This detailed report, which is 64 pages long, was released by The Community Roundtable earlier this year.
I knew it would be full of interesting ideas, because The CR consists of a large brain trust of community managers and branding/marketing experts who routinely gather to compare notes and share information. Every year they distill the key changes and processes that are emerging, and share them in a report.
It’s pretty beefy, so I took the liberty of reading it for you, and have pulled out some key ideas to share.
First, the report defines community as “a group of people with unique shared values, behaviors, and artifacts.” In the sense of this report, artifacts are objects or processes made for a specific purpose. One could easily substitute the word "stuff," but this is an academic report, so...
The report also assumes a hierarchical series of "maturity levels" for communities as they progress and grow.
What’s changed this year?
The big headline is that community has become mainstream, but many people use the term community indiscriminately, and may be skewed by their own personal usage of social tools.
What are the challenges facing branded communities?
One of the biggest challenges is the fact that organizations demand a level of perfection that is unattainable in online communities. Members must feel that they have a say in the future of the community, which may not be ideal for the corporation running it.
When you are building an internal community, be sure to align the discussions with desired corporate planning so that ideas generated can be efficiently acted upon.
Don’t underestimate the power of internal evangelizing to promote uptake of social tools and to move the community forward in maturity.
Provide training and make space for initiative and creativity from within the team and externally as well.
When you are first beginning, start a listening or monitoring program; even something small is useful.
Key considerations for the second level of maturity
You must work to collaborate with teams typically felt to be “roadblocks” like HR, Legal, etc. Don't just assume they will get in the way; try to take advantage of their unique perspectives and expertise.
Monitor and report, but focus on storytelling rather than spewing data.
Empower the community manager and ensure that participating staff are trained and permitted to communicate freely.
Develop a budget and formal escalation/response procedure for problematic customer situations.
Higher levels of community maturity
The final phases of community maturity require an organization that has advanced to the degree that employees are entrepreneurial and self-directed. This individual freedom is almost a requirement in order to reach the final level of community pervasiveness in the organization.
At this phase “community management becomes an operational approach.” Employees are developed with online communication skills in mind, not just offline communication. The organization becomes much less hierarchical and more focused on using digital resources to empower the employee.
Here's the complete report; it's worth a read if you're part of a business organization that's seeking to formalize its approach to community building.