Communications, expectations, and business seem to move faster than ever these days. With the constant buzz of the Blackberry, a continuous stream of Tweets, and in incessant interruption of IMs our attention spans have dwindled even more. Our collective attention and patience is a dwindling resource. Yet, community dynamics still require a long-term view. Communities – and I don't mean flash mobs, groups of 10 people, or event attendees because those are not communities – take time to develop and flourish. Measuring communities based on quarterly earnings calendars is a bad way to go but most businesses are focused on short term performance. We are under such intense pressure to show results that we often abort efforts that play out over longer periods.
This is precisely why I think many companies will fail. The benefits of robust communities to a business are enormous and those tantalizing benefits will lead many companies to try to adopt a community strategy. How do we protect community efforts while they are in the maturation stage? How to we measure maturing communities in such a way that we don't set un-achievable expectations that then lead to executive disappointment? How do we keep executives interested and engaged while communities are maturing and not yet performing?
There are certainly ways to encourage faster community maturity. Creating aggressive content strategies and adoption campaigns certainly helps. Having a constituency that is already familiar with social media tools is also helpful. Regardless of adoption and tool use robust communities require community leaders (not just sponsors), rich interactions between members, and a collective sense of the community as a whole. Those subtle characteristics cannot be manufactured in any other way but to have the community develop those traits organically over time.
Communities are one of the hardest types of organizations to launch, develop, and sustain. Two years is a reasonable ramp period and growth comes in fits and starts – metrics have to change over time too. I suggest the following:
Phase 1 (0-12 months): New members, pageviews, ratings, comments
Phase 2 (12-24 months): UGC, posts/user, visits/user/month, % of active members
Phase 3 (24 months +): Activity of community leaders, initiatives/ideas generated, ROI/value measures
Do companies have the patience to wait 2+ years to see value…I'm not sure that most do – what do you think?