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Communities: Should You Build One?

March 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm PST

When an online community comes to mind, most think in terms of engagement, conversations, culture and feedback.  And if you continue to think about it, more ideas come to mind, like: how can I be heard, how far reaching is the content, how does this affect my job or company?

But is there more to it? Why should a community be created?  What are the benefits?

Why Create a Community?

zuck quoteSimilar to a consumer’s behavior of doing online research of a product prior to purchase, business buyers look toward communities and their members to get a quick overview of product information, customer satisfaction and company engagement with their customers.  They are looking to find out if the company is going to support their organization long-term in the manner they want, based on how well they’ve met other customers’ needs.

But communities provide more than research to a potential buyer, they can:

  • build your brand and widen your reach,
  • be an integral part of the marketing mix,
  • attract the right customers,
  • lower acquisition costs,
  • provide a sense of belonging to the visitors,
  • provide support in an efficient and scalable manner,
  • provide exploration and feedback (both positive and negative) for new ideas and suggestions for product improvement.
  • and much more

The value of an online discussion about the merits of a product and/or any flaws is invaluable to a company.

I visit communities quite a bit looking for feedback for any product or service I may be thinking of buying.  To research vacations, my wife and I seek information about places to stay, tours to take, restaurants to visit…  As I  read through the many comments, those comments from previous customers are invaluable and often raise questions or spark ideas I hadn’t even thought of, and can change my mind about the product or vendor to buy from.

Key Questions Before Starting a Community community word cloud

Success of a community requires a well thought out plan, hard work, robust content and an ongoing long-term dedication to your members.   Each micro-community can have a different goal or purpose, but before starting any community, be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Do my community goals align with my corporate priorities?
  • Who is my target audience and is it large enough to consume and generate content and activity?
  • Am I able to deliver something of enough value to the audience I seek to attract and engage with?
  • Does my team understand the endurance necessary to run a successful community?
  • Is my team resourced to work and collaborate with members, not just at launch but over the course of months and years to come?
  • Is it possible to sustain the community over the long haul?
  • Do I have a strong content pipeline for the next 90 days?
  • Have I identified KPIs that align to my company’s business goals?

Communities at Cisco Cisco community screenshot

The online communities at Cisco drive awareness and conversation among prospects, customers and partners on Cisco business and technology topics.  They enable customers and partners to solve issues collaboratively and proactively. And they give Cisco colleagues insight into the markets in which we sell, work, live, and serve — so we can do so better.

Top Communities at Cisco:

Cisco hosts a wide range of customer and partner communities that can meet almost any need and interest.  If you’re already a member, thank you! If you’re not yet a member, please join us in conversation and collaboration.  Here are some recommendations:

  • Collaboration/ Data Center /Enterprise Networks/ Security – IT professionals engage with peers and industry experts to discuss trends, IT strategy, product capabilities + more; allows peers to share strategy, solves problems and connects people whom otherwise wouldn’t have connected; average 26K visitors per month per community; 1.5K contributions per month.
  • Support – enables customers and partners to solve issues collaboratively; solves support issues/questions in a cost effective, scalable manner; quadrupled in size over last 18 months; 1.5M unique visitors per month; 7K contributions per week.
  • Cisco Learning Network – provides learning tools, training resources and industry guidance; allows anyone interested in learning about networks to participate, bringing learning to all rather than the few; open to anyone.
  • Cisco “DevNet” Developer Network Community – engages and enables developers and partners to create Cisco integrated solutions; professionals from different companies can truly collaborate on a solution that otherwise wouldn’t have met.
  • Partner  – (private community) partners can interact directly with their partner peers, get the latest news, product and program updates; solves technical issues and allows collaboration in real-time as needed.

If your company has one or is considering one, what is the goal of your community?  Is it being met?

Are you engaged in one or more of the Cisco communities?  (If not, why not?)  What others should we be building? How can we best meet your needs and interests through our current communities, or fill a gap?

 

Vision Alignment in the Digital Age

As organizations mature, often they become silo’d into groups with similar charters but without a process to align their efforts. As a member of a team that is responsible for the overall strategy for of the company’s digital experience, this lack of alignment can cause inefficient resource allocation or worse yet, competing technology platforms. With speed of innovation in the digital space accelerating daily, the risk of misalignment increases exponentially.

In an effort to insure alignment across our organization, we recently led a cross organizational workshop to define and document our vision for what the digital presence of Cisco should become in the year 2017. We brought together over 45wordcloud subject matter experts, from over a dozen teams for a day and a half of interactive design thinking exercises. The exercises focused not on our internal processes, but on how our customers interact with our digital properties. The beauty of design thinking is that it breaks down personal bias in a team and focuses fanatically on the customer experience. By doing this, key themes were defined and agreed to across the teams.

We have all heard these key themes:

  • content is king
  • use of data to increase value to the customer
  • agility over complexity

We all had similar challenges and understood the need to align. Seems easy enough, right?In an organization as large as Cisco, collaboration is critical. In order to drive that collaboration and alignment across the many digital teams, we formed a structure that provided a forum for alignment while keeping governance over the vision that was defined.

We do this through:

  • commitment at the executive level
  • driving agreement of the vision thru a cross-functional steering committee
  • execution is driven through working groups aligned to specific aligned initiatives (such as analytics or partner experience)

The working groups (driving execution) are led by the organization closest to the effort, yet each has representation across several groups to insure alignment across all digital efforts. Each working group is then responsible to report progress to the executive level committees. We continue to build out and refine these processes as needed.

