Essential Tips for Building a Successful Online Enterprise Community


Here are some key highlights from a brilliant presentation by Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks and SNCR Fellow, at the NewComm Forum last week where she provided excellent insights into how to build highly effective and engaging enterprise communities.

DiMauro provided some valuable best practices for folks building their first enterprise community or those looking for ways to increase engagement in their existing communities. 

A successful enterprise community requires extensive strategic planning and as DiMauro put it “Begin with the end in mind”

  • What does the business need for the community to be successful?
  • What do community members need from the community to get value?

Here are some specific advantages of having an online community:

  • Break down geographical barriers globally
  • Allow for more detailed and sustained conversations
  • Offer interactive access
  • Build trusted relationships

DiMauro presented a simple model to depict what constitutes a community and highlighted the key differences between Consumer (B2C) vs. Enterprise (B2B) communities that are helpful in planning the goals and designing the community:online-community

Consumer communities typically have large numbers and it’s easier to get to a critical mass. The participation in the consumer community is based on personal experience and it’s a low-touch environment with very little hand-holding. The consumer community has interpretive mission (it can be whatever you want it to be) while it’s quick to scale, users have weak ties (once the need has been fulfilled, the member moves on).

  • On the other hand, enterprise community numbers vary with the industry and the members are motivated by a common purpose. In stark contrast to the consumer communities, these tend to be high touch and while, adoption is slow, the members have stronger/ more persistent ties. Enterprise communities usually have a common mission or charter that is visibly embraced by the community.

 When it came to enterprise community design,  DiMauro stressed that,

 “Enterprise communities must be more intuitive and simplified than consumer communities”

While this may seem counter-intuitive to those who want to add as many Web 2.0 bells and whistles as possible, DiMauro cautioned against making any assumptions about usage of Web 2.0 tools as even the “basic” Web 2.0 tools like RSS feeds may not be well understood. The key takeaway here was that the underlying technology is not important. What is important is the need that’s being solved.

She also went on to explain that consumers are more agile users and they are also more tolerant than the enterprise user. The features of the community should be tailored to meet needs of the community and that’s why understanding the community and knowing how the audience uses the information is critical.

Mauro’s take on User Generated Content (UGC) was also very insightful. She said that UGC is the most important content you can offer to an enterprise community because more likely than not, the community itself is the expert. DiMauro stressed the importance of connecting information with a purpose for any enterprise community. The focus should always been on solving a business problem or suppose a business process and each content piece must be useful, usable and engaging.

When it came to internal business processes and roles, DiMauro said,

“New tools onto an old process won’t yield desired results. Enterprise communities require a business process redesign.”

or enterprise communities, relationship between marketing and community needs to be clearly defined and rules of engagement should be well-thought out. It’s essential private community, respect the member’s words and thoughts. It’s not uncommon to mistake the purpose as lead-generation. DiMauro was very eloquent in her description of the difference between marketing and community,

“Marketing brings community to the door, community welcomes them home.”

She said that a great way to kill a community or shut down the conversation and information is to spam the community with direct mail or hard sell messages. Outsourcing community programs – great for large enterprises but that’s a very important channel, outsourcing competitive intelligence and minimizes impact of the conversation.

Last but not the least, DiMauro stressed that the success of any online community is highly dependent on engagement, which is typically lower in enterprise communities than in consumer communities. Critical mass easier to reach in consumer space and as a result the community is much more engaged with high levels of participation. In a professional environments, a great deal of hand-holding and outreach needs to take place.

Especially at the executive level, there’s always the fear of being wrong or looking stupid, That’s why executives need support to engage and need to be shown the value that they are adding to the community. They need to be educated on how to participate. Offer a value proposition that’s so compelling (from the user’s POV) that they must engage to survive professionally.

DiMauro highlighted the strategic role that a community manager plays in an enterprise community. She said that Gartner established this long time back, but it‘s a common best practice that the community manager is the most important role in the enterprise community and the  serves to facilitate linkages between the community and members. She said the participation in a B2B community typically breaks up in to the following ratio:

1 : 9 : 90 – leaders : activists : members

  • 90% won’t do anything
  • 9% will participate actively
  • 1% will emerge as leader

Constituency identification is key in designing the community, said DiMauro. Understanding whom you serve and how you want to serve them provides the driving business rationale for an enterprise community program. This leads to members who engage with each other and the enterprise and sustains their interest.

“Who dictates the where, when, why, and how.”

Until you decide who you want to serve and how, you can’t design a successful community.

