One of the primary takeaways from the first Tribalization of Business Survey, conducted last year by Deloitte, was the reluctance of some companies to assign full-time resources to online communities. That isn't as big of an issue this year, with 39 percent of respondents indicating more full-time people are being deployed to manage the communities.
Yet many companies are still struggling to figure out how online communities fit into the bigger business picture. They largely fail to view social networks and other online communities holistically, said Ed Moran, Deloitte's director of product innovation, when I interviewed him last week. At most companies, marketing is the primary driver of online communities, while other lines of business are rarely involved. He said:
Your whole enterprise should care, not just marketing. Your product development people should be sitting right there saying, "What does this mean for the next revision of our product?" It'll help you get smart about support. "What are the bugs in our product, or what's not clear about the owners' manual?" You can correct that almost in real time through better integration with your support. Think about HR, even. People who are really engaged with your company's product and services and want to help, wouldn't those be great people to employ some day? So when you go across the enterprise and look at the different functions, every one of them should have a seat at the table.
A few companies are creating "centers of excellence" which onsolidate information gleaned from different online commuinities and distribute this data to the appropriate places within an organization, said Moran. Yet such companies remain in the minority.
Most companies also look at site registration, page views and similar metrics even though such numbers don't reveal much about "lurkers," folks who regularly visit communities but don't participate in ways that are easily monitored. The two top analytics employed by respondents are number of active users (34 percent) and how often people post or comment (32 percent) Said Moran:
Why do people join communities? The answers were the same as last year. They like meeting like-minded people discussing a topic they are passionate about. They like developing a reputation of being knowledgeable. They're not there to get a good price or do a transaction. Companies need to start thinking that way. They are mostly still thinking about transactions and about clicks. A lot of times, people just check in quickly to see what's new and move on. There tends to be no outward manifestation of activity. They are just coming to your site. But those are valuable people. You want them to do that every day.
Moran recommends measuring the number of links to your site that originate from online communities as well as increases in search engine results. Page views and similar activity-based metrics also won't reveal much about certain objectives, such as improving the quality of customer support (mentioned by 23 percent of respondents). Some companies are beginning to include short online surveys asking customers if their problems were solved, which sheds more light on support issues, Moran said.
He also suggests sharing stories within an organization, told in its own language (which may not match up with social-media parlance), about when online communities helped achieve business objectives. He offered two examples from Deloitte clients. One company was able to link a drop in call center volumes to online communities. The communities also helped the company more readily solve issues through its call centers. Explained Moran:
When there is a problem, they can adjust call center staffing because they can predict it by the chatter they see online. If tech-savvy people are online looking for downloads to help with a printer problem, you can predict people who aren't tech-savvy are having the same problem. They're probably going to call the call center. You can use the lessons learned online to help them in the call center. You tell that story to a CFO and he says, "Wow. Why aren't we doing more of that?"
Another company changed ithe navigation of its Web site to better reflect the customer buying habits it learned about through online communities. So instead of "Click here to buy a printer. Click here to buy a PC," the Web site is now organized to offer bundles of products and services geared toward activities like desktop publishing or downloading music.