Phases of community development

A mature community is one that is an integral part of the workflow of much of the organization. This can’t be realistically expected until at least 18 months after launch argues Peter Furtado of simplysucceed.

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Even if your launch campaign takes off, you uncover huge latent enthusiasm in the initial weeks and achieve a huge engagement on your new platform, you can’t assume you will immediately have achieved sustainability.

Many newly-launched communities have experienced initial enthusiasm, soon followed by a dip when many staff lose interest or find the platform irrelevant to their needs. It then becomes another silo, this time occupied by the early adopters and evangelists.

The challenge at this point is to get the mass of pragmatists to realize the platform will help them with their work.

Once these people have the habit of using the platform, there will still be a rump of refuseniks who can be addressed separately.

Getting the pragmatists – the people who don’t believe that social media will change the world, but just want to get over the obstacles in doing their work efficiently and well – onto the platform is partly a question of getting them into the habit of visiting the site each morning; partly a question of making sure they can see how it is helping others doing their work better; and partly a question of being expected to use it by their team leader.

A key indicator of a young but animating, and healthy, community is the number of teams that are beginning to use it, and the emergence of a buzz as team leaders spread the news of the ways in which they have made the platform work for them.

But be careful to set your own expectations (and those of others you talk to): this is unlikely to happen for the first six months or so, and will need a steady push on your part to ensure it does occur.

The next key phase in getting the community established is around new joiners.

As new people join the business and are expected by HR to use it to support their induction from Day 1 (or even before), it will become a natural and unquestioned part of their daily round. This will itself create an unstoppable groundswell of support for the platform – even more so if supported by a badging strategy which sees top contributors and most helpful experts being publicly recognized, thanked (and even rewarded). These badges will have set the seal on a new behavior of asking and answering questions, and sharing knowledge widely through the business. Online metrics will show both engagement and benefit from using the platform.

Getting to this point is not instant, and you should probably assume it will be at least 12 months after launch, assuming that you have the full support of HR from the off.

A mature community is one that is an integral part of the workflow of much of the organization, and for which the benefit of the platform can be demonstrated via business metrics (not just online ones). This can’t be realistically expected until at least 18 months after launch.

At each stage, the platform management team will need to be steadily working to secure the gains already achieved, and to build up to the next phase. The roles of member, content, community and technical management, and business liaison, will all evolve as the community develops, with some of the key functions listed on this chart:

Approached in this manner, the key platform engagement statistics (the much-quoted ambition to hit 60% regular engagement) will have happened because the platform has become part of the DNA of the entire business.

Achieving this will require planning and monitoring.