Conceptualizing the Digital Ecosystem
About 11 months ago I joined my current employer to build and execute on a new community strategy and vision. It is a financial services company and as you can guess, having a community is a new concept in this industry. I was elated to be part of this new adventure and building an amazing new thought leadership and engagement community for consumers. At the same time, the vision encompassed an entire digital ecosystem. It was ripe with a splendid smartphone app and a knowledge library for education and a community for gamification purposes. Today we have executed on this vision and the ecosystem is live. What I failed to recognize and advocate for early on, was the combination of the Knowledge Library and our Community.
I have developed several support focused tech communities before and it was an absolute non-starter that the library and educational element, often called Knowledge Base (KB) would be an integral part of the Community.
But an engagement community was a first for me. A new industry, with different objectives and a new team. I was handed a great enterprise community platform (Lithium), with all it’s bells and whistles. I never stopped to think about the ultimate impact the separate platforms would have on us, as a team. Or on our customers experience (journey) across the digital ecosystem. Our vision simply separated the two (KB and Community) functionalities.
By the time I finally had time to breathe and advocate for the two functionalities to live on the same platform, the KB vision had evolved several times. We had so much manpower and brain trust invested, that I could not sway the path it was set on.
Living with the Digital Ecosystem
The digital ecosystem is beautiful and thriving. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling I missed the mark on the “strategy” side of my task. Our KB and Community are both live since April 2017, and work well together. They don’t however provide the same cohesive customer experience, that we could deliver, if only the two functionalities would be on the same platform. As we work towards deeper integration, better adoption an improved customer experiences, I wonder how to fix the gaps that we created ourselves.
To understand what is nagging me day in and day out, I have created this list of considerations that may guide you in the future in your consideration of combining or separating your KB and Community from each other. Your goals and objectives determine the right solution. These lists are here to guide you in your analysis to find the right path for your project.
Benefits of a Combined Experience:
- Decreased learning curve and less adoption issues for your customer if the combined experience lives on 1 URL and has one user experience
- The variety of content types will provide an organic growth in your customer relationship. Your readers may evolve from reading short format and easily digestible blog posts to reading long format articles in the KB functionality. Maybe even engaging in conversations in the community. You will win over a bigger variety of customers, by offering them their preferred content format.
- If you have the right underlying platform, federated search will be an out of the box (OOB) functionality. This solution will benefit your readers, because they can find more relevant content. It will also be beneficial to you and your company, providing great insights in the top searched keywords to influence your future content creation.
- Your traffic boosting activities such as paid search engine advertising or paid social media campaigns are not cannibalizing each other’s keywords
- Single platform maintenance will save your $$ and potentially IT resources and security headaches
- A unified development roadmap for the platform that crosses the entire ecosystem will make sure that no element of the customer’s experience is misaligned with your brand and the rest of the customer touch points.
- Your platform will rank higher and have better SEO authority due to increased content, keyword density and returning visits/ traffic to your platform.
Ultimately based on the research and conversations I have had with other community and content professionals, it seems combining KB and Community only makes sense if your objectives are the same. It is therefore quite understandable that tech companies prefer a combination of the two functionalities. The goal is to serve a much-improved support and case deflection purpose. I believe that as long as your objectives are the same with these platforms, you should consider keeping them on one digital destination.
Successful help platforms with an integrated approach:
Cons of a Combined Experience
The same research mentioned above also yielded some interesting insights. Here are some reasons why businesses choose to keep their KB and Community separate.
- Knowledge Base functionality, even in the top of the line community platforms are poorly configured in an OOB version. Which means that full customization will only be achieved by development work. This is usually pretty costly and time consuming.
- Some companies have very strict legal and compliance guidelines as to what kind of content can be shared publicly. If you are working in the financial or health industry; you will find that most of your deep content can only be accessed behind a firewall. This usually requires a full authentication process in place.
- It takes completely different skill sets to be a great community manager than to be a great content architect. Keeping those platforms separate, provides sole ownership and more control in the field you may excel in the most.
- If your community and KB serve completely different purposes or audiences, it makes no sense to combine the two experiences.
If your community is solely aiming for advocacy, or engagement; you may find no benefits from adding a knowledge base to the customer experience. Ultimately I think the last point resonates with me the most. Having seen very successful communities without a KB drives this point home the most. Analyze your goals with each platform and see if there are any synergies.
Conversely, the second to last point makes for an interesting discovery. No matter what option you choose, you can’t save on headcount if you desire both functionalities to be successful. No matter if it’s one or two platforms, the ownership of each functionality should lie with a subject matter expert. These resources have to collaborate very tightly on the customer experience roadmap. You cannot afford to combine these responsibilities, because it will always be to the detriment of one or the other.
Successful community platforms without a KB:
More on how these revelations impacted the content strategy of our digital ecosystem in Part 2