Technology 5 rules for successfully building a community of client...

5 rules for successfully building a community of client champions


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Who knows your product best? Most people believe that a company is the ultimate authority on its product(s), as engineers, salespeople, marketers, and others spend most of their week meeting customer needs with a best-fit solution.

While this idea may seem sensible, it is the customers who make the final judgment on a product, as their ability to successfully use the product to meet their needs will determine a company’s success or failure.

To ensure product success, many companies are now turning to customer communities as a mechanism to obtain critical feedback for product improvements, and to establish champions who willingly act as promoters by establishing a direct relationship with the company.

This concept boomed in the early 2000s with companies like Lego, TED and Porsche strategically investing in opportunities for their passionate fans to directly influence existing and new products. This was also to expose the company to a significantly larger customer base. For example, in 2018, LEGO launched the LEGO Ideas platform, where members submitted new product ideas that were voted on by the community, resulting in 28 new sets, including a Women of NASA set and a playable LEGO piano.


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1. Find the right platform

In the past, many organizations used email or newsletters. Some tried LinkedIn and other social platforms, but the reality is that there are so many new ways to collaborate these days. Slack could be an option for your community, or a newer tool like Commsor, TalkBase, or Common Room.

Selecting the right platform should be the foundation of your strategy, as the engagement and collaboration requirements should align with your vision. As you evaluate options, determine the features, tools, and functionality you need to achieve your goals. Keep in mind that you also need a platform that integrates easily with your existing systems while helping to drive product improvements and innovation.

Also evaluate how the platform you choose will grow as your membership grows. When looking at different platform options, prioritize your features into two categories: “must have” and “not important”. Realize that any feature that falls in between a “nice to have” will be a bonus. Finally, select a platform vendor that aligns with your unique business goals.

2. Find internal champions

There are influencers in your organization hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered and used as a resource. These individuals are passionate about what they do and enjoy talking to others about ideas and projects in a conversational, non-businesslike manner.

Your internal champion understands your business, easily sees the value of your vision and projects, and knows how to communicate effectively with all stakeholders. Their ability to communicate well causes them to instinctively cultivate buy-in and support from others inside and outside your organization. Finally, these individuals will have project management skills and understand the complexities of many moving parts. Looking around your company with these characteristics in mind will make internal champions easier to identify.

Before involving them in the community you are building, make sure you map out the expectations for the role you want them to play in your community. To minimize surprises while building credibility and trust, spend time going through their role to make sure they agree to what you’re asking of them.

Consider finding ways to sell the role as a leadership development opportunity so they volunteer to serve as an internal champion. When someone signs up to volunteer, it brings long-lasting results thanks to their commitment. The great thing is that the right individuals continue to do what comes naturally by enthusiastically adding value and sharing their expertise within the community. As you build things out, make sure you recognize everything they do and celebrate your internal champions as the unsung heroes who do whatever it takes to make your community work.

3. Identify external champions

Like internal champions, external champions are easy to spot because they are customers who love your product and company. These individuals are MVPs because they advocate for your brand by recommending your products to everyone they know and attach their reputation to their recommendations.

They are passionate about your business and happy to share success stories about the transformation your solutions provide. Not only do they volunteer online reviews, but they also enjoy participating in case studies and speaking in interactive formats, such as at webinars, trade shows, and media interviews.

Before asking a customer to join your community, ask sales, customer service, and marketing to help you identify who they’ve come across who unofficially stands out as a brand champion. Like what you do for internal champions, take the time to map out examples of specific opportunities so they can use their voice and share their story. You may even consider offering incentives for participation. Once you get their buy-in, send specific thank you notes along the way to reward their participation and show appreciation.

Communities don’t always follow a straight path and need constant monitoring and engagement to ensure they don’t stray into unrelated topics that get in the way of success. As a community leader, it is imperative that you adopt a “radical listening” habit of watching for unexpected and unwanted community activities that are not necessarily beneficial to your organization.

There are several techniques for listening that require significant effort, and the first process is authentic engagement. The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation lists five principles of engagement:

  1. Aim for authentic involvement, not public input.
  2. Engage people as citizens, not as consumers.
  3. Explore voices, not just demographics.
  4. Find common ground, not consensus.
  5. Offer knowledge, not more information.

5. Get happiness by creating serendipity

According to some definitions, luck is the phenomenon that defines unlikely events of success or failure. But creating a vibrant, engaged developer community allows the flow of ideas to flow organically, with unexpected results that spark new ideas and solve challenging problems. This description transforms the standard description of happiness into serendipity. (Not to be confused with the serendipity principle used in some IT forums.)

When you give your developer community mutual respect and appreciation, your techie members will grow closer and more engaged. Add the right internal and external champions to the mix and without much effort people will become more engaged and excited.

Those who normally lie in wait while they learn will start contributing to the conversation and asking questions. In that case, make sure your team responds quickly. By doing these things, you build relationships as people learn, stay updated, share experiences, and meet other like-minded people.

Douglas Brown is VP of the community at ControlUp.

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