As this blog is focused on how organizations start, organize and scale vibrant online communities, it’s great to draw inspiration from examples of professional networking communities; and what a better example than the global alumni network of INSEAD. INSEAD recently revamped its social network connecting roughly 60,000 Alumni distributed across 170 countries with 159 nationalities. INSEAD’s new Alumni platform allows members of its community to search for fellow alumni, easily find global network events and create a local database of personal contact details.
How can this community grow and stay vibrant, and what can INSEAD do to improve it further? At the most basic level, this internal platform should be designed for a fast, seamless user experience across devices and a user-friendly menu. In addition, the organization should commit to continuously listen to feedback from its community users on their experience with the platform and what additional functionalities they could add to it. (Indeed, incorporating feedback from its members is mentioned on the video and it’s always been part of the INSEAD’s culture).
Gamification design elements could improve the value added of this community to its members. For a concrete example, I would guess that most INSEAD Alumni members do not have their profiles up-to-date. The only way to incentivize the users to do so on their own, and continue to update their details with any major updates, is by the right reminders in place that would “reward” users for having a complete profile.
A community generates value to its members only if it is an active one, i.e. a system where social interactions take place frequently enough so that its participating members form bonds through these social interactions, and eventually a sense of group identity. This is largely related to the brand of the organization and can be used as a very powerful marketing strategy to boost applications to INSEAD’s programs.
And as the community grows in size, so does the intensity of social interactions and the organization can evaluate various strategic objectives on how to expand it. At the example of INSEAD’s Alumni community, firms and HR professionals can be added in the platform where they can announce job openings and professional networking events (similar to LinkedIn’s development). Eventually, such a community can turn into a multi-sided platform and adding or removing a potential “side” of it, should be carefully planned and evaluated for its impact to all of its different sides and members. And this can be non-trivial to estimate as various examples of communities that ceased to exist shall warn us. For example, consider Google Answers, a very active online community, which discontinued its operations in 2006 (more about it in a future post).
For any community, there always exists a tipping point, i.e. a critical mass. What may be less understood is that there exist various tools where a community can be “engineered” to scale at its tipping point. The question is how fast an organization can reach its tipping point by the effective design of its user community. And failing at constantly expanding can be detrimental for a community, and more broadly for an ecosystem.