In this post, we look at how to effectively plan and grow an enterprise-level social networking community from concept to a successful extension of your core business offering.

Less is more

When it comes to building an enterprise level community, there’s a temptation to draft an extensive list of requirements and features. We often caution clients against this. Ultimately, you want your community to be sustainable. This means getting buy-in, both internally from the team that will look after the community and from the members that will power it.

In our experience, the best way to achieve this is to limit the requirements and resulting features your community needs to deliver on, at least at the initial stage. An approach of less is more takes on board a development philosophy called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Here’s a quick rundown of the key benefits:

  • Internal ownership – by controlling the scope of your community, you ensure your team is in control from day one. As they become conformable with their roles and responsibilities, you can begin to increase the scope of your community platform.
  • Focused user experience – When you publish your community, you want to make sure your community members ‘get it’ straight away. A community built around the MVP philosophy will ensure they do.
  • Time to market – The more focused your requirements the quicker it will be to deliver the features, functionality and services you plan to offer. That means your members will be using your community sooner.
  • Reduced costs – A less is more approach ensures you pay for what you need, not what you think you need.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a long term wish list of requirements, features and ideas. Taking a less is more approach won’t stunt ambition. Quite the opposite. Launching with a lean, mean community, focused on a specific set of needs will give you a foundation to learn, adapt, grow and evolve.

The solution? Phased evolution.

Phased evolution works because it gives your organisation the time and space to develop a sustainable approach to your community platform. It ensures you only commit resources where they are needed. This results in a highly focused service, that will be embraced by staff and members alike. Here is a generalised approach our clients have found effective:

  • Phase One – create a community to satisfy your core requirements and release to your member base. Gather learnings and feedback, build content and develop a community management process that works for you.
  • Incremental Updates – as soon as your community goes live, start to look for areas that you can improve. Minor adjustments can result in big improvements. Work with your supplier to respond to demand and deliver updates quickly.
  • Phase Two – it’s time to build on your community foundations by releasing new features and services, in line with the requirements identified internally and by your member base. This is also a great time to begin putting data generated within your community to work across your business. For example by actioning business insights generated by your community.
  • Incremental Updates – continue to refine and focus your community based on the body of learnings you’ve built up.

Start with a plan

While it’s tempting to think about the features of your community first, don’t! Any good agency or SaaS company offering social networking communities will ensure you get the features you need. However, you won’t get a community tailored to your specific requirements unless they know the purpose of those features.

  • Focus on your requirements – Plan out a list of key benefits your community will offer your community members. Take this list and prioritise it. You will be amazed at how effective this process can be in uncovering the core requirements of your community.
  • Map out user journeys – Your community needs to be laser-focused on ensuring members benefit from features and services offered. If you want members to share product experiences, for example, make sure the tools to achieve it aren’t hidden four clicks deep. This is also a great time to lean on the professional experience of your community development partners.
  • Define features – With these insights and understanding, you’re now ready to plan and describe the features and functionality you need.