The Secrets of Success for Online Communities

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 08.10.08

infinity1.jpgLast week’s post, “Is Your Online Community Delivering Value For Your Organization?” drew quite a bit of email traffic. The overwhelming response was this: Creating online communities can be a game-changing strategy for a learning & development function - if you are clear about your business objective and how to engage and reward participation.

The graphic above is taken from the AFOL community, or Adult Fans of Lego. These adult fans make up 10% of Lego’s billion-dollar business. My advice: Chief Learning Officers should take a page from Chief Marketing Officers. Learn what drives success in these communities and as noted in the excellent book, Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, begin your journey to build a community by asking yourself key questions such as:

  1. What business objectives are you trying to achieve?
  2. What pain points/passions/areas of general interest do your community members need help with or want to give assistance to?
  3. How will you support and maintain the community? Communities are cheap to launch but to be effective they must be constantly supported with new content, new features and new designs.
  4. How will you measure success? Think beyond just the number of visitors and number of page views to business metrics such as increases in the engagement of employees and customers and decreases in costs.
  5. What are the incentives? Community members need to be rewarded for their participation.

Now how do these lessons apply to an internal community that a learning & development department may launch? There is actually quite a bit of overlap - one can ask the same questions, the answers will differ for an internal community versus an external community, but the overall secrets to success are the same, namely:

  • Start with a business objective
  • Understand the passion of your potential community members
  • Build into your budget the resources to support and maintain the community (think beyond technology resources to people and training resources)
  • Set metrics early on to measure your success in business terms
  • Be creative about providing rewards and incentives for participation - remember your employees contribute to a community in addition to the demands of their “day job”

What other “secrets of success” do you have in running and managing online communities of practice? Share them by either posting a comment or sending me an email.

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