By Rachel Happe, Co-founder of The Community Roundtable
Richard Millington recently wrote an excellent blog post titled A Hard Dose Of Data-Driven Reality About Online Communities, showing a decline in the conversation about online communities and partially attributes it to the rise of social media (it’s worth noting that the data comes from Google search terms, so it’s not actual community activity or use). His conclusion is that being past the hype cycle is a good thing because we can get down to the real work of community building. In particular we loved the quote he included from Clay Shirky, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”
We agree with a big part of Rich’s argument – online communities have lost attention to the social media conversation in recent years and losing that hyper focus is a good thing because it does allow us to do real, meaningful work. However, our work with 100+ companies here at The Community Roundtable adds more color to the story. They are using community strategies for a wide range of business purposes, giving us a perspective into trends below the sight-line of most of the market. In addition, our advisory work suggests this story is far from over. Some of our clients are just beginning to sort out how social media and communities play well together and that they need both to align their business with their markets and become agile. We are also seeing the rapid rise of internal communities for employees, which also need community managers to be successful – often times even more so than external communities.
Together, internal and external communities – integrated with social channels – are changing the way organizations operate and improving long standing inconsistencies in their customer experience. It is slow, messy and often painful work because it involves a lot of change in behaviors and processes. It’s not sexy and the markers of progress are small and steady vs. a big bang that attracts market attention. The recent conversation by Chris Heuer and Stowe Boyd about whether ‘social business’ is dead is indicative of this. To the market, it looks like social business may not be successful. Working with clients, we can say companies are making real progress, but few have the big bang analysis to prove it yet, mostly because it’s a multi-year process for which the market will have to wait to see results. However, case studies from early adopters like the one we did of UBM are coming out. So is it dead? Or is it in that messy, confused and painful stage?
Going back to Rich’s analysis, we think the market will come back around to talking about communities as organizations learn about what social channels can and can’t do for their conversations with clients. What our clients are finding is social channels may be the first point of contact because it is in the customers preferred environment, but when the conversation becomes more complicated than a simple question, communities are a better option because they enable more control over the customer experience, content management, and the ability to connect customers to other relevant customers and subject matter experts. In short, they are better at scaling value than social channels because they can frame the scope of the conversation, but allow the organizations to step out of the middle of every specific conversation. Additionally community content can be more easily integrated into internal operational systems that truly integrate the voice of the customer into the heart of the company.
So yes, the end of the hype cycle is a great thing, but we believe there’s a lot more of the story still to be written.
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