Web 2.0 Communities for Business – Tip #2: Put your finger on the problem

I have found ten common themes that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. The post below is my second of 10 tips; each with a particular theme. These are intended to be read in the order presented, as they will build upon each other…


Do not jump on the bandwagon

About three years ago, when Facebook got that huge valuation from a mainstream company known as Microsoft, we all began to hear comments like, “we are going to create company blog,” and “we are going to create a social networking community for our customers.” This was not a surprise; this bandwagon effect always happens when new, trendy technologies begin to emerge from the “Early Adopter” phase.

Unfortunately, when this occurs people often focus primarily on implementing the hot, new technology. The belief is that simply implementing the technology in vogue will create the same success that caused the technology to become hot in the first place. As a result, we see many solutions that “work” from a technology perspective, but do not move the needle from a business one. This can leads to disillusionment with the technology itself (something Gartner calls the Technology Hype Cycle). According to Gartner, this has begun with many enterprise social media technologies

The problem Is not with the technology, it is relying solely on technology

I teach a class on scope management. When I teach it, I start with the same exercise. I ask everyone to define Scope. I almost always get the same answer; that scope is all the features and specifications the technology must provide. For some reason, too many people think “Scope = Technology.”

Many sources (including the Project Management Institute) define scope as the combination of: 1) all the capabilities needed to meet a business objective, plus 2) all the resource required to obtain this. Essentially, scope is everything you need to do to solve a business problem or meet a business objective. (Notice this is not a technology-based definition)

If the scope of your initiative is only “to create a blog,” you will simply do just that: enable someone to in your company to blog. However, if your scope is “to enable your CEO to demonstrate s/he is listening to your customers” you will need to provide a lot more—namely the processes, roles and technologies to—

  • Detect and analyze areas of customer concern
  • Author, edit and publish essays (Blog Post) eliciting customer feedback
  • Analyze and aggregate customer feedback into actions
  • Implement these actions within your business
  • Track, measure, summarize, review and publish these results to your customers

Simple delivery of technology is not enough. You need to combine it with process and role changes with the explicit focus on creating business value.

The easiest way to focus on business results: Put your finger on the ‘problem’

So now it looks like I am calling for a larger scoping exercise (vs. something simple like “just create a corporate blog.”) Won’t this lead to long meetings and longer scope documents that no one reads and never get fully executed? Not if you use the Problem Statement Approach

Over the past two decades key initiative and process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma, Lean, and the Rationale Unified Process (RUP) use structured problem statements to define scope. Structured problems statements use a simple, repeatable approach to determine:

  • What problem you trying to solve
  • Who is affected by this (and how this affects the enterprise at large)
  • What you need to provide to fully address the problem

It does this very quickly–in one PowerPoint slide. This gives you a 30-second “elevator speech” to easily communicate your scope, enabling you to gain support and keep everyone focused “on the same page.” It also avoids ugly scope creep fights. If you are doubt whether something is in scope, ask, “Is this required to solve the business problem?” If the answer is “Yes,” it is in scope; if “No” it is “gold plating” that should be omitted.

Examples of companies who have applied this well

It is always easiest to understand how to apply this by looking at good examples. Here are three. (Click on the logo to visit the community that demonstrates this concept)

menshealthRodale wanted to boost revenue and brand loyalty in a way that fully aligned with their mission. They created the Belly-off Community and liked it to online and in-print promotions. Men read about tips to lose weigh online and Men’s Health magazine, then go online to upload their photo, compete to lose weight, get ideas from others and simply get moral support. The result was a hugely popular community that generated brand loyalty, increases subscriptions and increased online advertising.

hgtvScripps wanted to boost their online revenue and become the place for people to think about home improvement. They created on online community to let people share their improvements, ask questions and provide feedback to others. Scripps combined this with processes and roles that helped people get ideas (and more value) from the community. The site was so popular and valuable that it led to the creation of a TV show.


Dell pioneered online sales. It wanted to harness online communities to provide customer service, get input from their customers and share how they were listening. Dell pursued a variety of combined initiatives, from CEO Blogs, to online forums, to crowd-sourcing ideas for product improvement. This not only required technology; it required integration of new processes, roles and technologies with Dell’s existing technology and business infrastructure.

If you focus on building communities that solve business problem, you will have a much greater chance of creating business value and generated large returns on your investment.

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