Building and managing successful customer communities is both an art and a science. For starters, there has to be a natural need, or common interest among members – and value in both sharing content or experiences or expertise as a “contributor” and showing up to read or apply some of what is posted by other members or the host as a “consumer.” So good content is one ingredient.
But if all you have is content (and consumers and contributors), you don’t really have a community. You have a portal! A second necessary ingredient is good connections. This is where social networking comes in. Think about it. You may go to LinkedIn to research companies and read presentations on slideshare. Or review profiles. But you likely learned about LinkedIn from a current member who invited you to their network, and certainly as much if not more of the value is in the links and “who knows who.” So content and connections are the currency for communities, as I pointed out here.
The role that is needed to build, and promote, and follow/extend connections is that of the “collaborator” or “connector” – in the Tipping Point sense. It may seem obvious that connectors are key to the growth and vitality of social networking sites. But they are also the “glue” in successful customer communities. They are critical to spreading the word about new resources, invite their colleagues, and may not know the answer, but know who does.
So who are these connectors? And how can we spot them to engage and offer them incentives if necessary to help us spread the word when we launch or want to expand our communities?
I was recently part of a couple engagements where we started to define the three groups above, inspired a bit by Forrester’s Technographics “ladder” groups (latest addition here), but also based on some real-world analysis of a few use cases (both internal and external facing). For external, support-oriented communities (see my last Webcast on the topic here), we can generalize our three user groups/segments and their social media consumption as follows:
- Consumers – the largest group of almost all communities, these users read blogs, forums and review sites, and use Twitter, but are mostly following vs. posting or being followed. They also have active accounts on social sites, but within the community they are readers not posters.
- Contributors – usually the smallest group, but most vocal, they are likely to answer questions, post reviews, author support solutions, and comment on forums. They are typically bloggers and known as experts – and may have a large following on Twitter but frequently little interaction with followers.
- Connectors – these users like to share and connect with peers on social networking sites, value the social interaction of forums (unlike some contributors), and actively respond, retweet and follow many others on Twitter. Within a community they can help to promote new content or experts, and tend to participate in others' blogs as much a blogging on their own.
Connectors are the bridge between consumers and contributors, often influence and draw in participants from outside of the community, and can be the “go-to” users for new members and even encourage or locate new contributors.
How are you identifying, recruiting and engaging with connectors in your community?