Benefits of Building a Loyal Peer Community
Peer perspective has always been a strong influence in forming opinions and making decisions in many parts of our lives. As we move through school, we are in an atmosphere surrounded by peers on a daily basis. As we grow in our careers, to a specialized strategic role, like a CIO, there are fewer peers, and they are less readily available, so there is a shift in the ease in which you can engage peers. Individuals need to more actively seek out peer connections to share best practices and bounce ideas off of each other. And even though engaging peers, at this stage, requires additional effort, it is considered time well spent. The majority (76%) of senior IT management consider peers to be their top resource for keeping up-to-date with new technologies and enhancing knowledge needed to be effective in their role.*
But how do busy business leaders find the most effective and efficient peer resources? With advances in technology and social media, it is easier than ever to create information sharing opportunities, which means that it is necessary for IT executives to pick and choose where they invest their time. This poses an opportunity and a challenge to media brands, industry thought leaders and vendors. What are the best platforms and models for building trusted and loyal peer communities? How should they be managed? How much content should be group-manager contributed versus letting the community members own the discussion? As social media continues to develop and groups evolve, many models will be experimented with.
Community has always been a big initiative for IDG Enterprise and its’ brands. Traditionally, our community building efforts were focused on reader engagement with our magazines, commenting on our websites, as well as peer connections at face-to-face events. While these methods are still important, the social networks and peer membership programs allow for more frequent engagement as well as global interaction.
Creating and engaging a community requires an action plan to nurture the community as it grows. For example, the CIO Forum on LinkedIn currently has 40,000 global IT executive members. That critical mass allows for a volume of member-to-member interaction that really drives the conversations by posting questions and sharing best practices. This level of engagement has developed over time. When the CIO Forum first launched, CIO editorial staff shared relevant stories and posed questions to foster dialogue between members, as well as invited their connections and readers to join the forum. Now the membership volume allows us to introduce opportunities, like research programs, and discussions, that allows vendors to understand the challenges and goals of a large, global IT executive audience and engage with customers and prospects through social media. (Note, vendors, consultants, and sales and marketing titles are not allowed as members of this forum to ensure a peer connection environment).
In addition to engaging with members of public groups, vendors have several options for engaging their customers and prospects. They can create their own communities, or work with a partner to create a unique social media experience. While there are benefits unique to all options, partnering with an organization, like a media brand with an already established and loyal audience, to create a community around a specific topic can help establish thought leadership. Recently, CIO launched the Enterprise CIO Forum, a global forum for IT executives to discuss driving business transformation and better business outcomes, sponsored by HP. This type of forum allows the sponsor to provide educational resources as well as commentary, positioning the sponsor as a valued resource.
There are also formats that call for communities with managed agendas with clearly defined goals and resources. This is where membership-based programs, like the CIO Executive Council, fit in. This group has been able to evolve and expand benefits for members, as well as the IT community as a whole by understanding the needs of the group, and providing resources. The resources have expanded to include sub-groups, such as mentoring next generation CIOs, providing insight and tools for women in IT, as well as regional breakfast meetings, and expanding the community globally to include members from eighteen countries. There is a balance between content provided by CIO Executive Council staff as well as content provided by members.
Whatever peer community strategy is selected, success comes down to understanding the needs of the community and becoming an active and trusted partner by sharing resources and insight that benefits the members –it comes down to being a relevant part of the conversation within the community.
Michael Friedenberg is CEO and President, IDG Enterprise.
*Source: IDG Enterprise Role & Influence of the Technology Buyer Survey, IDG Research, June 2010