The other day, I blogged about why the benefits of building a collaborative online community. Today's let's dig into the features and benefits for the various dimensions of collaborative community solutions.
First, a quick review. Community solutions are multi-dimensional and most are modular in nature, allowing you to take the ones you want and scale up later if desired. You can elect to push information out, pull it in or do some combination of the two.
Common options include:
- Wikis (ideal for collaborative documents storage).
- Knowledge base (ideal for static, "official" documents).
- Group forums.
- Personal user profile pages and blogs.
How are some ways that a company might deploy these modules? Let's take a look.
Blogging is a great, informal way of conveying information to your communities. I like to use blogs as a way to give my audiences a peek into the "personality" of my company through its informality. Additionally, if you have multiple authors, then your audiences are able to gain perspectives from multiple individuals within your company.
Blogs allow you to push information out. However, if you allow your readers to comment on your blogs, it's also a great way to pull information in.
You could use a public blog to tell external audiences about recent company news, product information, comment on recent events in the industry or market place, showcase customers, upcoming events, etc.
You might use a private blog for internal communities to discuss HR initiatives, showcase departmental activities or individual employees, or convey executive messaging.
Your company may already be doing many of these activities via newsletters and press releases. Blogging is simply another pathway to your communities but it can allow more immediacy. I often repackage my formal communiques like a press release or case study, into an informal format to showcase in a blog -- and then I link back to the main company website.
One advantage of blogging versus the other channels, though, is that your communities can tap into your company information through RSS or news readers so it gives more immediacy to your messaging.
Additionally, blogging also benefits emarketing intiatives and will help your efforts with search engine optimization. Most blogs have more simplistic URL structures than traditional websites, feed search engine spiders with fresh content, and potentially have other sites link to them, all of which appeases the search engine gods and help you gain higher placement in search engines.
Wikis and knowledge bases
Wikis and knowledge bases may sound similar because they both involve document storage. Let me give you my take on one versus the other though.
Wikis are an excellent means of sharing collaborative documents. Because of this, I see wikis as the place to store documents that include contributions from multiple authors and that contain evolving information, making them evergreen documents. In contrast, I view knowledge bases as ideally suited to capture static documents that you want somewhat "frozen" in terms of content contribution.
You might use a knowledge base to hold static documents that reflect official company information or policies. For example, a knowledge base may hold user manuals or product release information for external audiences and HR documents or other company policy docs for internal ones. In each of these cases you want the document to remain frozen -- at least until the next official update.
In contrast, you might employ a wiki to collect shared information across a project. For example, if your company is moving an oil field from exploration to production mode, your team of geoscientists and engineers may use a wiki to internally communicate information about the field such as engineering considerations, construction status of an oil platform, etc.
Both Wikis and knowledge bases are great ways to push out information. Additionally, wikis can pull in information.
Lastly, public wikis can also help your company gain traction in search engines for similar reasons as those stated above for blogs.
The idea behind group forums is they allow your community members to posit questions or seek information. Answers are supplied by forum moderators within a company and also by members of the group. Group forums are strong tools to use to pull in information.
For example, many software companies use group forums to allow users to share tips in how to customize some aspect of their software.
Personal user profiles and blogs
Personal user profiles and blogs are the equivalent of company-specific Facebooks or MySpace pages. For example, you might use this functionality to give employees a means to share information about themselves with other employees.
There is no set way to deploy the various components of a collaborative online community. The best thing to do is to look at what your company needs in order to maximize its interactions with your various audiences, as well as what you want to accomplish. From there, select the modules that make the most sense to your needs.
Most collaborative community solutions will allow you to scale up your solution so you can always start with one avenue of interaction, like a blog or a group forum, and then add in additional pathways as you gain proficiency in one.