posted 26 Apr 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 7
When building a community in your organisation, or for members or customers, donít follow Ďthe crowdí. Work with them instead.
By Lynda Rathbone
I have just finished working on an internet site relaunch for an organisation that has a large membership base in the UK, but which has big plans to expand across Europe in a bid to attract more members.
It, like many other member-driven organisations, is looking for more innovative ways to serve them and, in return, gain an insight into what they really want. As a non-profit, this organisation isnít out to make pots of money, but to gain something far more valuable Ė knowledge.
On its new website, it has a public area and a private-members area. Its members, to date, have not been offered any way of communicating with each other via the site beyond basic contact information, but they would like to do this.
Members would benefit from knowing what each other has to offer in terms of skills and expertise and have said they want to exchange, buy from and/or collaborate with each other. When phase one of the new site was launched, it gave each member the ability to update their entry in the member directory, but the organisation wants to look next into building a member community. The big question is, does it really have to and if so, whatís the best way?
Donít do it if you donít have to In the absence of any communication resources provided by many membership- based organisations, members have instead gone out and formed or joined other sites or built their own sites. This particular organisationís members are already online in other communities and have established web pages of their own, in addition to pages on sites such as MySpace and other social-networking sites.
They are already podcasting and sharing files, too. Many of them have communities of their own as these members are in the performing arts. For this organisation to try to build another community internally for them may be the wrong move. What it should be thinking about is making more of the member information it already has and gathering new information that will help it increase their knowledge about its members and membersí knowledge of each other.
It has one-to-one knowledge of its members, but has yet to increase its ability to share that knowledge across the member base and accommodate member-to-member and organisation-to-multiple member knowledge as they havenít been set up to do so as of yet.
So wouldnít building an online community for members be a bit like putting the cart before the horse in this case? Should the organisation do this at all?
Well, in my opinion, it should first approach this like anyone would approach a knowledge management (KM) initiative internally and put the member at the centre of the knowledge circle. They should build up the member directory so members can enter more data in their profile Ė such as skills, expertise, examples of work, as well as links to external sites and so on. Great benefit would come from simply providing members with a way to search for other members who have skills they need.
Building a community is hard work and requires care and feeding and wonít simply grow itself. Plus, if members are already gung-ho on other communities, why not simply find ways to broker those resources and participate yourself as an organisation? In other words, donít just moderate, participate.
Fit for purpose
Itís easy to get sucked into the thinking that just because itís now cheap, popular and relatively easy to build a community, you should. With all the knowledge available to mine off sites that your users go to externally, itís a good idea to start there and really analyse that behaviour first before embarking on your own community site or podcasts or wikis or whatever it may be that youíre thinking of doing.
I was reading an article recently about the popularity of wikis in both Nokia and the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort. They are hugely successful now as internal tools, started by IT departments experimenting and trying to find ways to facilitate collaboration at low cost and across the employee base with minimum effort. Now theyíve taken off, but they key point is they started out as fit for purpose and not purposefully fitted into a place that wasnít right for them.
So before you get too excited about the fact youíve just got a bit of money approved to go build your new wiki-based social-networking podcasting blog, take a moment to think about whatís already on offer on the web and how you can create a collaborative strategy that brokers those resources alongside your own to really benefit both you and your users.
As always, Iíd love to hear from you on this or any related issue at firstname.lastname@example.org.