Is Your Online Community Delivering Value For Your Organization?

Online Communities Turn Into Virtual Ghost Towns

As learning organizations experiment with leveraging Web 2.0 tools to create online communities of practice, many Chief Learning Officers, heads of human resources and talent management should take a lesson from Chief Marketing Officers who have created online communities for marketing purposes. Many of these online communities have failed, and sadly, produce fancy web sites that few customers ever visit. Let me state, I am a strong advocate of online communities of practice for extending learning into the workplace. But, we, are learning professionals, must learn from the marketing pro’s about what works and how to create and nurture engaging online communities, and avoid them become a ghost town.

In a groundbreaking survey of 100 businesses that have created online communities for marketing purposes, Deloitte found that many of these sites fail to gain traction with customers. In fact, the statistics outlined below are a reason for CLO’s and human resources professionals to pause before launching their own online communities.

Of the 100 businesses surveyed by Deloitte:

  • Thirty-five percent of the online communities have less than 100 members
  • Less than 25% have more than 1,000 members
  • 6% of businesses spent over $1 million to launch these online communities

So why is this happening? Deloitte identified a number of common blunders that we can take note of before undertaking online communities for learning purposes:

  • Blunder #1: Bells and Whistles trap: Companies launching online communities often get seduced by bells and whistles and blow their online-community budget on technology. Alternative: Do research to understand the needs and “pain points” of the online community instead of investing in the latest technology tools that you fall in love with.
  • Blunder #2: Too few resources are spent on community management and facilitation. Remember this is a new endeavor for both the company and the potential community members. Deloitte found that 45% of the survey respondents identified poorly managed online communities as a significant barrier to their effectiveness. Survey respondents stated the quality of the community manager and their online facilitation skills were two features that greatly impact a community’s success.
  • Blunder #3: A lack of hard business metrics. While business that create online communities for marketing purposes say they do this to generate customer loyalty and word of mouth marketing, their most frequent metric is simply the number of hits to the site. Some metrics proposed include: number of in-bound links, rankings in Google and impact on the share of market numbers.

Some questions for you to consider:

  • Are you putting the “right” people, processes and technologies in place to create, sustain and nurture online communities?
  • How are you measuring the success of these online communities?
  • Are you connecting with the “marketing folks” at your organization to learn how they are using online communities?

Share your thoughts. I look forward to your comments.

[tags]Online communities; Deloitte, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Marketing Officer[/tags]

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About Jeanne Meister

Jeanne C. Meister is a best selling author of three books, internationally recognized consultant and keynote speaker. Jeanne is Partner of Future Workplace, a consulting firm dedicated to assisting organizations in re-thinking, re-imagining and re-inventing the workplace. Jeanne was recently voted by her peers as one of the 20 top influential training professionals in the United States. Jeanne’s name is synonymous with the establishment and institutionalization of global corporate universities. Jeanne is the author of three books, Corporate Quality Universities and Corporate Universities. Jeanne’s latest book is, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (Harper Collins, 2010) is in its 10th printing.No information is provided by the author.


  1. Jeanne,
    I think another important point is that the sites need to offer something compelling enough to get people to drop by and hang out for a while. There are so many social networks out there now, and they are all competing for a finite amount of time.

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