Here are the success factors outlined by DiMauro,

  • Solve a business issue or enable a business process improvement – faster or better than in person
  • Be easy and intuitive
  • Involve users in co-creation
  • Have a strong executive sponsor who is willing to lead by example
  • Generate clear revenue or returns
  • Outcomes of use must be linked to key internal functions like marketing, sales, product development
  • Have a well crafted user engagement plan (beyond the 100 days plan)

Common Missteps that businesses make, according to DiMauro:

  1. Business goals don’t match the community features. Intention and outcome need to be aligned for a successful online community.
  2. “Tool talk” before business strategy. Understanding what you want to do with the tool is more important than figuring out which tool to use.
  3. Building Mausoleums instead of Sherpa tents. DiMauro stressed the important of constant learning and developing an evolutionary process to guide the enterprise community to success. She recommends an evolutionary approach – build, learn, evolve, build, learn, evolve, build..
  4. Excessive Exuberance. DiMauro discussed how many people look at the wrong numbers and get carried away because it justifies what they’re doing. It’s important to measure the right metrics.
  5. Lack of business integration. A big mistake many enterprises make is to that they don’t leverage what they’ve learned internally. She recommends mining the raw data for trend analysis and report findings and outcomes to sales/marketing/product development.

Vanessa DiMauro’s presentation is available on the NewComm Forum website.

Case Study: Using Social Media to Drive Business Results in a Large Enterprise

newcomm09-016At the NewComm Forum this week, Zena Weist  and Kevin Cobb, from the Brand Management team at Embarq walked the audience  through a candid and detailed case study on how a large company successfully leveraged social media to solve a critical business problem – negative customer sentiment.

Moderated by Charlotte Ziems, Vice President at Tendo Communications and SNCR fellow, this was a highly interactive session with many questions from an engaged audience. The duo along with their customer service team manager, Linda O’Neill and team member, Joey Harper (on the phone) offered valuable insights for implementing a customer-oriented social media strategy in a large enterprise.

Headquartered in Kansas, Embarq is on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations company and  offers local and long distance home phone service and high-speed Internet services to both residential and business customers in far-flung rural areas.

Problem: When the company spun off from Sprint in 2006, it had inherited a culture that was extremely conservative. Employees were under a “gag order” and weren’t permitted to interact with customers outside of the traditional communications/customer service channels. Symptomatic  of these underlying cultural and legal issues was a high level of negative customer sentiment towards the company.

Their goal was to do a proactive outreach to customers and prospects on social media networks, typically within 24hrs, to resolve their issues, answer their questions, and change their perception of Embarq. They used pilots to test their theories before rolling out full-fledged programs, this helped in minimizing the risks, getting buy in, and ensured that their programs had higher likelihood of success.

Challenges:The Embarq team faced multiple challenges that they had to overcome in order to break away from their legacy of minimal engagement and reinvent their internal culture as they tried to meet their customer service and (re)branding objectives. Here are the 4 key challenges that social media marketing practitioners in large enterprises across industries are familiar with:

  • Lack of Social Media Awareness
  • Conservative Culture
  • Technology Hurdle

Lack of Social Media Awareness:As in any other large enterprise, the lack of awareness and knowledge about the new media fuels fear of the unknown and Embarq was no different. In order to build awareness and reduce the fear of engagement as well as build internal support for their social media strategy, the tteam started by listening to customer conversations for over 6months. Going through this intensive listening process helped them to surface the issues and questions that their customers were asking. It also helped demonstrate the value of direct engagement as well as get buy in from the internal stakeholders including the executive management.

The team didn’t use any fancy tools or complex technologies for their listening process. They started off with some free tools and started using those to monitor social media conversations, some examples: – Google and Yahoo! Alerts – Google Blog Searches – BlogPulse – – Complaint boards – Technorati Later on, they added more sophisticated monitoring tools, one of them being Radian6. Once the information started trickling in, the internal stakeholders started pushing for a response to the issues they were hearing.

Conservative Culture:The Embarq team started their social media cultural revolution with people within the company who were already participating in social media. They identified the champions across the organization and leveraged their knowledge to set the plan in motion. They identified about 10-15 people out there and invited them in to join their initiative. They made the individual the focus of the activities, which helped break down the traditional silos in the organization. They empowered the customer service team to reach out to the customers directly.

When asked about any friction between the traditional CS channel and the social media outreach efforts, the team explained how they made a clear differentiation between the #800 customer support  team vs. what their team was tasked with. The outreach team was reaching out to customers who chose to vent on a public/social media forum such as Twitter or Face book where the traditional channel didn’t have a presence.

Technology Hurdles: The team started their listening and research by using very manual search and react processes. As they got going, the team started leveraging the existing communication and software tools without requiring many resources. Scaling their process while staying flexible was critical because they were regionally based and were engaging in fairly long-tail conversations. They tested several different pilots to see which ones would work before they rolled it out so that also minimized the investment and increase likelihood of success for the programs that were rolled out. The presenters said it was easier to implement social media outreach because it doesn’t cost that much and mainly required human resources. That’s primarily how they managed to eliminate and avoid any additional IT investment or involvement.


The ROI question invariably comes up in every enterprise social media/web 2.0 discussion and it is a fair question. The team used a two-pronged strategy where they combined short-term wins with long-term strategic initiatives.

embarq-2The team kicked off  their rebranding and education strategy with a with highly viral video contest “48 seconds” designed to create buzz around their high-speed internet service. The team invited video submissions from contestants, which was a hugely successful campaign that also got picked up by the news media.

