Communities: Should You Build One?

March 25, 2014 - 3 Comments

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?


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  1. For those interested in the Cisco community dedicated to service provider and partners, check out . We host topics on architecture, video, mobility, cloud, and the Visual Networking Index. Participate in discussions, ask questions, read or contribute your own blog posts, or locate Cisco white papers and case studies.

  2. Another great ‘related’ article I think you, as a reader of this blog, would be interested in:

    “Why Online Business Communities Matter for You” is written by Rachel Happe, the co-leader of The Community Roundtable. Find her blog here:


    Mark Yolton

  3. Post script:

    Business and IT strategist, and next-gen (Enterprise 2.0) expert Dion Hinchcliffe (with the Dachis Group) tweeted me a link to his “related” article on ZDnet after he read this blog. I think Dion’s piece is a great complement to my thoughts, above. His is titled “Is the window closing on enterprise customer communities?” … I recommend it and am proud to have my piece affiliated with his in some small way.

    Here’s a link:

    While there, you ought to follow Dion for more of his wisdom – he’s an expert on many topics, with access to rich research and a range of case studies, and often shares forward-looking insights.