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October 31, 2019

The Inevitable Pain of growing a Community

Wilfried Rijsemus

So, here is the thing. Many years ago, I was working at a large B2B software product company. I was triggered by a CMS Wire article: "Why companies fail at building a community". I had a great boss at the time. We were biting that very bullet and it wasn't the soft lead type but almost as hard as diamond so we thought I'd respond. We discussed this topic. We felt things were great but there was a vital ingredient missing. So, she asked me: "Where is YOUR content boy!". Since then I have put our approach to the test a few times, so happy to share with you.

Strategy: We = You and Me

If you want to start a community, you have to have a strategy. We started simple. Actually we started complex and ended simple :-). We=You and Me.

Imagine if you would consider your customers and partners to be like any other colleague. No more debates about internal and external content. Of course there is always content that is privy to a company but that can be simply captured in a "sharing guideline'. But the sheer notion that, any keystroke you ever make is somehow paid for by a customer makes people rethink who is entitled to your content in the first place.

Facing the consequences

So, when I was hired and was asked to embark upon this journey I put my chain-of-command's feet to the fire with the question: "I can drive the growth of the community, but are you willing to face the consequences?" This is where the lead bullet all of a sudden becomes as hard as a diamond. A community is a group of people. If you open up the conversation, you cannot expect that all will stay the same. In fact, the whole point is that you change, otherwise "why bother?".

The good news is that our audiences were really craving to have a conversation. The hard part of course is that many of our people were still in what I amiably call the "sender dominant MS Office world". Truly sharing the IP which makes you unique as a business and use that in combination the IP that floats around you, requires you to be open and share from the source. Since you do not have time to do it twice, you have to change the way you work...fundamentally.

Grass doesn't grow by pulling on it

Thanks to a great CEO and a great team that was willing to change, we bit thru the hardest bullets. Building a community feels a lot like a soft re-org. It is a mirror of what we do. It becomes visible. I always compare it to a petri-dish. When you start, the infected (changed habits) are visible and the red background is the norm.

The trick is to get as much momentum going that over time the remaining non-infected (red areas) are most visible. This is the moment where you have taken the hurdle and can count on a community that has enough momentum to leave the earth's gravity and carry itself into a new space and truly becomes thriving. It will be the time when I move on. Until that time, grass doesn't grow by pulling on it. It is a long and painful but necessary change to give our customers the best experience they can imagine and expect of us. We = You & Me.

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