Why Building Communities Should Become the Next Big Government Trend (And How to Do it Right)
I believe every single website — and every government website or Intranet — can benefit from one thing today: a stronger community both for employees and the people they serve outside their organization.
Besides the obvious reasons of collaboration or digital native expectations, it really boils down to the simple concept of what I’ll call brand control.
Managing a community online brings you more awareness and control over your organization’s reputation, content, people, and ultimately, your user’s end-to-end experiences with your brand. Their customer experience will become their community experience. They will discover, ask questions, and form opinions on products and services based on the community experience.
Being able to join the conversation people are already having about your organization, both online and offline, is what will bring your organization closer to those you serve.
Herein lies a very powerful aspect: analytics. Community conversations hold a wealth of knowledge on what is good, bad, or missing altogether. They provides trending topics. They showcases experts. All of this powerful information is presented to both the community as well as the back office.
But tracking so many people’s thoughts and feedback can feel impossible.
Take Marriott International. Their hotels are currently evaluated on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google+. But Marriott can’t curate information or run deep analytics that will actually give them insights into user behavior. And if they wanted to answer questions and address issues directly, they would be limited by what the third-party site would let them access. Because of this “content silo”, it’s that much harder to create the ultimate experience for their users.
In response, we see brands like Sony and Silicon Labs offer up community experiences, designed to give a better experience specifically for their people.
As an active and passionate contributor in both the private and public sectors, I love watching how commercial and government evolve with technology. In this case, the most forward-thinking commercial brands are moving toward empowering their customers to help each other to build strong digital communities and cut the costs on support.
I hope that government agencies will soon begin to invest in offering the same benefit to their communities. This will be a game changer for talent management, specifically for onboarding.
This trend is picking up. But like most shiny and new marketing tactics, it faces two types of hurdles: quick acceptance or quick rejection.
- It might be mimicked too quickly without enough thought on how to tailor the idea for a particular group or organization. “Community builders” or experts may be hired to start rallying people together quickly, before nailing down the real reason this community should be together in the first place. To address this, incorporate ideation as a planning tool. Let the demand signal of the community influence how your solution evolves from initial rollout to successive iterations.
- It might be rejected too quickly. All too often, ultra-conservatism leads us to put suspenders on our underwear. We’re afraid of trying something new. To address this, get stakeholders together and establish the value for each of them. Also share that there are industry giants at the tip of the spear. Since community experiences involve moving a conversation that was taking place in other mediums, eg., email, phone, external sites, in-person, etc., it takes time for these communities to form and provide value.
First, it’s important to align on the community’s purpose. This will be like the mission statement of an organization.
What do I mean by “community”?
A community is a group of people who are connected through something specific they have in common. They meet to help each other do that specific thing better, ultimately benefiting their lives in some way. I would like to encourage that behavior, online.
What are people looking for in a community?
To learn, share, and make their lives better.
For the community organizer, it starts with understanding your group’s story, what they care about, their problems today, and why they are coming to you. Once you know this information, it’ll be easier to encourage helpful conversation and be incrementally better in fulfilling your mission.
The content strategy will be different for every brand. But whatever gets shared — by you or others — needs to clearly and consistently help the people of the community make better decisions around topics relevant to what your organization offers.
The basic principles for building a beneficial community are:
- Make it all about knowledge-sharing. Encourage the group to share what they know and become a real source of information.It’s important to provide an open forum to encourage dialogue where people can learn and question and share the best and latest information. Be sure to make it technically easy for people to post content and get rewarded for sharing even more. Push the analytics back through to the users: trending graphs, gamification (although I hate the word), and badging can work together to orient people to content as well as their peer network.
- Welcome all feedback, positive or negative, about your brand. Trust needs to be built on both sides. It’s the organization’s responsibility to open the door so people feel safe and empowered to share their honest thoughts.By allowing constructive feedback or even what may feel like “fake news,” you can manage responses more openly, control the message by directly speaking with the end-users, and humanize your brand. Because frankly, if someone can’t speak their minds freely, they’ll quickly determine this community isn’t worth their time and go somewhere else. True crowd-sourcing and crowd-leveling needs to be embraced.
Why does building communities naturally apply to government?
I believe communities can and will evolve to become the next-generation method for help desks. In fact, I believe it will ultimately transform the way in which the world learns new information and consumes news in general.
Let’s face it, the pace of change is going to mandate a new way of learning. We can’t look to a small group of experts to create all of the formal content that needs to be distributed. We need to embrace the democratization of learning. Today, organizations — often really an oligarchy within organizations — spend a lot of time and money vetting and analyzing content to publish. All the while, a digital platform that encourages conversation, exchange of knowledge, and experience can manifest a more diverse, robust piece of content that has been vetted and analyzed by the increasingly passionate community.
It’s time we take advantage of the technology we have in front of us. Right now, it’s easier than ever for us to connect with one another — on so many channels that we refer to the “omni-channel.” And, it’s easier than ever to share information at exponentially faster speeds. This combination is powerful.
A knowledge-sharing approach can help lean teams with expensive, labor-intensive tasks such as content creation and curation, ideation, market research, and quality assurance management.
Knowledge sharing is a savvy decision because it saves time. But it’s also the right decision because it encourages bringing knowledge together in one place.
It’s a common problem to not be able to produce enough content fast enough — especially based on what your community is hungry for. So why not let everyone contribute while you can monitor and respond? Everyone can be free to share their own learnings and teach each other.
Conversations about your brand are already happening around you. New ideas have sparked — and gone out. Or the wrong information was shared again and again. It’s time to observe what’s being shared, join the conversation, and open the floor for collaboration.
Believe me: If they don’t find a way to do this with you, they will find more and more ways to do it without you, behind your back. And keeping track of it all to ensure you’re part of the conversation will only get more and more difficult.
The best way to build a community is to become the place that provides the best, most complete, and helpful information for your people. This can be applied internally or externally in your organization. Learn more about AEM Communities.
Special thanks to Jeffrey Young for his contributions to this article.