Online communities: How can we develop their value?
Employee, customer or expert communities are a real asset for companies. However, for them to succeed, the organization must involve itself—to a certain extent. How can we create the conditions for such a dynamic?
In a networked society, business organizations have understood well how relying on communities can benefit them. Whether comprising employees, customers or partners, these communities facilitate the exchange of information, the blending of different expertises and the generation of ideas—a determining competitive advantage to innovate and react with agility. For example, Ubisoft staff maintain regular exchanges inside communities structured by job type. Designers, developers, etc. can thus assist each other and share their knowledge about their ongoing projects, well beyond the circle of their immediate colleagues. At Schneider Electric, internal communities have been built around leading-edge expertise, like fluid dynamics, or around market segments that require cross-functional competencies, such as healthcare solutions. Communities can also extend beyond the organization boundaries. They then facilitate dialogue and experimentation with customers or other members of the ecosystem: researchers, suppliers, or even competitors. Video game companies, for example, have totally integrated this modus operandi: their fan communities help them debug and evolve the successive versions of their products.
Yet, companies face a paradox when running these communities. Indeed, participants in these communities greatly care about their autonomy. They expect to share freely, according to the needs and desires of everyone. The richness of the exchanges and the value creation stem from the motivation that a voluntary involvement implies. A tight steering from the organization would break this dynamic. However, leaving these communities completely to their own devices is not a solution. We then realize that too often the initiatives wander in all types of directions, before losing momentum because of the lack of tangible results for the participants.
Business organizations that succeed in developing thriving communities over the long run are neither directive nor absent. Experience shows that they “cultivate” these groups with a lot of tact. They focus on creating the conditions for their blossoming without giving in to the temptation of managing them. How can we reach this happy medium?
In this synopsis:
– Launching an online community: a balance that needs managing
– Maintaining the dynamic of your online communities
– Four questions to ask yourself before launching a community
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