With all of the discussion about social media, blogs, and communities, corporations and marketing agencies are actively putting into motion efforts at initiating and maintaining dialogue.

The ease with which corporate social media can be built may present a future nightmare for CMOs and IT departments of larger companies. Without a broad-based plan and governance policies, the following consequences could arise:

  • Blogs and communities will be built based on organizational structure instead of the customer and the brand. Innovative groups in business units build communities to connect with customers. Without guidance, they build whatever suits the best interest of their product instead of the broader context. This fragments the customer relationship, customer attention... and the brand.
  • Islands of communities will form. Just as many companies experienced islands of automation, the proliferation of blogs and communities created by multiple business units and employees will have different customer engagement and data collection techniques. Extracting data for useful decision support becomes cumbersome. One Fortune 500 company we interviewed had more than 75 customer databases, thus making predictive modeling an uphill battle. There is clearly an opportunity to learn from this in building communities.
  • Customer confusion will abound. With different look and feel, different business unit approaches, different interaction points, and different messages customers will undoubtedly be confused. In our ADHD society, most customers will not take the time to figure it out.
  • Ghost ships will appear. As corporations reorganize and employees change jobs, many blogs and communities will be abandoned as priorities shift. Valuable customers will be set adrift.

A Customer community master plan avoids pitfalls

Just as city planners utilize master plans to promote healthy growth, a "Customer Community Master Plan" enables executives to determine an overall customer interaction plan.

Based on our work with Global 1,000 clients, we have found that the following are among the elements of a strong plan:

What Is Our Community Strategy?

  • Why are we building communities? What do we hope to achieve as a corporation?
    • Advertising and awareness?
    • New product development feedback?
    • Revenue generation through extended relationships?
    • Access to new markets?
  • When do we want to build our own, and when do we want to leverage other communities such as Facebook, Linked-in, industry groups?

Customer-Centric Architecture

Given your strategy, how should customers interact with your company? What are the major needs/groups/contexts that would define optimal community structures from the customer perspective?

  • What are your major customer segments? Do your customers' digital footprints coincide with your proposed community technology?
  • What are the product lines and services that map to community segments?
  • How do communities link with your sales force and channel partner strategy?
  • How does each community cascade and support each other into a comprehensive strategy—both online and offline?
  • Are there common data elements we wish to collect for decision support across communities?

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image of Adrian Ott
Adrian Carol Ott is CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. (www.exponentialedge.com) and the author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (HarperBusiness, August 2010). Reach her via Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ExponentialEdge and adrian.ott@exponentialedge.com.