5 Immutable laws of community-centric orgs.

I want to blow off some steam addressing community building common sense.  Nurturing relationships with members, customers, or merely interested parties isn’t rocket science, yet it seems so hard for organizations large and small – even those within the “community” and “digital marketing” spaces! – to get right.  Maybe it’s a case of the cobbler’s shoes.  Maybe it’s a case of arrogance or a lack of checks/balances of the “Are we living our promises?” category.  Whatever the reason, too many businesses with community-centric marketing claims are only skimming the surface.   Due diligence or mimicry.  Many companies that operate in service-oriented markets don’t really want to help people get what they need because the head guys are still too focused on what the company wants.  That’s just wrong.

Compared to some like iFroggy, the communities I manage are tiny.  But my work and the communities in which I participate compel me to list some real opportunity areas for the community-centric organization:

Provide a clear RTB

  • Why does your community exist?
  • What are the primary objectives for the program or site?   (what does success look like?)
  • What do you offer participants or visitors?

Whether you choose to list this information in clear-cut Q&A format on a FAQ page or weave it throughout in descriptive text, these signals may provide new visitors with affirmation they’ve found what they’ve been looking for.  Internally, use responses to these questions to ensure program activity and codes of conduct support these defining pillars.

Identify a contact person or two

Invariably, someone visiting your site or with knowledge of your community will have a question which hadn’t been anticipatedcommunity-centricwhen the site or program was originally planned.  That’s a good thing.  But do you want that person to spend their time trying to A) figure out precisely whom to contact  and B) digging all over the interwebs for Susie’s contact information?  Could be a frustrating experience.  The professionalism or legitimacy of the community could even be questioned (yes, we’re skeptical of a poorly planned and executed web presence.  We wonder if anyone’s actually paying attention).

Naturally, you may receive some spam or solicitations if you post this information in a prominent place online.  Yet it’s more community-centric to filter out 63 pieces of spam and hear from 4 interested constituants than be completely unreachable because you couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, or mistakenly thought “everyone knows who we are and how to reach us.”  Because some people really don’t, and others want the passive permission to reach out that well-placed contact info offers. What happened to basic premises of customer service?

If your face changes, tell people

Anyone who knew of Richard@dell knew when he left to join Visa because the information, once public, flowed readily in multiple channels and outposts.  When the face – however recognizable – of your community departs, be sure to push out messages that explain what participants can expect by way of changes, if any.  What does the change mean to them?  Offer assurances.

A sub-point on this one, if you have authors who contribute to the community blog, be sure they’re advised of any administrative changes like, say, how to submit future posts (a new email address and name would be nice).  Keep the community train moving.  Otherwise you have passengers milling about at the station aimlessly.  Doesn’t take much for them to catch another train.

Offer the courtesy of a prompt response

We live in a world of instant gratification.  Like it or not, we all want to have our needs addressed promptly, or at least get some sort of progress indicator.  The blasted hourglass symbol or swirling arrow tell us that something is in the works, and we’re [semi] satisfied with that knowledge because it means our query or command was submitted.

The same needs come into play when we’re trying to participate in a community or interact with a web site.  We need signals that it’s picking up what we’re putting down.

If you have a form on a page, make sure completion of the form triggers a thank-you message of some sort.  If you have a generic email box, consider an auto-reply message that clearly indicates the process and approximate schedule for human replies.

Community members may not pay monetary dues, but they’re giving your site or program something of value – their time and interest.  Reward their attention with simple courtesy and you may reinforce the community-centric reputation you’re trying so valiantly to build.

Give them every opportunity, and then one more

You can list a toll-free number and email address on every page.  You can feature sharing buttons for Yelp! and Get Satisfaction.  These are good steps, but more can be done to really impress upon visitors that your community is there to serve, how can you help?

I believe Freshbooks is community-centric.  In addition to providing a well-designed product and good experience for a reasonable fee, the company practically begs users for raw, naked feedback.  Freshbooks seems to want to know your pain and your joy.

After logging in, there’s an unobtrusive invitation on the top of the site to complete a 30 second survey.  I love that they recognize my time is valuable and that taking surveys suck, so they define right up front what it’ll cost me.  Since I give Freshbooks twenty bucks each month to organize my business finances, I want to be able to give them feedback freely and am glad they’re interested in serving me better.  What I really like is the closing message that populates the page after I log out.  They push out a form, just ripe for typing.  “Here I am,” the form whispers, “let ‘er rip.”  The form includes a phone number (with hours of availability!) if I’m a talker.  Freshbooks really, really wants to know what they can do to make my accounting crap easier.

These are 5 of 10 immutable laws for the community-centric organization. Stay tuned for my next installment which covers 5 more truisms as I see it.  What would you add?


Freshbooks log-out screen

6 Comments for: 5 Immutable laws of community-centric orgs.

Daria Steigman

Hi Heather,

While these are all important, #2 is critical. (Assuming #1 is working, that is.) Because there is little more frustrating than trying to reach out to a real person and finding only a voice box, a generic mailbox, or the like. If you’re building a community, it has to start with you being part of that community. Otherwise #3 is irrelevant b/c you don’t have a face to start with.

Looking forward to common-sense-that’s-often-lacking Part II.
Daria Steigman´s last blog post ..Get Rid of that First Impression Once and For All


Heather Rast
Twitter: heatherrast

I’m with you, Daria. The human element – the one that suggests in a dozen subtle, tiny ways that there’s someone there coordinating efforts, receiving and responding to concerns/questions, and generally looking out for community interests – is critical. Otherwise there’s no “glue,” only individuals out in the community in a sort of limbo-land. They *want* there to be something to latch onto, but without an active and visible leader, it can’t hold together. And people need affirmation that someone gives a damn they showed up to the party to begin with. Don’t community owners owe constituants that?


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