Can you imagine how difficult it would be for a pilot to fly even the smallest aircraft without any flight instruments in their cockpit?

Now think of a large, modern aircraft that carries hundreds of passengers on it. Even the most gifted pilot is unlikely to agree to fly a passenger aircraft unless all their flight instruments were fully functional. And that’s because they would never be in a position to guarantee their passengers a safe and pleasant journey, unless they had all that flight-related information at their disposal.

Growing an online community using an Enterprise Social platform is in many ways similar to a flight journey to a destination popular amongst modern businesses: the fully networked enterprise.

The ‘aircraft’ in this case is a state-of-the-art Enterprise Social platform loaded with employees all on board for their own reasons (some business, some pleasure – and most likely a few ‘reluctant flyers’). And who else could be ‘flying the aircraft’ if not an enterprise community manager? And for all their skills and talents, these ‘pilots’ need to have the right information to hand – which in the context of enterprise community management means the right data and metrics accessible in the right way at the right time.

Enterprise community management needs to be adaptive and contextual

Through my research into enterprise community management I spoke with people from different industries, all doing their very best to grow and sustain powerful online communities that would transform the way people communicate and do work. However enterprise community management is contextual, and needs to adapt to the changing needs of the online community as it progresses from one stage of maturity to the next.

In its earliest stages, the priority is for the community to gather the critical mass necessary to get things going. Therefore, enterprise community management in that stage is essentially about bringing people on board and getting them to start using the platform in ways that make sense to them and benefit them as individuals.

Very soon, however, it extends to involve active community support including various aspects such as governing the platform’s usage and helping people get the most out of it on a daily basis. And of course, after a large number of people have already become active users, system performance related tasks such as maintaining the system clean of inactive groups and “trash” content, and improving search functionality also become important. These are all day to day tactical activities that enterprise community management needs to incorporate as the online community evolves, and the list of tasks, as one would imagine, is ever expanding.

A data-driven approach leads to better outcomes

The important thing to note here, however, is that regardless of a community’s current stage of maturity, enterprise community management needs network performance tracking and assessment capabilities in order to be effective.

And in my opinion these capabilities demand a data-driven approach that involves asking the right questions, as well as having the right combination of enterprise social analytics tools in place to address these questions effectively. Tools that will empower enterprise community managers to create and customise reports and metrics for measuring user-related activity on the platform, while allowing them to drill down to the actual network and observe in more detail what causes certain activity. And of course from these sets of metrics relevant KPIs aligned with the overall business strategy can then be built, with a focus on delivering improved business outcomes.

Such enterprise social analytics solutions serve as the ‘instrument panel’ that gives the information needed for those ‘piloting’ the community to keep things moving in the right direction. Moreover, when combined with analytics that cover the rest of the business functions, enterprise social analytics could also empower enterprise community managers with the ability to measure the level of impact of the online community to the business, and ultimately prove that their role really matters.

Some of the abovementioned functionality is currently offered via on-platform analytics, but businesses looking for more complete solutions need to look into third party, fully customisable analytic tools (see this recent post on the limitations of on-platform analytics). These third party tools can integrate with multiple systems deployed within a business – including enterprise social, customer support and marketing platforms – therefore allowing for combined views and correlations between different kinds of data sets. Many of these external tools are also offered as SaaS / Cloud solutions, thus allowing businesses to quickly develop agile and up-to-date analytics solutions that can address their needs in a manner that is both cost and time effective.

It’s all about the journey

Having said that, what needs to be noted at this point is that having a data-driven approach (and the right analytics solution to implement it) is only part of what enterprise community management needs to be successful in the long term. Enterprise Social platforms are powerful infrastructures that allow for new practices to emerge within a business context and as they will continue to evolve, their integration with other enterprise systems will be increasing, effectively blending them within the different business functions instead of adding an extra layer on top of them.

For that reason, I believe that an empowered enterprise community management approach needs to extend beyond internal communication and collaboration, and involve working closely with the different operational functions to effectively embrace the broader business context.

It’s a long and challenging journey for businesses to evolve from hierarchies to fully networked organisations, and enterprise community management should be exactly about moving organisations along that journey.

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