People Before Platforms

People Before Platforms

It may be odd for a technology company like 4 Roads to be saying this, but if you’re planning a community space, then don’t make an all-too-common mistake. Don’t ignore your audience and choose a platform first.

Think about the different types of people that will use the community. Are certain people the focus of key business objectives?  This needs to be explored, to understand all the options and determine where the focus of the community lies. Once this is defined, it is easier to work out how to best reach this audience, the type of community it prefers, and the platforms, which will best deliver this.

All too often we’ve seen someone in the IT team decide their business needs a community platform – to talk to customers, or for staff to talk to one another – then found that their colleagues don’t use it. The platform gets implemented on time, it integrates nicely to in-house systems, it doesn’t fall over, so it gets a tick in the margin as ‘project completed successfully, on time, on budget’. Then everyone moves on – and forgets it’s there at all. 

What a waste of money.

Using a community platform needs to be a choice for the whole business, not the IT team – so the whole business needs to think where its value lies. Yet even getting department heads together to ask them what they’d like the platform to do can be a route to confusion. You’re likely to finish up with a long wish-list of widgets and gizmos, and still no compelling reasons for anyone to use them.

Start your planning somewhere else.

Start with people, the people you want – hope, need – to spend time on your platform. Remember, the rest of the internet is just one click away and they will always have positively to choose to spend time with you. They won’t do it because you want them to, they will do it when they want to.

What you need to do – what online community makes it possible for you to do – is build a relationship with them.

Relationships involve two or more people and they involve conversation. They are two-way. Relationships can endure for years, even for lifetimes, but only if the people concerned respect and listen to one another. 

So the first question for any business thinking of installing a community platform is, am I ready to enter into a relationship with my prospective audience? If I am, what sort of relationship do I want? And (more important) what sort of relationship do they want? Are the two compatible?

If the kind of relationship you want is for them simply to open their wallets, tell you you’re great and move on, then online community isn’t right for you. If you really want to engage with them, listen to them and learn from them (and yes, get your own points over all the while), then online community is probably your best way of doing it.

This applies even if your audience is your colleagues or staff. If you want to involve them in the business, collaborate with them on making it work better, or empower them to find new ways of meeting your goals, then a social intranet is a great way of doing it. But if you don’t really want to involve them, then don’t waste your time.

Once you’ve answered this question honestly, then try the next: how am I going to get them to notice me?

It’s just like the dating game – if they don’t single you out from the crowd, they’ll choose someone else. And even once you’ve got them to notice you, one wrong step – a tasteless joke, a bad dance move – and they’ll be off. 

You need to spend time thinking about exactly what you can offer your audience that would make them want to come onto your platform to talk. If you haven’t got that attractor, they’ll go somewhere else and your investment goes down the drain.

So, don’t think about your audience as dates but as people. Not as market segments, not even as customers, prospects or employees. People are complex beings. When people make choices about how to spend their money and time, all kinds of considerations come into play. Some of them are fairly predictable calculations about products, price and service, or feelings about brands; but others may be quite random or positively irrational.

And that’s just in dating, or in making market choices. Choosing whether and how to conduct a conversation that will build into a proper relationship can involve far more complexity.

Digital communications aren’t good at dealing with the random and the irrational; they aren’t even very good at dealing with complexity. So, if you want to create a space that attracts people to have conversations with you, then you need to be clear and honest about what’s in it for them.

Once you’re clear on that, you can design the platform to make the right sort of conversations happen, to help you all to build the relationships you need.

At 4 Roads, we help companies assess their social readiness as well as aspects of their online community planning. Speak to us about how we can help you ensure that your community offers what your business, IT and customers want and need.