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Planning Your Community Initiatives: Thoughts from National Instrument's VP, Product Marketing, John Pasquarette

Posted by Bill Lee on October 20, 2008 at 03:23 PM

One of the most thoughtful attendees and most probing questioners at last week's 2008 Communities Exchange Summit John Pasquarette, shares these takeaways. He also provides  a framework for moving forward with his community initiatives. This is good stuff - as he did during the conference, John focuses on the business case and business impact of community programs.  I'm urging other attendees to contribute their own takeaways and ideas for moving forward. 

Take it away, John:

Community today reminds a lot of the Web from 10 years ago.  I was thrust into a position of running our Web team (and defining our Web strategy) in 1999.  Everyone knew "web" was very very important, but nobody really knew why, or what we should focus on.  For us, as a b-to-b business that sells fairly low-cost components and development tools for engineers at a very, very broad level (global presence, 25,000 customers, $700M in revenue) we settled on a couple key areas where we really used to web to drive our business strategy.  For a lot of things, the Web ended up reducing our costs and made us much more efficient.  


This isn't brain surgery, but we used the web to drive huge impact in the following areas: 

1. Reduced support costs (discussion forums, more/better technical info online, etc) 

2. More efficient/productive sales (product advisors/configurators to handle simple product discovery and compatibility, part numbers prices and basic info, e-commerce) - our goal was to make our Web handle the internal sales person role to allow them to serve our big accounts/orders 

3. Reduced marketing costs with the same/better reach (literature costs were slashed - our 700 page product catalog was completely eliminated last year, online events and webinars, banner ads instead of print ads) 

4. Intangibles (NI is "with it", they are a modern business that understands where we should be going, not where we've been, etc) 

All of these efforts are obvious now, but back then they weren't.  Also, because it was so important, we separated a lot of this activity into the Web team so we could fund it aggressively and move fast.  Today, a lot of this has been rolled back into the functional groups to become integrated with our business.   Our online event/webinar strategy is owned and executed by our Events team, who also run our physical events.  Again, makes sense, but it was an evolution. 


To me, the value of the community discussion is how do you tie it to important business objectives and how can we share best practices for using "community" to drive these different business objectives. Any discussion about "I'm rolling out a new community platform" or "what technology platform are you using" is totally irrelevant to me without some understanding of "what business objectives are you trying to drive with your community effort".  I agree that every company is a little bit different, but I heard a couple common themes this week that I think you can capture and start to build best practices around - I also think for each of these topics, you can have a parallel discussion about using open, broad-based community efforts or private, smaller communities): 

1. Influencing product roadmaps (the whole crowd-sourcing thing) - R&D and Product Management 
        - Ideamarket for broad-based 
        - advisory board for private, more intense engagement 

2. Increase your marketing footprint at a fraction of the cost - Marketing 
        - internally-driven bloggers 
        - highlighting/promoting customer bloggers 
        - getting involved in conversations away from your web site (facebook, etc) 
        - building non-branded community sites (the Dell "mobile computing" site idea, or the girl site about dealing with their changing bodies to influence them later to look at certain products) 

3. Closing larger deals/acquiring new customers (sales) 
        - Customer reference programs online 

4. In-house, low-cost primary research - business intelligence 
        - using your broad-based community to get a read on customer attitudes, loyalty, etc... 

5. Intangibles 
        - your company listens, acts on customer input, in general your company cares 

In addition to these business topics, I think there are plenty of orthogonal discussions that could be organized: 

1. Internal engagement - in addition to the obvious "how do I get executive support" question, there are more practical questions even when you do get support, like 
        - what does a moderator do?  where should they live?  what makes a good moderator?
        - what do we separate into a different department and what do you integrate into existing groups?
        - best blog policies for internal bloggers? 

2. Technology platform questions 

3.  Private vs broad-based communities 

Anyway, these are fairly obvious ideas, but I think too many business people (i.e. executives) might equate "community" with "facebook" and that immediately turns them off.  We need to start to equate "community" with "lowering costs", "expanding marketing reach and brand awareness" or "closing new accounts".    I look forward to continuing this discussion with the group of people you assembled this week.  Perhaps there is a good community platform we can all join to keep the discussions going.  

