What are they? Why should you care?
An online community is a single place on the web where individuals, groups, teams an even entire organizations can work together towards a common goal. They can be of any size, scale, scope or duration (week, month, years) and can be coordinated and managed anywhere you have an internet connection. They can also be totally open and public or very private and secure.
Most typical community platforms provide a collection of integrated features including a combination of document storage, collaboration tools and social networking services. When choosing a community package, I recommend that you research the following:
- Ease of use - Is the environment intuitive? How integrated is it with your desktop and mobile applications? Support packages?
- Deployment - Can you set up your community right on the web or do you have to install? How much customization is required?
- Cost - What is the pricing model? Per User? How much disk space?
- Branding - Can you change the look, feel, layout to meet your custom branding requirements? CSS? Templates? Widgets?
- Security - How secure is the community? What is the permission model? Does it support groups? Invitations?
- Extensibility - Does it have an Open API? Desktop integration? Email integration (i.e. notifications, email based forums, email to blog etc.)
- Mobile Readiness - Is the community platform W3C compliant? Does it have a mobile client?
Why Online Communities?
Most organizations today are characterized by isolated knowledge workers, limited understanding of organizational expertise, and a lack of accepted best practices. Information barriers hamper productivity, decrease employee awareness, and cripple the pace of innovation by duplicating efforts. Online communities can be used to significantly connect your most important business assets - your people and your knowledge.
There are generally two types of online communities that exist in every type of organization: Workplace and Marketplace.
Organizations create Workplace Communities to connect their workforce across geographically dispersed project teams, departments and/or business units. Companies can realize significant productivity gains, foster innovation and drive employee engagement through improved collaboration, knowledge sharing and relationship building. Workplace communities are all about maximizing the talent, knowledge and relationships that exist in every company to improve productivity, create corporate capacity and competitive advantage.
Organizations create Workplace Communities to extend their reach beyond the corporate firewall, allowing their workforce to connect with outside members, partners, customers, alumni and/or suppliers. Marketplace Communities can dramatically deepen relationships, build trust and create loyalty with your most important stakeholder groups.
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