No, we’re not setting up a home for soon-to-be-weds, but two words that have become commonplace in today’s conversations are Engagement and Communities. It is all about getting engagement with people – does this blog engage the reader? – and building communities around a brand, groups with a common interest like Microsoft Teams Adoption, through to the more widely recognised ones like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Keeping the matrimonial theme going, Engagements and Communities go hand in hand. A community that’s disengaged is neither effective nor productive. On the flip side, a consistent, repeatable engagement (whether positive or negative) creates a community.

However, the real importance of community is that it creates a tribe that share a particular interest, whether it’s a fashion tribe around a certain brand, an industry tribe around a profession or skill set, or other tribes around health, a cool tool, a location or an event, for example. However, in business, companies are embracing communities as a way of getting direct customer engagement. This is because a community represents a self-selected group of people with a common interest, that so happens to be around their product or company.

Within that community, the members can be broadly divided into two groups and although both groups are engaged with the community, their behaviours are completely different. This distinction is important to understand because if the community is seen as homogenous by the business, it’s efforts to engage with its members, especially  customers, will fail and will alienate one part of the community, with potentially negative effects on the entire  community.

The first group are the active members who are more vocal, regularly participate – creating content, posting opinions and comments, sharing or re-sharing and often having a higher ranking within the community.

The second group are those who are noninteractive, perhaps just following the discussion or using the community as a source of information – an introduction to a new technology, product or perhaps to help them decide about a purchase intention. This group make up the majority of community members.

Academics have labelled these two groups as “Posters” (First Group) & “Lurkers” (Second Group) which are discussed in greater detail in the paper “Interpreting Social Identity in Online Brand Communities: Considering Posters and Lurkers”  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/mar.20995

You know who you are, but here is a chance to be counted.

Typically, Posters form a small, but very vocal minority of the community and their behaviours and motivation is well understood.  Lurkers, on the other hand, are the silent majority and can be very easily overlooked or ignored. Research indicates that not only are Lurkers valid members, they are also valuable members of communities. Being silent in the community does not mean Lurkers would be silent outside the community. Although Lurkers do not actively participate within the community, they feel they belong to the community and are important, committed members of it. Such commitment may extend to providing anonymous feedback or even positive word-of-mouth outside the community.

Therefore, it is vital for businesses to consider both Posters and Lurkers in their communities if they want to build strong relationships with their members.  However, to treat both groups of users the same will be counter-productive or may lead to unintended consequences.

Recently, LinkedIn announced it had re-engineered its algorithms.

https://engineering.linkedin.com/blog/2019/06/community-focused-feed-optimization

Why are they doing this? Because they recognise that within their community, they have Posters and Lurkers. They also have recognised that their current algorithm for candidate selection creates an unconscious bias towards Posters. Why is this a problem? Well for one thing you may prefer your candidate did the job you hired them for rather than posting on LinkedIn, however the real benefit is that all members have the chance to be heard.

This is really important for two reasons:

  • The AI tools allow all the communities’ activities to be considered, including the notoriously difficult-to-track Lurkers.
  • It allows for a more engaging, inclusive experience for all the community members, thereby strengthening the community.

So how does this fascinating information help? Communities are becoming more important and a critical part of the modern way of working, both internally and externally. User-centric capabilities like Self-Help and Self-Support usually have an underpinning community. Learning and Education often has a community component that allows a more agile, flexible approach to acquiring new skills.  Customer Communities allow product development and testing to be done faster and more effectively, whilst providing a direct feedback channel.

Communities are everywhere, and they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. However, most businesses still overlook the importance of their community, seeing them as something of an after-thought. Consequently, there are two choices:

  • Embrace and engage with the community to make it inclusive, effective and a positive (productive) experience for all members, both Posters and Lurkers.
  • Fail to engage and not realise the full benefits the community has to offer.

Tools to create communities are many, however how we get the best out of the community still requires active management. Artificial Intelligence & Analytics helps this by allowing the collection and analysis without exerting an influence on the members’ behaviours. With remote working and virtual teams, community is replacing more traditional, physical congregation methods like the Water Cooler, lift (elevator) and kitchen. If we are to get the best out of our communities, as LinkedIn has realised and other online communities will follow, we need to ensure that everyone is heard, included, considered and engaged.

Authors

Dr Sahar Mousavi, School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University
https://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/sbe/staff/mousavi-sahar/  s.mousavi@lboro.ac.uk

Mark Sweeney, Cloud Engagement Director, HSO