As the working groups have come back with their plans we have noticed the success of this effort was understalign2anding that alignment is not the key issue, all the groups have similar requirements, expectations, KPI’s for success.

The true issue is a forum through which to drive the discussion in an agile fashion to align our digital vision. The expectation of failing fast and failing forward, understanding that the most exciting thing about the digital space is the pace of change and innovation. The journey is more rewarding than the destination, as the destination is always changing.

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Content: Are you Taking the Right Journey?

We all know about the importance of knowing your customer needs, and focusing on the digital journey. But all too often, we overlook the content that customer experiences — and how well it pays off the journey. A few months ago at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association  conference, I shared five steps to tune the customer  journey and the content needed to support it. Here are some lessons learned (and what you can do to get started).

1.  Build out customer personas.

The first step is to bring your customer targets to life. Who are your customers and what do they care about? What are their key go-to sources for web, mobile and social?  The key is to understand the roles these target buyers play and the interplay within the purchase process. At Cisco, we started with three target personas for our Data Center buyers and did a deep dive into careabouts for CEO, BDM and Technical Influencer roles. Read More »

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Converging Communications in the Cloud

Cloud, Cloud, Cloud and… Cloud!!  There has been much justified excitement about the Cloud and the benefits that it can provide. XaaS is here to stay with everything from HR systems to CRMs launching multi-billion dollar transformations in the way business is done.

Within Cisco, we are in the middle of an exciting transformation of our own internal Digital services and platforms with the Cloud revolution as a backdrop. The work is exciting, and daunting, as it spans across multiple Communication and Marketing capabilities that will ultimately be consumed by our customers, partners and employees.

Why?

Cisco already has a robust Digital Marketing and Communication capability.  For example, we just took 6th place in Byte Level’s Web Globalization Report Card in front of some very strong companies.

ByteLevel_2014

So, if things are going well, why put the effort in to changing it?

Jimit Arora has a nice summary in InformationWeek on some of the factors around successful Enterprise Cloud adoption. He points to looking at cloud through the “lens of agility, competitiveness, not cost” and giving people a “compelling reason” to step out of their comfort zone.

In our industry, sitting on your laurels results in quickly being passed.  It’s critical for us to be constantly improving how we do things and Cloud is providing a major opportunity to do just that.

Are we there yet?

Cisco is examining the opportunity from a capabilities point of view with an eye towards consolidating and converging areas that exist for both internal and external use. The line between what’s inside and outside of a large Enterprise has been gradually fading since… well, since the advent of the internet.  As we tick off each capability we want to enable, there are many examples where we are already ‘there’ and have been for awhile. For example, when Cisco acquired WebEx Communications in 2007, we quickly became their largest consumer of cloud-based Communication services and we remain one of WebEx’s top ‘customers’ by volume today. As a Cisco employee, I use the same service that our customers use and we use it both inside and outside the firewall without giving it a second thought.

Another area of where we are pretty much ‘there’, is with our video capability. Using both 3rd party and Cisco technologies like TelePresence, we are able to move video seamlessly to customers, partners and employees as needed.  We demonstrated this capability in a dramatic way during the Cisco CloudVerse launch in 2011. We went so far as to combine a major internal event, our Company Meeting, with a live external broadcast to industry analysts and the press.

However, there are number capabilities that remain an opportunity for Cisco. One area where the improvements could be dramatic is in eliminating needless divisions between internal and external in the content management and delivery space. The lines between what goes to a customer, partner or employee should simply be a matter of policy and not a matter of digital capabilities or infrastructure.

There will certainly be cost savings around the re-use of internal content for external consumption, but the main benefit will once again be around agility.  Imagine the possibilities of a simplified architecture where content and new innovative capabilities can be delivered simultaneously to anyone within the broader corporate ecosystem. Getting the right content, to the right person, just-in-time has long been the promise of Digital and that will be greatly accelerated by a converged, cloud-based communication architecture.

If you find yourself within a large Enterprise examining Cloud-based Digital Marketing and Communication capabilities from the IT or Business perspective, I would love to hear your thoughts on the opportunities and challenges in the space.

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Humanizing Cisco’s Recent Network Convergence System

Trying to tell a story with a very technical product is challenging for many B2B brands. Many struggle to get their message across in a succinct and efficient way, but most of all, many of these brands struggle with creativity. Creativity is an essential component of effective marketing, and creativity was definitely the route Cisco took. We took a chance and actually humanized our network fabric family, the Network Convergence System (NCS).  By incorporating user-owned videos with humorous scenarios, leveraging popular Vine celebrities, and making the NCS’ benefits visual, we were able to thoroughly tell its story and make it relatable to everyone – not just the technical crowd.

The campaign was all encompassing of all things social. The integrative campaign (official hashtag #SystemForIoE) used Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Vine, community, blogs, Storify and SlideShare. If there was an audience that needed to be reached, Cisco was going to reach them.

Combining humor with technology

The NCS was designed to meet the demands of the Internet of Everything (IoE), Cisco’s flagship campaign defined as connecting people, processes, data and things. We needed to find a creative way to showcase the campaign’s key messages that made sense to the global audience as they were targeting many regions, including Latin America, Middle East, Europe, Asia-Pac and the United States. After sifting through a few dozen ideas and thousands of different humorous clips from around the world, we decided on the top three clips that resonated best with all the different countries. This is one of Read More »

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