Reference Community Comments

Great recap John! I couldn't have said that better myself. Completely agree with everything you said, but I would say that instead of equating "community" with "lowering costs" - I think this depends on your organization. Are you a cost-centric org or are you a customer centric org? For some, it might be better to help your execs equate "community" with "what are your customers saying?". Depending on your senior leaders, this may be a better approach. Of course, the "lower cost" argument is still valid too...maybe use both arguments :)

As for a platform that we can continue the discussions going between the attendees of the event last week, our German friend Robert was going to work on something and share with the group.

John, excellent update. You are absolutely right that we should not fall in love with the tools....we need to think through why we are doing something...why is it valuable to our customers and, as a result, to our business.

Enjoyed your questions at the meeting. Look forward to hearing you speak in the future.

All the best


Here are the nuggets I took away for my team here. I grouped by topic, not by presentation.

Ron Bray
Program Director, ECM Global Market Awareness

Online Community Conference Notes
October 13-15
San Jose

Community Overview
• Communities are shaped by the organizations they are developed for. The community ecosystem approach works.
• A comprehensive strategy is essential to success. The strategy must address what the organization hopes to achieve as well as what represents value to the members. Topics to address in the plan: community objectives, target participants, benefits to the company and community members, stakeholders (hold a brainstorming session when developing the plan), a pipeline schedule of activities, plans to merchandise the content. Consider the persona of the community. The persona becomes a member recruiting tool. How like me is the persona?
• A plan should address monitoring external conversations about your firm.
• Communities are usually owned by Marketing, but there is a growing trend that Community teams are separating from Marketing.
• Communities are long-term relationships vs. Marketing which has a short-term, quarterly campaign orientation.
• Metrics are qualitative and quantitative. Metrics include: activity on the site, number and types of content created, number of connections/relationships created, time on the site, frequency of visits, recommendations and referrals.
• Values addressed by communities: cost reductions, faster support, increased knowledge, idea co-creation/co-learning, increased member engagement, lead generation/conversion, increased customer loyalty, more involvement with beta programs, better brand awareness, process improvements, more customer touches, innovation. Communities are the new supercomputer driving innovation.
• Budgets: $500K is an average with 6 full-time team members—community managers lead the charge overseeing community features, content, activity programs, metrics; moderators, community strategist, chief community officer (Dell has a VP of Communities and Customer Conversations and 42 people on their community team with 30 part-time content contributors having launched their community 3 years ago). Community Managers have a BA, 5 years of experience and $81K annual compensation (on average).
• Typical participation: 1-5% of your audience actually engages in the community. 90% of the participants are passive, 9% of the participants are active, and 1% create content. Gated communities (very targeted) can have participation as high as 60%.
• According to a recent Dell survey, 75% of respondents trust their peers. They do not trust advertising.
• Don’t look to other high-tech companies for what to do/how to structure a community. Look to passionate consumer communities for the latest…Harley Davidson, Twitter in China, etc.

What does a Community do?
• Enables voices to communicate—authors, press/media, community experts. There must be trust among participants for this to happen.
• Personalizes, customizes, and aggregates content.
• Transforms one-way communication into two-way conversation.
• Humanizes your company.
• Your company becomes part of your customers’ worlds.
• Communities are the focus groups of today.

Roles in a Community
• Member. Financial people, on the whole, are not comfortable with participating in online communities. Active online gamer personalities equate to active community participants.
• Host/moderator---the moderator for different programs must be an expert in that area. Intuit draws many of their moderators from their call center. Online community work becomes a new career path for them.
• Syndicate

Community Tools
• Blogs
• Forums
• Chats---different types: town hall, barber shop (intense dialog), library (you locate information, check it out, and comment)
• Video—60-90 seconds. Excellent for moving customer references from a static pdf to a YouTube style reference. Communities will become crucial to customer reference programs. Heard this from many people at the conference. Rich media increases community involvement.
• Live and archived events
• Contests
• Polls

Response to Negative Comments in the Community
• You will get them. Fear is not a reason not to create a community
• “I would rather have you attack me in my living room than in your living room.”
• Communities are usually self-policing. Customer advocates participate, and if they see an out-of-line comment, they will jump on it without the moderator having to get involved to do damage control. Moderators should take their cue from community participants.
• You can ask customers to comment on a negative topic, but don’t tell them what to say.
• If a participant is extremely detrimental to the community, it is ok to get that person to leave.
• has found that an “inconvenient idea” may be an opportunity to engage a partner solution.
• If a recommendation is offered and a decision is made not to act upon it, state why it can’t/won’t be done.
• “Don’t feed the trolls”—There is no need to respond to an idea if it is ignored or demoted by the community. You don’t have to respond to everything.
• Spam and profanity—contact the offending participant and tell them this is not acceptable.

