There is an adage in business that you can have any two out of three deliverables when contracting for a product or service: Quality, Price or Speed—but you only get two. No matter how you parse what you need, you will most likely not be happy with the result. Want it fast and cheap? Ok, but quality suffers. Would you like it fast and top quality? Be prepared to pay for it. You get the idea; you’ll get what you pay for. You can make a similar analogy for engagement. Excellent content, stimulating conversation and a vibrant community are all required for success. Yet too often, brands seem to miss one of the pillars, thereby truncating their ability to optimize both mission and ROI.

We all bemoan the silos that can conspire to make achieving success elusive. The product areas or marketing control the content; the digital team runs the online community and the conversation. Who really can control that since it happens all across the cloud and both online and off? Well, there is a way to make all three perform in sync, and that requires new ways of utilizing your resources.

The first—and often most difficult—step is to create an organizational culture that embraces change and cross-sharing of responsibilities for digital and social communication. A word of advice: don’t try to change the world all at once. Phase it in. Pilot a program with others in the organization willing to collaborate, show some early results and leverage that ‘quick win’ to gain further buy-in. It may seem tough at times, but stick with it. By identifying areas throughout the organization that can create, share and vet content, you will see an increase in cooperation and idea-sharing.

The second step is to listen and understand the motivations of your target audience. What makes them tick? What are the topics and issues of greatest concern? Listen, listen, listen and invite their feedback—it will pay huge dividends to your program. There are many great tools available, but like any technology, they require the human touch and interpretation. Don’t rely solely on automated systems.

Third, make sure your online community complies with all best practices. Have a trained community manager in place that can access internal SMEs to participate in discussions, answer questions that other community members can’t and keep the lines of communication open. It is important to understand that not all community members act alike and will not respond equally to challenges, requests to share or create content or other engagement asks. Treating community members as they would like to be involved, not to simply further your goals, is a tightrope act, but it will pay huge dividends.

Just like the adage that you can have two out of three outcomes in the choice of Quality, Price or Speed, the success of your social/digital initiatives needs to balance all three elements of conversation, content and community. If you are just starting out on this process remember another adage—learn to crawl and walk before you run.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.