Social Networks for Business Tip #8: Treat Your Community Like a Garden

I have found ten common tips that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. This is my eighth tip in this series. There will be 10 total posts; each with a particular theme. They are intended to be read in the order presented, building upon each other…

Tip08

Communities are Ecosystems

180px-The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17The largest difference between “Web 2.0” enterprise social media communities and “Web 1.0” enterprise web sites is based on content. Traditional web sites are built around relatively static content created in accordance with Corporate Communications, Legal and Public Relations guidelines. On the other hand, social media communities evolve around user-generated content, i.e., content dynamically created, edited and critiqued by external groups like customers, employees and partners. How this content (and the community) evolves is subject to many conditions outside of the enterprise’s control, ranging from entry of a hostile individual to formation of competing and cooperative groups. In essence social media communities are living ecosystems.

What Happens When You Don’t Manage Your Ecosystem

When you don’t manage your community as an ecosystem, it can quickly evolve in many ways into something very different that what you intended to support your enterprise:

1. Die-off Due to Lack of Resources

If your community does not reach a critical mass of content to foster participation and collaboration it will simply die off due to inactivity. Members will simply not have enough content to make it worth their time to return or inspire them to contribute.

The way to avoid this is to seed you community with compelling, inspiring content. An enterprise community that does a great job of this is American Express’ OPEN Forum. They have partnered with over two dozen expert contributors to provide valuable content for their community:

2. Die-off Due to Lack of Population Diversity

OPENfad

If your community does not have a critical mass of members, it will not generate enough connections and interactions to make it self-sustaining. Members will not form relationships that encourage them to return or foster the collaboration required to create community-unique new content.

The way to avoid this is to nurture development of your membership. First advertise the existence of the community across every channel you have. Second, monitor the results, learning what works and what doesn’t. Finally, make this a continuous improvement process to sustain your membership. An enterprise community that does a great job of this is Men’s Health Belly-off Community. If you don’t believe me just pay attention to the magazine covers the next time you are in the checkout line:

belly-o-combo

3. Take-over By Encroaching Elements

If you do not put the proper safeguards in place, groups of individuals can essentially “hijack” your community by creating content that is counter to your mission and bringing in members to feed on this to make it the dominant material of you community. At best, this will drive out those members you are trying to attract; at worse it will damage your brand.

The way to avoid this is to put controls in place to essentially prune you community of undesired content and behavior (these controls are complex enough that discussion of them will be the subject my next tip, “Create a Safe Environment.”) Someone who did this well was AOL with its fostering of the concept of safe online communities in the 1990s. A recent example of someone else who did not can be found by clicking on the image below:

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The Take-away: Treat Your Community Like a Garden

Gardens – from English Botanical to Japanese Contemplative to Home Vegetable – serve as fine examples of tending an ecosystem to produce highly desirable results. Apply the same techniques you would use to manage a successful garden that you would to produce a great business community:

three-step