bigstock-Woman-With-Depression-In-The-O-72496321Ever since the days of bulletin boards in the late 1980s, I’ve been involved in efforts to create on-line “communities” of IT professionals. Most have failed, making me wonder what it would take to get IT (or any other professionals) to share useful ideas, comments and suggestions that would draw and keep readers on a site.

Now, I know – or at least have some ideas, based on my recent moderation of a vendor-sponsored LinkedIn group about best practices in Sales Performance Management. Within two weeks of starting the group, I had at least five or six active discussions with multiple legitimate members (not spammers) giving valuable, real-world advice to their peers.

What worked? Here’s my decidedly unscientific findings:

  • Just Respond! If someone took the time to time and effort to say something, reward them by letting you know you heard them. I only let this slide if someone else had already responded, or they were clearly deep in an ongoing discussion so didn’t need my encouragement. Even if you don’t know how to respond, you can:
  • Elaborate on what they said. Did their comment confirm your thinking, remind you of something else you saw or read, or strike you as surprising? Say so, and explain why. If possible, ask a specific question to keep the conversation going. If you’re still coming up dry, try to:
  • Ask for details or clarification, such as why they think something is true or false. If they’re describing a “best practice” that worked for them, ask specifics about how they made it work. If they talk about benefits such as increased sales or productivity, or reduced costs, ask for specifics on “how much.” If they only repeat someone else’s complaint (“Yeah, that happens in my company all the time!” ask what they’ve tried and whether, and why, it worked.
  • Find a subtle, relevant and honest way to do market research or weave your product or service into the conversation. Without going into tiresome detail about your solution, or even mentioning its name, ask questions such as:
    • Do you think what we’re selling helps or hurts this situation?
    • What should such a product or service have to include to help the situation?
    • Do feature or attribute A or B in our product or service help this situation? Why or why not?

My final tip is to prepare to enjoy it when your community starts to take off. Rather than it being a chore, I found myself getting a little kick when I got an email telling me someone posted a comment that wasn’t spam, but rather drove the conversation forward and got me thinking. So good luck and, in the spirit of online communities, let us know what works for you in greasing the conversational skids.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

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