A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with my friend, Mark Wallace, at a company called Shared Insights (subsequently merged with Knowledge Planet and became Mzinga). At Shared Insights, Mark was the head of sales, our mutual friend and colleague, Jim Storer, headed up product/community management and I lead our marketing efforts. The three of us were not only lucky enough to get into the social/community space well before the social web started to gain critical mass but we also had the benefit of working with some smart companies like Deloitte, Webex/Cisco and Environmental Data Resources (EDR).
Since that time, we’ve all gone our separate ways with me heading to Powered Inc., Jim co-founding a company called The Community Roundtable and Mark jumping over to EDR to run their community. I mention this only because the three of us stay in semi-regular touch and of course I’ve taken more than a passing interest in Mark’s social and community efforts at EDR. To that end, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that EDR’s community, Commonground, had just won Forrester’s prestigious Groundswell Award for Best B2B Support Community.
As someone that likes to know about these things and is always interested in sharing great case studies, I couldn’t resist asking Mark to do a quick e-mail interview with me:
- Tell us a little bit about EDR and what they do?
- How did you come to work at EDR?
- Talk about how the commonground community came about?
- What role do you play in the EDR commonground community (strategic and day-to-day)?
- So you just found out that you won Forrester’s prestigious Groundswell Award for best B2B support community. Who was your competition?
- Why do you think that Forrester picked you?
- What are 2-3 lessons that you’ve learned that you might share with other companies thinking about community?
- Thoughts on “build vs. join” i.e. do you feel like you’ve got all your bases covered with your community? Or are you a believer in participating in 3rd party social networks?
- Freestyle – give me any other pearls of wisdom or color commentary you’d like to share here. If you feel like you’ve answered everything you can skip this.
Environmental Data Resources, Inc. is the leading provider of environmental risk information services and related workflow applications in the United States. As the innovator of the most comprehensive database of environmental and historical land use information, the company provides reports, subscription services and other solutions to help its customers reduce environmental risk.
EDR was one of our early clients when I led sales at Shared Insights. When SharedInsights was recapitalized, I worked with them from while I was with Mzinga. Shortly after I left Mzinga, I was attending the Community 2.0 Conference in Las Vegas when Rob Barber, CEO of EDR, Barry Libert, CEO of Mzinga, and I started talking. Next thing I knew, Rob and Jay Gaines, CMO of EDR, created a position and I joined the company shortly thereafter.
EDR has always prided itself on innovation. We believed strongly in the importance of social networking and the value it would have for businesses moving forward. EDR invested resources to build commonground to enable our marketplace to harness the power of social media to improve customer loyalty, educate our marketplace, improve our web presence, expand both vertically and horizontally, and ultimately generate new sources of revenue.
My title is VP of Social Media for EDR. In that role, I am responsible for leading social media strategy and monetization efforts. I do whatever is required to deliver a valuable experience for our members while focusing on achieving the objectives outlined above.
That is a great question. When we saw the other submissions from SAP, Aflac, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Pitney Bowes, NetApp, we were pleased just to be in the same category as those market leading companies. When we found out from Josh Bernoff that we won, we were absolutely thrilled as it validated all the hard work of our members, partners, and staff.
I think Forrester picked us because we were able to share real success metrics on the true business benefits to both members and EDR. Plus we have an extremely high customer satisfaction rate.
The three most important lessons I can share are a) Before you select technology, make sure you have a clear and concise strategy with defined metrics b) Content, either user or expert generated, or both, is the key ingredient to a thriving community. c) Many companies fail at building communities. It is not easy to build a thriving community. Therefore, set reasonable expectations up front and make sure you have the proper senior management support, resources, and organizational commitment to realize them.
I believe in both. It depends on your goals and objectives. Those will drive what makes the most sense. Often times, both in tandem are the best option. As the leader in our market, we decided the best approach was to build commonground. We also have a LinkedIn Group and a Facebook Fan page.
When building a community, it is way too easy to get distracted. Focus is critical if you want to be successful.