There are many reasons why a community doesn't perform as expected...sometimes the strategy hasn't been fully developed, so execution against fuzzy requirements makes success difficult. Perhaps the member acquisition efforts could be more appealing to potential members, or the moderator needs more time for member outreach to evoke engagement. There is sometimes a lack of fresh content which trains members not to come back frequently, and kludgy software will always get in the way. It is even possible that the community is performing quite well, but the community team hasn't integrated community outputs into the larger organization - so it is underutilized.
I often do community recovery projects on "under actualized" communities to find the places where the community needs help to change and grow. In most cases, it is a number of smaller issues that add up to larger under-performance and are (relatively) easily fixed. However, about 1 out of 6 communities have a serious diagnosis that needs to be addressed or the community is destined to fail entirely... they are missing the Member Gimme!
What's the Member Gimme?The Member Gimme is the thing that the community offers to members that they really can't do without. The online community must solve a real business problem for the members or accelerate a business process in order to used and valued by members. There are no two ways around this requirement as it is the heart-beat of any successful online community for a professional audience.
Company's frequently focuses on what they will get from the community - which is fine as they are footing the bill, however the often lose sight of the member. The everyday business needs can add up and derail the larger member-centric strategy. Oh, you know the story... at the first whiff of an online community, the different lines of business start with the parade of business requests. "We need more customer testimonials!" "Can we do lead generation through this free webinar offer on the community?" "I want to survey the members."
While it is important for the business requirements to play a role in the community design, the customer focus needs to be the priority. The community needs to service members first in order to create a compelling reason for the time, attention, participation and return visit. Without members, you don't have a community! This is why the member gimme is critical to consider in the community design.
When looking at your community programs and offerings, if you notice that you don't have a member gimme, don't despair. It is likely that the situation can be triaged. But the strategic journey takes time and effort.
How To Find Your Member Gimme
So, how do you go about finding your missing member gimme? We usually start by focusing in on the member profiles, interviewing members to find out what they need to do their job better, generally and in relation to the product or service focus that the organization offers.
By talking to a number of members about what it means to do their job well, we can often find points-of-pain that can be mitigated through the online community. We surface features, topics, content sharing that they actually want and need and we look for opportunities to create features or focus on business processes that social is best suited to accelerate. It is also important to do a discovery effort in order to identify the most coveted assets the company has to offer - those in high demand by customers and not that which the company wants to push.
When you ask the members what they want and need, they usually will tell you. The challenge is in the sense-making of the unstructured data in order to translate it into a set of member gimmes, but it is well worth the effort. Give to the community and they will give back three-fold if you put them at the center of the online community universe and serve their needs with unwavering dedication. Aren't your customers why your company exists, after-all?