What do Customer Communities have in Common with Employee Communities?

In June we wrote a blog post “Is Bridging the Enterprise-Consumer Social Networking Divide a Bridge too Far”, which went to some length in describing why these two worlds appeared to be operating in different solar systems.  In fact, we pointed out that blindly adopting the media centricity and activity measures from consumer social networking into the Enterprise, could actually cause more harm than good. In this post we want to explore what might be common and potentially useful adoptions from the consumer world to inside the Enterprise. I must say that this post has been influenced by Michael Wu  coming to town and telling us a little about his perspectives on the ‘Science of Social’ . Michael is the chief scientist at Lithium, an organisation that specialises in customer communities. While my interest in customer communities is somewhat less than my interest in Enterprise communities, Michael Wu is well regarded in the world of data science, so I was sure to learn something from him; and I wasn’t disappointed.

The two key insights I took away was that Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) are not social networks as we have come to perceive them; and secondly there is some useful commonality between customer communities and employee communities.

On the first insight, this is how Dr Wu characterised the customer engagement journey:

customer-community

In his commentary he positioned Facebook as a social network of pre-existing relationships, of which only some were based on shared common interests. In his view social networks were good for building awareness and reach, but not in influencing a purchasing action. For this level of influence, he promoted the role of the customer community; where actions could be more effectively influenced by those with a shared context. In essence he was arguing that each played their respective roles at different parts of the engagement funnel. When I look at ESNs like Yammer, there is no explicit connections being built like in Facebook or LinkedIn i.e. connections being sought and accepted. We do have Twitter like ‘Follows’ which can be interpreted as a network; but follower networks are more like one-way subscriptions trails and therefore would only weakly imply a relationship exists. So in essence, ESNs do not have the benefit of an authenticated social graph in the way that Facebook and LinkedIn do.

The point in common is in Figure 2, showing the customer community. The lack of a social network to create ‘reach’ is less of an issue for the Enterprise, as they have corporate directories for that purpose. The Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action phases in the funnel could equally be applied to the multitude of employee communities established in the ESN. Having an ‘Action’ as the end point we feel is entirely appropriate for an Enterprise community. As we have written previously, without actions, tangible value from an ESN is questionable.

dr-wuA key new message that Dr Wu provided was on his recent work with Geoffrey Moore on a four gears model for viral adoption. Wu suggests that those joining a group or community (acquire gear) immediately gain a ‘weak tie’ with all other members on the strength of their shared interest. The ‘engage’ gear helps turn some of these ‘weak ties’ into ‘strong ties’ and eventually trusted relationships; through the vehicle of online discussions and conversations. The ‘enlist’ gear acknowledges that there will be ‘super users’ who will drive the conversation and facilitate many of the connections. In SWOOP these are our Catalyst  and Engager  personas. In the Customer community, these people become the influencers and advocates. The final gear is ‘monetise’, which means making a sale and earning some revenue. Some would suggest that this is totally appropriate for the Enterprise as well. However, it is fair to say that Employee communities can be much more diverse than a customer community and therefore the action isn’t always as easily connectable to a monetary return. That said, this ‘performance gear’ should be able to connect actions taken by the community members, to the Enterprise’s mission and goals, as a minimum.

So there we have it. While Consumer and Enterprise Social Networks do appear to work in different solar systems, there is just enough of an overlap to make the learning worthwhile.

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