One of the challenges facing businesses today is deciding how open to be in online communities.

Well, here's some good news: Openness in social media can vary. Businesses can start slow in online communities, hold back a bit and open up over time—the way people do in human relationships. (And think about it: Isn't that what clients really want from you, anyway?)

Here's some help: To provide a useful starting point for measuring where you are vs. where you want to be in social media, the Community Roundtable has put together The Community Maturity Model. The four-stage chart helps you pinpoint where your company is in terms of network openness.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when using the model:

  • You can't go from Stage 1 to Stage 4 overnight, and users aren't expecting you to. It's enough to be clear about what you are, and aren't, comfortable doing.
  • The degree to which you're open should reflect the degree to which your company culture is already open. Otherwise, it'll be tough rounding up the troops to champion community collaboration outside the enterprise.
  • The model also shows you how to integrate collaboration inside your company. Try it out.

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