Community Environment
• Fair
• Transparent
• No commercials
• Conversational tone, not formal corporate-speak
• The agenda is driven by the community, not by the company
• A community of 400-600 is ideal, and then segment the communities by interest.

Planning for a Community Launch
• You must have blogger training so that all of your bloggers speak consistently and with the corporate voice. Be selective---not everyone should blog.
• Have an introductory community demo/map—here are the forums, blogs, etc. on the site.
• Have a recognition program for frequent contributors—Microsoft MVP program is an excellent model. MVPs are all under NDA; they represent only a small percentage of the 1% of the membership creating content. The 7-8,000 MVPs are experts in the community. They receive a logo they can put on their business cards. This is a BIG deal to them, bigger than certification. There is a very low turnover in MVPs year-to-year. MVPs are not pro-Microsoft, but they are objective. Intuit Inner Circle community participants complete surveys and receive discounts. Oracle ACEs feel this designation is better than certification. Participant point systems recognize participants, but the danger is they do not provide meaningful content; they just act to accrue points.’s program: “Cheer for every click.” Encourage and reward even small levels of participation from new users. Have a welcome email to new community members…address community participation rules.
• You must have a calendar of content publication and events scheduled.
• Newsletter and community topics can be effectively tied. Also, have bridges for on and off line programs.
• If there are challenges in getting internal content creators engaged in the community, make content creation an MBO. You can expand your team by partnering with active customer advocates.
• Don’t launch everything at once. Take this in manageable steps.
• To launch you need to have content. You don’t want your early visitors to think there is nothing there.
• To kick start a launch, select power users to start a forum.
• Facebook and twitter presence will support a launch.
• You should communicate in the language your customers are most comfortable in. 95% of the online world communicates in 10 languages. Dell has had an active community for 3 years, and they are now running 7 languages. Rolling this out takes time and resources.

Program Failures
• Failures will come fast and often. It is a rollercoaster ride.
• Try new things. Try them quickly. Define your success and apply lessons for future programs.
• Mind shift/expectation shift: there will be failure and that is OK. Just learn from it.
• Experimentation is essential to improve your world.

Engaging Your Executives
• Ask your executives what they want to learn from customers—topics for event keynotes and test messaging.
• Engineering and development are usually big community advocates as the community provides product enhancement requests. Co-creation of product development is the result, but don’t forget services and education.
• Idea/conversation dashboard of community topics for executive review. Offer the pulse of the community with a few key quotes.
• Quarterly reviews.

Engaging Your Customers
• A community must offer value, easy access, and content members can’t get anywhere else, i.e., chats with executives, etc.
• Include fun activities—“tell us about your first computer,” send us a picture. Tap into the community’s passions.
• Send email reminders about new content and community events.
• Content is king, but conversation is what keeps community members coming back. Community managers are conversation architects.
• Member referral programs—include incentives.
• Create a Linked In Group for your community.
• C-level participation only significantly happens in gated communities on very specific, highly moderated topics. Best to ask what would be of value to the C-level customer before launching.
• Demos, roadmap information, partner presentations, hands-on labs, and roundtable discussions all drive involvement. Thought leadership can be communicated via a blog.
• It is best to separate partner and customer communities as they will have different conversations.
• Have a weekly plan of 3-4 questions to ask the community for comments. Ask tough questions and continue to ask.
• Spotlight members
• Tips for pros
• Dell program---Verified by Dell. Customers solving customer issues. Dell confirms these work and acknowledges them. “Fans are the unofficial leaders of their communities.”

I was shaking my head the entire time I was reading your recap. Regarding gaining executive support and understanding of Community...I found that business objectives was one of the first things I focused on when I came back from the conference.

Thinking about it that way opened conversations with so many internal constituents. Once the key internal constituents understand the value community can play for them , gaining executive support becomes that much easier. They can see the breadth of Community beyond just blogs and forums.

Value internally plus value to your customers - you can't go wrong. Thanks for providing clarity - it was great meeting you.

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