It struck me when speaking with community managers at the Online Community Unconference last month that top executives still don’t truly appreciate the value of their communities. They also don’t fully grasp the vitality of the community management role. The reasons for this disconnect are numerous, complex and challenging. But there is hope! Community managers can overcome management resistance with patience, persistence and most importantly: data.
Management is naturally risk averse, especially in more established companies. Executives are measured by numbers and they like to see neat correlations between the initiatives they undertake and real business outcomes. That’s why they (we) are obsessed with numbers like ROI. The numbers help illuminate that they’re doing the right things. When something works they’ll do more of it; when it doesn’t, they usually won’t.
Social media and community development is much like e-business was in the late nineties. Many companies have a community initiative because it is a business imperative, but often the executives aren’t committed. This commitment is essential because making the most of social media is about intent as well as participation. It is not enough to show up and have a presence; companies must engage their communities. There is so much opportunity when they do – this just can’t be missed.
There is very real power in cultivating and engaging with communities. The investment is real and it is not trivial. However, when we compare this cost with traditional media the results are impressive. A company will pay $15,000 to $150,000 for a full-page advertisement to promote a product or to build brand recognition. They may know the readership of the magazine or newspaper, but they’ll never know how many people truly saw the ad nor how many people actually were affected by it. A community manager will cost the company $50,000 to $100,000 per year with salary and burden. Their connection to the customer community is much more clear. While the audience of a magazine is much broader, the members of a community are always more targeted and involved.
Community managers remember this: you’ll need patience, persistence and data.
My advice to community managers is to be patient. Just like when the internet arrived, executives were often slow to come around, but they did come around. This will take time, but there are things you can do to hasten the shift. The process can be frustrating – take a breath, relax and persist.
As with anything, you have to be persistent if you want to see results. Too often, people look to short-term outcomes to measure success. Business is a marathon, not a sprint. Social media and the value of a dedicated, engaged community is not a short-term play. Like a mountain biker on a single-track trail, you must look down the trail, not right in front of you. Keep your eye down the trail and keep pedaling. Remember, be patient and persist.
You are going to need data. And lot’s of it. There is no getting around the fact that executives need data upon which to base their decisions. They may need the numbers to defend the decision when results are slow to come or worse, the initiative fails altogether. It would be nice if you could measure ROI neatly, but we know this is often not possible when measuring the impact and value of a community on a company’s business. To get around this, you need compelling alternatives. For any campaign you run, you can identify meaningful metrics – that will help. You can measure engagement rate and community growth. The executives will use these numbers to correlate back to business results.
We’ll write a follow up on this post to take a deeper dive on the types of data people are using to measure the effectiveness and value of their online communities. This follow up will include real world results from some of our customers and illustrate how you can use your numbers to make the case for your community.
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