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What Is Your Organization's Online Community Style?

Online communities come in many shapes and sizes, and serve a wide range of needs. Not surprisingly, the performance of an online community will also vary widely. One reason some organizations do not achieve the results they would like from their online community is a mismatch between the style or focus of the community, and the type of interactions between the members and the organization. There are four styles of online communities: Marketing Megaphones, Lead Generators, Customer Hugs and the coveted but often elusive Innovation Center.

Marketing Megaphones

These online communities spend their days broadcasting messages to their members.  Yes, there is an occasional discussion, but their primary mission is to share new developments and latest accomplishments with prospective and current customers.  This community is chock full of new product announcements, product and service plugs, and an occasional thought leadership article thrown in for good measure. This kind of digital soapbox caters to SEO measures but often fall short on actual member engagement.

Lead Generators

Online communities whose mission is to generate sales leads are the Trojan Horses of the digital landscape.  The conversations occurring in these communities are designed solely to increase sales in this new, new economy.  While the interactions are intended to stimulate discussions about new products and services, the messages are usually poorly-masked self-promotion. And when the unsuspecting prospects join the discussions, the sales team will pour out of their online wooden horse to press the sale. Active at first, the badgered members quickly figure out the plan of attack, activity wanes, and the community goes dormant, awaiting the next wave of unsuspecting new members.

Customer Hugs

These online communities have all the right intentions.  They are staffed by knowledgeable customer service employees seeking to assist a member in need, answer a technical question or shed light on a problem.  The number of “closed tickets” becomes their well-worn banner of success.  While serving genuine customer needs — for all the right reasons – the glow of cost-savings achieved through reduced customer call center traffic begins to dim. In the C-suite, the “so what now?” question isn’t answered, and the community is relegated to a nice-to-have cost center.

Innovation Centers

These online communities have star power.  Dedicated to achieving deep collaboration with customers and partners, they seek to share information, glean insights and put into action the ideas revealed within the exchanges. Innovations come from many sources, so these centers of excellence seek continuous engagement around the ideas, concerns and hopes their members have for the products and services offered.  These communities identify areas of improvement and growth for the company, and provide ongoing feedback to members about their contributions. Staffed by a dedicated internal team, the information garnered through the conversations is threaded throughout the organization. Positive outcomes are shared across all levels of the organization to maximize the benefits and impact.

The Net-Net?

Organization integration of an online community is a leading indicator for success. Communities aligned with an organization’s core operations tend to deliver the greatest long-term impact. Insights sourced from collaborative online communities and shared across the firm offer the greatest rewards, insights and innovations. Letting customers speak, share and connect can open the door to valuable outcomes for both the members and the organization.

Successful online communities often combine aspects of each of these four styles: sharing marketing information (Marketing Megaphone), identifying future customer needs (Lead Generation), reducing problems and increasing customer intimacy (Customer Hugs) and collaborating on innovation opportunities for both members and the organization (Innovation Centers). An online community’s initial style will shape the online interactions in powerful and long-lasting ways.  Isn’t it better to reach for the stars of co-creation than settle for (another) broadcast megaphone?

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Join The Conversation

  • Vanessa DiMauro's picture
    Nov 8 Posted 3 years ago Vanessa DiMauro


    That one was my favorite image as well!

  • Vanessa DiMauro's picture
    Nov 6 Posted 3 years ago Vanessa DiMauro


    Thanks for taking time to comment.  You asked if there is a maturity process for social business-funny you should ask as a colleage and I have recently finished a study on the topic. The Social Business Benchmark Study – 2013 Preliminary Findings, so that organizations can identify gaps and realize the full potential of their investment in social channels and / or platforms.

    We prefer to think in terms of benchmarks instead of maturity.  With maturity models, it implies that everyone wants to go up and to the right - so to speak - to reach the mature box. However, what is mature for a shoe company will be very different than for that of a airplane engineering firm. The day we crowdsource airplane building is a day I never want to see! But benchmarks are contextual and can even be drilled into a comparison of an individual company against their norm. 

    hope that helps!


  • Nov 6 Posted 3 years ago Ajay Prasad (not verified)

    A great post on the different types of online community style. Marketing Megaphones, Lead Generators, Customer Hugs and net-net ... All the topics are useful but the customer hug is really impressive.

  • airrmedia's picture
    Nov 5 Posted 3 years ago airrmedia

    You did a great job in explaining the different types of online community style. Is there a maturity process that an orgnization goes throgh when starting out in social media? For example, do they start off as marketing megaphones and then work their way torwards net-net? Thank you in advance. This article really add value to my thinking about online communities.

  • airrmedia's picture
    Nov 5 Posted 3 years ago airrmedia

    I thought that the customer hug was super cute..

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