Wired Pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘communities

Often the term crowdsourcing is associated with large groups of people contributing information or data (e.g., Wikipedia), with product innovation (e.g., Dell’s IdeaStorm), or with advertising (e.g., Doritos and Pepsi superbowl ad). But a number of companies are also leveraging the crowd to better serve customers and reduce those long wait times.

One area where the crowd is being leveraged is to supplement or even replace call centers. Because companies often struggle with issues related to ensuring operators have the right level of expertise to efficiently and effectively answer incoming questions, some researchers are suggesting that turning to active user communities as a source of expertise may be a more efficient and cost effective way of providing continuous and expert-level support. Active community members often represent the most knowledgeable customers and are likely already providing advice as part of their online activities. Even if only a small percent of calls can be re-directed to these über-users, it could result in substantial cost reductions and potentially more satisfied customers.

Companies such as HP, Microsoft, and AT&T are currently leveraging their user communities to supplements call center staff. In fact, Intuit reports a reduction in total support calls for TurboTax during tax season by 40%. Other companies such as giffgaff, a UK mobile phone operator, leverage their user community forums to handle 100% of their customer support issues, most within 5 minutes. In addition to leveraging their own communities, companies are working with intermediaries who connect them with other knowledge communities. For example, FixYa.com is an online service that “leases” access to knowledgeable crowds to help companies supplement their current customer support services. And Arise leverages 120,000 highly trained, home based independent contractors to provide high quality support resulting in a 25-30% cost savings relative to traditional brick-and-mortar call centers.

Of course, there are many potential issues with leveraging the crowd for customer service. How do you motivate über-users to act as on-call experts? How can you ensure that someone in the community can answer the question in a timely fashion, after all they don’t work for you? And what are the risks of having non-employees act in a capacity that suggests a company sanctioned response? Certainly these are difficult questions.

So the next time you call a customer service line, you might strike up a conversation and see who’s actually answering the phone.

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No, I don’t mean crowdsourcing is “for the birds,” as in worthless. I literally mean crowdsourcing for birds. Here’s an interesting application of turning to the crowd to generate data – bird data.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society have joined together to leverage the collective productivity of the crowd to accomplish a task they would never be able to do on their own. They have created the online site eBird.org.

eBird enlists the help of bird watchers across North America to collect and document the presence of specific bird species. Using the eBird site, birders can report sightings and access the latest data on bird populations across the western hemisphere.

By leveraging the interests of the crowd and providing the ability for them to easily contribute to a shared cause, site sponsors are now able to accurately track bird populations more quickly and economically than they could with in-house staff. In 2006, more than 4.3 million observations were submitted by bird watchers across the country.

Interestingly, the site doesn’t have any collaborative tools where birders can talk to each other, but it doesn’t appear to need them to generate a sense of community.

If you know of other sites that leverage the crowd to collect data, please let me know.

Facebook has added tagging to its interface. Here’s how it works…

Just enter your status and type “@.” You’ll see a message asking you to type anything. Type the first letter of a person, an event, a fan page, or group page and a list will appear. Then just select the item you want to associate with your status. The item you picked appears in your status as a link.

It’s just one more way to make the hyper-connected world of Facebook even more intertwined.

Thoughts? Is this helpful? A gimmick? Or another “I wanna be just like Twitter” update?

­I often hear people ask, “How do I go about creating an online community?”  “What resources will I need?” “How much time will it take?”  All good questions, but taken out of the context of “why” you want to create a community, they’re difficult if not impossible to answer.

It’s the “why” that needs to be answered first.  The “what” and the “how” are merely the tactics you’ll use to implement the why.

Online communities aren’t about you.

When I ask B2B companies “why” they want to start online communities, they typically answer with things like:

  • To drive sales.
  • To get more leads in the pipeline.
  • To push out information about our products to our customers.

If you’re starting here, ask yourself, “Would a community really want to help me do those things?”  The answer is they wouldn’t – none of this benefits the member.

Shift your focus and think about what the community does for its members.

Successful online communities focus on benefits to members.  Generating leads and driving sales may be desired outcomes, but they shouldn’t be the “why.”

For example, Deloitte is creating a community for CFO’s that allows them to discuss Sarbanes-Oxley regulations in terms of its effects on their businesses.  Which regulations are working, which are onerous, and what they think should be done to reduce the burden on businesses while protecting the public.  Deloitte plans to provide the information to the legislature to help them gain a better understanding of the real impact of the law.

Benefits to members?  Sharing information with other experts, learning from others, potentially having a positive effect on legislation that reduces impacts to their organization.

Benefits to Deliotte?  Getting into the heads of potential customers and having a better understanding of their issues and needs.  Now they’re better positioned to adapt services to address those needs.  They’re also increasing awareness with this specific audience.  All things that should positively impact leads and ultimately drive product innovation and sales.

Ask yourself “why” members would care.

So if your thinking about whether an online community makes sense for your company, ask yourself first if it makes sense for the members.

If you focus on truly trying to help or facilitate the needs of the community, you’ll be more likely to be successful at realizing benefits to your company.

What communities have you see that have succeeded?  Why did they work?

A recent study by Deloitte, Beeline Labs, and the Society of New Communications Research asked over 140 organizations (B2B, B2C, NPOs) about objectives, success factors, and management of their online co­mmunities. Here’s a summary of what they found.

Meeting objectives.

Online communities were the most successful at:

  • Generating more word of mouth
  • Increasing product/brand awareness
  • Increasing customer loyalty
  • Bringing outside ideas into the organization

Key success factors.

Not surprisingly the factors that contributed most to success where also what makes off line communities successful. Specifically:

  • Connecting like-minded people
  • The ability to help others
  • Focusing on a hot topic or issue
  • The quality of the community manager or team

Biggest obstacles.

The biggest obstacles to making communities work were:

  • Getting people engaged
  • Finding enough time to manage the community
  • Attracting people to the community

Biggest surprises.

Some unexpected benefits:

  • Our market will tell us what they want if we just ask
  • Our customers are happy that we are reaching out
  • The ideas generated by the community

Best advice.

If you’re thinking about going down this path:

  • Get commitment from the top
  • Start with the business strategy (amen to that)
  • Start slow
  • Content is king (double amen)
  • Participate, do not control – the community doesn’t belong to you.

­Good advice back in 1999 that’s still relevant today.

“Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.”

The Cluetrain Manifesto

­Many B2B companies are looking into whether they should leverage communities as part of their marketing strategy.  Whether your objective is to create a closer connection to your customers, connect customers to each other, or explore new ideas, it’s important to build communities around something people are already interested in.

So how can you know in advance if people will be interested?

It’s likely you’ll never really know what the response will be until you try, but I did hear a great tip in a podcast the other day about looking at what your buyers are already doing offline and moving those communities online.  It’s a great idea, so I started thinking how we could leverage that idea for our clients.

How do I pick the right topic to explore?

Start by identifying regularly scheduled industry events or meetings where your buyers get together to discuss topics of interest.  These can be centered around topics or specific roles.  Don’t forget to look at local and regional meetings too.  Heck, you likely already participate in some of these meetings.

Next, ask yourself:

  • Which group would benefit the most from real-time, more frequent communications?
  • Which group discusses topics that are I/my company can add value to?
  • Which groups do I already have a connection with?

Prioritize the list, then start exploring the benefits an online community would bring to the participants.  There must be a clear benefit to the participants or you won’t succeed.

If you can sync the group’s objectives with your company’s objectives you’re more likely to have a winning topic.

For those of you who’ve already started online communities, how did you go about selecting and audience or topic?


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