Ah, the inevitable blog on “Online Community Trends in the Upcoming Year” arrives on the BraveNew site! But this year I’m coming up with a twist. Based on my informed observations, the following should be trends in 2017, a year that has already seen many changes in the business landscape. We are living in a new era with a new administration and new rules. One month in, we have seen executive orders and suggested policies with far reaching implications for companies in such industries as healthcare, energy, retail, housing, and travel. Online communities can do so much to help these organizations navigate change in transitional times.
“Should be Trend 1”: More Industry-wide Knowledge Sharing Communities
Washington has always been a city for those who work in government and a city for professional associations that work to influence those individuals (aka lobbyists). It is a city of hundreds of offline collaboration communities. And have those offline communities been busy since November!
Take for example, association activity in Healthcare IT. Before the inauguration, HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), the Health IT Association, wrote a letter to incoming President Trump with a suggested strategic framework for how IT can facilitate healthcare reform in 2017. It focused on four foundational areas where the value of health IT can be demonstrated: supporting healthcare transformation; expanding access to high quality care; increasing economic opportunity; and, making communities healthier.
Then at the annual HIMSS conference in Orlando last week with over 40, 000 attendees, best practices for implementing this strategy were shared in dozens of sessions. In one lively panel that hashed out tactics to facilitate IT changes to the ACA, news was made when former Speaker of the House John Boehner eventually admitted that Republicans couldn’t completely dismantle the Act.
But HIMSS only happens once a year! Policies and regulations affecting Healthcare IT are changing in real time. Members of Congress and their staffs, IT Healthcare organizations, IT Healthcare workers and others need to be collaborating around the HIMSS suggested strategies and foundational areas. This situation is replicating itself in numerous industries such as fossil fuels, solar energy, medical devices, department stores etc. All could be well served with online industry-wide communities.
“Should be Trend “ 2: More Enterprises Building Collaboration Communities around their Ecosystem of Stakeholders.
Beyond industry-wide collaborations, organizations need to be engaging around changes with the internal and external stakeholders in their own ecosystems. BraveNew has built online communities with customers in multiple healthcare sectors (e.g., Pharma, Regional Healthcare, Medical Devices), to socialize an organization’s thought leadership, best practices and point of view on a number of issues to its most critical stakeholders. For example, the 100 Million Healthier Lives Community, a joint endeavor from the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an “an unprecedented collaboration of change agents pursuing an unprecedented result: 100 million people living healthier lives by 2020. “ The change agents include public health officials, community wellness directors, school health officials and physicians. Each week, online collaboration among these stakeholders pushes the collective community closer to its goal of healthier lives by 2020.
This model could and should hold for enterprises with complex ecosystems that are particularly impacted by the new order. Retail has already been affected. The dismantling of TPP will alter the supply chain from the Pacific. Increased border tariffs from Mexico will impact pricing. Increased deportation will lower sales and impact hiring for smaller businesses. The weekly boycotts by supporters of one party or the other (“Grab Your Wallet”, “Support Our President,”) have been depressing and spiking sales. Retail organizations need a way to reach, share and collaborate with all in their world (e.g., suppliers, employee organizations, partners) as they manage and solve for change.
“Should be Trend 3”: More Attention to Tools that Ensure Content from Trustworthy Sources
Over the past year, nothing has underscored the need for robust, secure collaboration platforms more than the socialization of inaccurate and often untruthful content (aka “fake news). While most of the attention has focused on political content shared on such social channels as Facebook, it is a challenge for professional communities as well.
All professional communities should ensure that the following three components are included in their strategies and rollouts.
Collaboration tools that procure vetted and curated content.
Content must be sourced properly. BraveNew partners with Curata, based in Cambridge, MA, whose motto is to “Eliminate Your Content Blind Spots.” Their platform solves two key problems for the organization looking to feed the community content beast: an engine that allows you to scale your content as it crawls the web for the most appropriate sources and one that allows for the sharing of vetted insights to facilitate collaboration. Meanwhile, Google, through its News Lab arm, is supporting CrossCheck a collaborative verification platform. Communities need to deploy some tool that facilitates proper sharing. All organizations need to think through in the planning process not just about the type of desired content for the community but also about the sourcing.
Thoughtful and consistent community management.
The best professional communities are those where community managers and members answer the questions of fellow members and socialize content. But that doesn’t mean that a community manager can relax. He must initially set and socialize the community guidelines on content standards for the community and regularly remind members of them. And he must be vigilant that the material shared is accurate, sourced properly-- and be ready to challenge the poster in the event of concerns.
Well-sourced Thought Leadership from the Organization.
The best communities consistently share their own companies’ thought leadership on their company, their products and industry trends. A community manager must ensure that his own company sets the highest standards for the creation of its own content and that its statistics and references are sourced and vetted. Low quality, poorly sourced content can gut a company’s brand.
“Should be Trend 4”: More Attention to Ensuring Diversity of Thought Among Community Members.
My final “needs to be a 2017 trend” is a reaction to another lesson from the recent election: the building of and participation in communities and networks that function as echo chambers.
Filling a community with like-minded stakeholders hinders the prospect for long-term success. Fledgling community managers often confuse diversity in stakeholder groups (e.g., nurses, community health administrators, insurers) with diversity of thought. Not all nurses think alike, not all community administrators feel that one solution is best. A strong community manager will work in the community planning stage to identify the different points of view desired and then include them in the membership invitation list. Then throughout the building and maintenance stages, he’ll continually review the points of view being presented, ensure that they are diverse, and if not, add fresh voices.
Again, these are the trends that should happen in professional online communities in 2017. But will they? Well check back in a year.