Web Strategy: What to do when your Community doesn’t want to Share

I had an interesting conversation with a Podtech client last week. His company has already deployed forums and podcasts, and is aware of the impacts and benefits of Social Media.

His employer sells software that enables engineers to create devices, sort of an internal enablement technology, while you’d know the name of the company, the average consumer would never know about the product or offering.

Here’s the rub, due to the competitive nature of customers that use their products, they don’t want to share information due to fear of giving an edge to others in their market.

Situational Analysis:
Customers of this company don’t want to share due to the highly competitive nature of the industry.

Opportunity:
Getting customers to share will result in higher usage of the product, opportunity to build better products, customer self-support, and market intelligence for the company.

Strategy:
Deploy a social media strategy that encourages customers to share without giving out competitive information.

Recommended Tactics:

Protect Identities
Customers are resistant to sharing when they know their identity is being divulged, or if concerned about a competitor getting a leg up. Their displayed identity could remain anonymous (perhaps just use roll or other descript information) to protect identity

Reward Contributors
For those that contribute, they should have a great share of access to the company’s knowledge base, or be rewarded for additional training, or pre-product news or information. By giving, one will be rewarded.

Community Knowledge base
Creating a wiki that allows users to add content anonymously. Although wikis rarely work in open public instances, company should issue logins and instructions to select customers.

The Company as the conduit
In many cases the company will be the conduit for information, customers are too adverse to sharing directly with each other.

Interactive Podcast and Video Shows
I recommended that the company create an ongoing podcast series (see my Corporate Podcasting Strategies for 2007 post to get more ideas) that would involve community feedback if not direct participation. Some specific methods to encourage interaction would include:

Produce interactive podcasts or video shows with the company as the conduit:

A) Let customers send in questions via email
B) Encourage customers call in and record
C) Involve them in a conference type setting and record live.

Look for folks that are already vocal within the community to select.

I gave other suggestions for touring the company’s labs, research centers, or interviewing other thought leaders in the company.

Summary
When a community doesn’t want to share, the company must step up to kick start the community the basic program plan involves the following:

1) Harvest knowledge from customers
2) Organize into a meaningful way
3) Redistribute among the customer base
4) Reward those who share
5) Streamline the path and tools for the customers to share using social media tools

For more information
I purposely kept the above at a high level, there are dozens of steps for each of these tactics, explicit details and other recommendations are reserved for PodTech clients. You’re more than welcome to contribute via comments or your own blog!