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Navigating the people-side of your support community

Businesses and agencies often realize a need to add support communities, rather internally focused for training and collaboration or externally focused for communicating with customers and potential customers. In all cases it is critical to remember the people in your company that will be impacted by this effort.

Before making your business case

Understand which of your peers will be in your corner and who will be fighting the idea until the bitter end. In most organizations there is always some degree of politics and you must take this into account. Remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Raise the community concept to gauge the questions and concerns that will arise as part of the approval process.

Most large organizations will need a formal business plan. You will not win over the executive team with "good feelings" type of arguments, demonstrate the cost and return on the investment. I have asked a few very large enterprise users if they could have made the business case without traditional number crunching. Everyone agreed that they would have been unable to get executive and/or board-level agreement without the numbers.

Your employees

Your employees will likely be excited about participating in the community. Follow some of these best practices to make sure your employees and your customers have a great experience.

Provide written policies on what is, and what is not, allowed when using corporate and private accounts.
Train your team on how to engage.
Break down the policies in a way that the employees can gain clarity by asking questions and getting answers. Do not write a policy without some discussion.
Provide some basic public relations training for your top staff and have them train others they work with. Your communications need to be genuine, however, not everyone's way of communicating is right for every audience.
HP has on-demand training courses that users can take as they have time. This makes it easier to train everyone and also enables employees to get regular refresh courses.
Develop a simple mentoring program. Best Buy has begun formalizing a program and, while it is too early to see results, I am confident everyone will benefit.
Tie community participation goals and metrics into your employees goals. HP, and others, use metrics like number of posts, popularity of posts, customer feedback, etc, for both high-level executive reporting and for employee reviews.
Your community members

Support communities will often cut your operational costs, shifting some level of support away from your employees as the community self-helps itself. However, you will always have a few bad apples. How do you deal with these?

Define a community code of conduct. Make sure all members understand what is considered appropriate behavior.
These norms should focus on keeping language respectful, avoiding personal attacks, etc... These norms should never limit discussion.
Let the other members of your community self-regulate the bad apples. Often times this will bring behavioral norms in line.
Have your employees use the community code of conduct as a reminder to rope these people in.
If the bad apples cannot be brought back in-line temporarily suspend them from the community.
If nothing else works, permanently suspend them from the community.
I was chatting with HP about their community which exceeds 2.5 million visits per month with around 150,000 registered members. They have permanently banned fewer than 10 users, a tiny fraction of the community users.

What behaviors or best practices would you recommend?

John

p.s. I am in 9th position Suggest the Top 10 Government Twitters to Follow poll. If you can, drop by and drop 3 votes on me, would be appreciated. http://uservoice.com/a/7Oeo7

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