The article goes into slightly more depth on the reasons communities fail, here are three simple conclusions:
- Communities are about people and not technology: Spend more resources identifying and reaching out to potential community members than investing in software.
- Communities require experienced management: Put someone who has experience running an online community in charge of the project.
- You have to select the appropriate metrics that measure to your goals: If your primary objectives are generating word of mouth and increasing customer loyalty, measuring the number of visits to the site won't prove you achieved your goals.
- Moderate lightly; trust the community: "Permit the community to vet, categorize, critique, and challenge the inputs, ultimately ascribing a value to it through ranking, adoption, or use."
- Assign the resources necessary to nurture the community: Community members value quality moderation and facilitation so "management must allocate sufficient resources (read: probably not one part-time person) to community moderation in order to optimize results." Forty-five percent of respondents recognize that finding enough time to manage the community is one of the biggest obstacles to making communities work.
More details of the Deloitte report, conducted in conjunction with Beeline Labs and the Society for New Communications Research, can be found in the embedded presentation below. Here are some additional conclusions culled from the deck:
- Think broadly about the benefits of communities; don't just consider marketing benefits: Less than 30% of companies with branded communities stated their purpose or business objectives included reducing market research costs, reducing customer support costs, or new product development. Ignoring these benefits may be one of the reasons so many companies feel their community efforts fall short--they're either getting benefits they are failing to recognize, or they are neglecting some important uses and values of their communities.
- Give communities time to succeed: One thing I found disappointing considering all the buzz around this report about the "failure" of communities is that none of the interviews or PR mention the considerable portion of the communities surveyed that were quite young. Over a third of the communities studied were less than six months old. Given the modest membership figures, it seems evident many of these organizations neglected to consider traffic-driving and member-attracting strategies, but it still is premature to call a community a failure after just six months.
- Invest more to get more: There seems to be a linkage between staffing, spending and results. This may seem obvious, but the correlation isn't specifically called out in the report or in the news reports about the study.
While quite a few of the bloggers who covered this story sarcastically noted that 34% of the communities analyzed had fewer than 100 members, it's interesting to note some very similar numbers from the report: 32% of the communities are private (which limits membership), 34% don't even have a single full-time person dedicated to the community, 58% have an annual operating budget of less than $50,000, and 29% of the companies have less than $1 million in annual revenues. Given the size of these organizations' customer base, the level of staffing and investment, and the fact 37% of the communities are less than six months old, are the modest membership numbers really that surprising?
On the other hand, 17% have more than 5,001 members, and again the report has some strikingly comparable figures: 16% have more than six full-time people dedicated to the community, and 19% have an annual operating budget of $200,001 or more. I don't have access to the raw data and cannot confirm a high degree of correlation between investment, staffing, and community size, but I'd bet there is a statistical linkage. This only further reinforces my belief that the bottom line of this study shouldn't be the "failure" of communities but that communities take time, attention, and financial support to flourish.