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Building a customer community: 13 critical questions to get started

Building a customer community: 13 critical questions to get started

Salesforce, WordPress, Simplemachines, BB engines…they all have demos for community-building tools that will daze and amaze. But which one’s for you? Don’t go shopping until you’ve answered these questions.

Lead generation means user education. Channel management means a partner portal. Case management means a knowledge base, customer discussion groups, and a support forum. Customer loyalty means a customer portal.  It’s all about building a community site.

Depending on where you start, you’ll hear about dozens of product offerings and see some extraordinary demos. The best of the demos will live up to Sybase founder Bob Epstein’s famous quote about benchmarks: “they are what the vendor can guarantee you will never achieve.”

Before you get dazzled by bright shiny objects, you really have to go off and do some thinking: that’s right, dull homework. Because any of the community-building products could be the right one for you, but all of them will result in a failure if you haven’t answered most of these questions in advance:

  1. What's the fundamental value of building/maintaining the community?
  • Getting more prospects or partners sooner?
  •  Improving the quality of your decisions?
  • Making your company look better / more visible?
  • Accelerating your prospects evolution?
  • Increasing customer or channel loyalty?
  • Helping you catch up to Competitors’ sites?
  • Making management feel better?
  • How many people will be in the community?
    • Will this be a "public community," where users can spontaneously register themselves?  Or is this by invitation (and pre-setup) only?
    • Will there be sub-groups?
    • How many active threads do you expect at any one time?
    • Will users be allowed to start their own threads?
  • What are the users’ job titles (both the company and the role)?
    • What is their level of knowledge about your company and its products?
    • How will you manage excluding users from certain countries?
    • How will you get to full GPDR compliance?
  • What are the usage patterns?
    • Will users come in via single sign-on (SSO) or direct login?
    • Will they coming in from a mobile device?
    • How often do you expect them to log in?
    • How long will they stay on the site?
    • Are there any things about their usage session that we’ll need to know / report on / get alerted about?
  • What do they come to the community for? 
    • What are they trying to achieve any timethey log in?
    • With whom are they trying to communicate?
    • What information do they seek?
    • What information do they want to share?
    • What information are they allowed to download?
    • What things can they report on (if any)?
  • What do they need to be able to hide from others?
    • About themselves and
    • About the information they post
  • How much information will there be in a given year?
    • Number of topics
    • Number of posts and attachments from you
    • Number of posts and attachments from users
    • Number of leads
    • Number of deals
    • Number of ideas/suggestions
    • Number of cases/resolutions
    • What of this information is transactional in nature (i.e., not just a content posting)?
    • What of this information needs to be integrated with other systems (e.g., CRM)?
    • Will the "information architecture" (read: navigation) need to change on a regular basis?
  • What's the "memory horizon" of the community?
    • What will be your content archiving strategy?
    • Do some things get hidden from users after a few months?
      • Can this be automatic?
      • Do we actually want a human always involved in the "sunsetting" of information?
  • Do you want to have the community moderated?
    • If so, can it be done "by exception" or does every moderation action have to be done manually?
    • What are the legal terms of use you are expecting?
  • What analytics do you need?
    • Real time alerts regarding usage patterns, DOS attacks?
    • Social media monitoring?
    • Daily reports, executive dashboards?
  • What's your internal constituency?
    • Worker bees by department?
    • PR, marketing, sales, support, operations and legal executives?
    • Board?
  • What's your willingness to spend?
    • On user licenses?
    • On development?
    • On ongoing moderation? This is just internal hours, but you want to have some sort of threshold like "no more than 50 hours/week".
  • Who’s going to own the project and budget?
    • For project management and deployment
    • For community membership growth
    • For moderation and legal policing
    • For ongoing maintenance and technical expansion

    I know, this is quite the laundry list!  But if you don’t bring up these issues early, you won’t really know what your requirements are, so your product evaluation criteria will be foggy at best.  Save yourself some time and money by starting at the beginning.

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