into the growth stage, we begin knowledge transfer so an internal team can eventually take over the running and managing of its own community assets.

    This model with tweaks for individual needs is the gravity rule for community resource allocation.


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