A benefit of a hosted enterprise level, social networking community is the ability to build a service around your exact business requirements. You control everything – from the member experience to the type, form and quality of data generated. The majority of the data within your community will inevitably go towards building and enhancing the member experience, which ultimately benefits you. But there are additional considerations, not least the opportunity to leverage the data across other aspects of your business to increase sales and engagement.

How can I use community-generated data across my business?

So this is something of a loaded question. Every business is different and the data your online community generates will reflect those differences. But there are some common themes:

  • CRM – Customer relationship management is only as good as the data you have. By integrating content associated with community member accounts with your CRM systems, you can build richer profiles of customers and clients.
  • Marketing – Richer insights into your members mean you can rely on more targeted marketing. For example, say you are an outdoor activity shop. If you know a customer in your community is posting to camping groups in preference over hiking groups, you can shape your messaging to better fit their interests.
  • Research – The opportunity to generate insights from an enterprise level social networking community are wide-ranging. From simple polls to rich, insight-driven qualitative conversations.
  • Community-generated content – This is a bit of a catch-all, but the opportunity for business to draw on content generated by an online community are numerous.

It should be noted, while these represent opportunities for enhancing internal business, it’s important and often a legal responsibility to be open, honest and transparent with your members about how their information will be used.


Maximising the effectiveness of data

We often recommend a less is more approach when developing a new online community. This is a great way to manage growth, provide a focused experience for members and ensure internal stakeholder engagement. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for the future. Part of the planning process is reviewing immediate and future opportunities of how community-generated data can enhance other aspects of your business. One way to do this is to plan the data and metadata you need to gather. A couple of examples would be profile information, content categories and use of #tags.


The key is to gather as much data as you can that is relevant to your requirements, without fatiguing your members, eroding their trust or breaking the law. Being open and honest with your community members about how their data will be used is essential. Common sense can go a long way towards knowing if you are pushing data gathering too far. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t need to ask for personally identifiable information in order to offer the member a better experience within the community, then don’t ask! Bottom line, if you are ever in doubt, consult an expert.


Moving data move around your business

Security is the first consideration when using community-generated data. The details of how to manage security are too complex for this post. Suffice to say, always work with a professional when managing sensitive information. Never allow personally identifiable information to be accessed by anyone or any service that doesn’t need it. If in doubt, always consult a professional!

Ultimately, the advantages of your own hosted online community is the control you have over how you can use and move data around to support your business. There are typically three ways of moving data:


  • Tailored services – Your community is built for your community members. But this doesn’t stop you creating services and interfaces, focused on internal operations. A great example is research. With the right data in place, you can build services that allow sorting, filtering, moderation and analysis of community content.   
  • Shared databases –  Used when you have two internal services that need to draw from the same database. A common example is an internal single sign-on e.g. for an internal business community that leverages business email and passwords.
  • API’s – These allow two platforms, such as your community and a third party service to ‘talk’ to each other. When properly constructed, API’s are a very secure way of moving data from one business operation to another.

Ultimately, you will want to choose the best method that suits your requirements. What’s important is that opportunities are endless!