So far, I’ve focused on examples of businesses building and growing individual communities to help drive their success. However, most of the companies with whom I spoke actually had a lot of different groups interacting with them in some capacity. For example, these organizations might have a community of customers, a separate community of business partners, and another community reaching out to universities or to specific industry participants. Regardless of which communities are relevant to you, it’s extremely likely that your organization touches more than one group. So how should you go about working with all of these groups?
To illustrate community integration, I will focus on one of our best practices here at IBM: the IBM SOA Society. In May of 2007, I challenged my global team to think more broadly about its ecosystem and all of the communities in which it participated. Around the world, we had strong relationships with customers, business partners, governments, universities, and a long list of industry leaders. However, no one had looked at all of these relationships, which we exclusively had built up over decades of trust and hard work, as providing us a unique opportunity in the industry: to bring together all of these groups to address industrywide problems.
The first team to take me up on this challenge was in China. Under the leadership of Amy Liu, IBM SWG marketing executive for China, the China team built out a unique program to capitalize on its various relationships. Calling this community of communities the “SOA Society,” Liu and her team began a deliberate program to integrate its work with the following groups:
- Business partners
- Government organizations
Each group had an individual executive owner and its own plan. However, the large SOA Society met collectively to brainstorm and identify opportunities for cross-community integration, all under the goals of building up leadership and mind share and gaining customer and business partner wallet share.
The SOA Society has greatly strengthened IBM’s presence in China. The activities done by Liu and the team have increased the visibility of IBM to each group, but also increased IBM’s overall value by connecting the groups to each other. For example, students who participated in an SOA contest gained visibility to customers, business partners, and government entities who were in search of key skills within their organizations. By integrating the communities with each other, IBM played a critical role in the development of the entire industry in China.
Based on the success I saw in China, I’ve already started my team building off of this model to create similar integrated environments in other countries. We focus on how to improve the experience for each of our individual communities and how to add new communities based on roles, geographies, or industries. We also concentrate on how to provide unique value by helping members of one community find key members of another.
What Are the Secrets to IBM’s Success?
As I look back upon the decision points that made this integrated community a success, a number of key learnings stand out:
- Think about all of your communities broadly: We had been working with each of our communities individually for many years. Although we certainly had plenty of opportunities to enhance each community independently, it was the idea of looking at the collection of communities and our unique role as the hub of all of them that helped us provide value. Think about the groups with whom you interact and how you might be able to link them together.
- Valuable integration, not forced communication: Anyone who has ever been to a bad mixed group party knows what it’s like when different groups don’t talk. You might have people from the neighborhood, people from work, and people from your other groups all together, but they remain in their separate groups. This can happen when integrating communities, too. Find a valuable activity that gives everyone a chance to participate. Contests are good for this. Customers can propose problems, students can propose solutions, and business partners can judge the entries. It gets people talking and provides real value.
- Highly targeted information and interaction: One caution when you start integrating communities is to avoid over-integration. Sure, it’s easier to manage one fully integrated community than a bunch of separate ones. But remember that each individual community has its own value and shared principles. If you blur the lines too far, you’ll end up with one community of extremely different people that will have a harder time providing value to each other all the time. Integrate your communities where appropriate, but maintain their individual identity at the sametime.
- Pilot once and broaden quickly: Building successful communities takes practice. It was great to see Liu and the team from China respond tomy challenge enthusiastically. It was also great to pilot these communities in one country, learn some lessons, and then move globally. If you can build your integrated communities in a single area before branching out, you will likely learn a number of new insights that will help your development.
- Adjust for the local audience: After you decide that you’re ready to move broadly, be sure to customize your community activities to the local market. Just as individual communities need to maintain their unique character in an integrated group, so too do individual countries and organizations need to maintain their culture and priorities. You can leverage the same concept around the world, but you need to apply it differently.
In this example, you can see the challenges and benefits of thinking about your communities broadly and determining your role as an integrator. Look at all of the groups with whom you engage on a regular basis and ask yourself if you could be a potential matchmaker for different businesses or individuals within those groups