The presenters emphasized how relevancy in messaging was the key to their success so the campaign wasn\’t just clever but also highlighted the benefits of using their offering.

They followed up on their short-term campaign by rolling out series of short but highly effective “how-to” videosthat addressed their top 10 customer service issues. This is where the team superbly demonstrates the value of listening to the customers by basing topics on information gathered from their online outreach and call center data. Not surprising, these videos became highly popular with their customer base and also demonstrated that the company was being responsive to their customer\’s needs.

They not only managed to meet their education objectives but also their branding objective of creating a presence in an online community where customer and prospects are already engaged. Over an  one-year period, the team saw a 81% success rate (Dec 07 to Mar 09) on their social media outreach initiatives. They also found significant increase in the number of customers self-correcting their negative posts and subsequent increase in the number of customers likely to recommend their service.

Most importantly, they were able to connect their social media outreach efforts directly to orders placed. Overall, this was an excellent case study in how social media can be effectively used to drive business results and chockfull of insights for social media practitioners in other larger enterprises.

This was an outstanding example of innovation by breaking down organization silos and leveraging social media to drive business outcomes. Couple of things that stood out for me in this case study were: Listening played an important role in formulating the strategy, trials and pilots were used extensively, and clear definition of objectives, and tied it all back to the bottom line.

I want to close this post with an insightful quote from the presenters that highlights their practical, yet thoughtful approach to social media:

 “It (social media outreach) doesn’t stop the telephones but it gives you an opportunity to resolve the situation and change their experience.”

You can look at the detailed slides from the Embarq presentation on the NewComm Forum site.

Measuring Success in Online Communities

Today, SNCR Fellow Connie Bensen & Kellie Parker walked the NewComm Forum audience through a joint presentation on “Measurement & Metrics for a Successful Community“. Connie is the Community Strategist for Techrigy SM2, a social media monitoring tool while, Kellie Parker is Community Manager at Sega of America.

Benson and Parker covered two critical measurement topics for any company:

  • How are you measuring the interaction & growth of your community?
  • What metrics are important?

They outlined 5 easy steps used to measure the progress and health of a community:

  • Identify business objectives
  • Decide on priorities
  • Chose what to measure and measurement tools
    • Quantitative
    • Qualitative
  • Define benchmark
  • Identify trends & report it

Here are some examples of business objectives:

  • Generate more word of mouth
  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Bring outside ideas into organization
  • Increase product/brand awareness
  • Improve new product success rations
  • Improve PR effectiveness
  • Reduce Customer acquistion costs
  • Reduce customer support
  • Reduce market research costs
  • Reduce product development costs

Here’s a sentiment that was echoed by other speakers as well – “Identify your goals and work your way to metrics from your goals”.

Start with:

  • Target percentage of desired increase
    • Start with an estimate, if you don’t have available benchmarks
  • Use benchmarks to set goals
  • Translate that information to business needs

The presenters suggest prioritization of business objectives in order of importance. For Benson, increasing the product awareness & WOM (ROI as # of additional sales) was the key objective.

Here’s how to determine what’s important to measure:

– What keeps your boss up at night?
– What are competitive threats?

The presenters suggested choosing one measurement per business objective and here are some suggested metrics:  

– number of visitors & repeat visitors
– number of registered users vs. active
– frequency of posting & number of comments
– type of searches

– Increase in SEO ranking

– Number of subscriptions via email & RSS
– Usage of Features

Some suggested measurement tools:

Web analytics tools:
– Google analytics, stat counter, getclicky
– Proprietary to community

SM monitoring tools:
– google alers, search
Techrigy, radian6, trucast
Social search tools – deliver, who’s talking?, same point, social mention, seprh, one riot

– Survey tool used to measure sentiment about the brand

Qualitative results:

– Testimonials
– Marketing use
– Product development & use cases
– Identify brand advocates
– Appreciation for customer service

Quantitative results:
– Use to calculate progress (% increase)

Last but not the least, reporting your results:

Benson provided a sample template that she uses for monthly reporting:

– Ongoing definition of objectives
– Interaction
– Qualitative quotes
– Recommendations
–  Benchmarks based on previous report
– Web analytics (unless someone else is tracking them)
– Social web analytics

Here’s what included in the reports:

– Note & report customer requests needing immediate assistance
– Identify topics requiring FAQs or blog posts

– Marketing/pr
– Feedback on connection of messaging
– Identify sites for potential partnerships
– Report on time periods of high traffic
– Feedback on brand sentiment

– Overview of brand sentiment & competitive analysis
– Offer insight/ suggestions on future trends & key industry topics

The presenter mentioned overlap with other functions and to leverage what are other departments are already measuring. Collaboration with other departments will ensure that there’s no reinventing of the wheel.