In 2008 Starbucks launched a community-building project called MyStarbucksIdea.com, with a web site designed for Starbucks fans and customers to share ideas with the coffee giant. It was an open public forum where participants could share their suggestions and product ideas with the company and others could give feedback. Ideas could be voted on an up or down scale and they were categorized by subject. It was part of a six point Transformation Agenda.
On a numbers level, the project was successful with over 150,000 ideas generated over a five year span, many of which were implemented. By any standards, it was an overall success. However, it had its downside, including duplication of ideas, negativity, irrelevant comments, and other negatives that required moderation. It was ultimately shutdown and a feedback system requiring filling out a form was instituted. After the first five years, 217 ideas were implemented, a rate of 0.18%. Overall, the program was considered successful, given the high rate of engagement during those five years.
How we developed our community strategy and what we learned from the Starbucks example
In 2017 we developed a strategy for using community forums to build rapport among XTRF users and to offer them a place to share ideas, product feature requests, and other feedback. Initially, we focused on the Q&A forum, Product Development Ideas forum, and the XTRF Knowledge Base as our outreach. It was open to all and anyone could share their best practices or contribute to Product Development, either by proposing features and improvements or by commenting.
This quickly evolved into a more formalized effort, with the XTRF Academy (a set of video guides about Smart Projects) in March 2017 and XTRF Versions forum (containing release notes & info on upcoming changes) in June of the same year.
Our hopes and fears: great feedback or unrealistic expectations?
Ideally, we hoped for the great feedback, useful suggestions, new clients, and other positive outcomes, with relatively little effort. Our fears, based to some degree on the Starbucks experience, were general lack of interest, becoming a complaint forum, unrealistic expectations regarding the product development, or simply confusion regarding the purpose.
First, we compared our XTRF Community program with the MyStarbucksIdea program to give us benchmarks for evaluating success. The programs shared the following positives:
- strong client community
- growing traffic
- positive impact on the business growth
- lots of ideas
However, when we looked at the numbers we found our program had a much higher success rate if measured by ideas generated and implemented. As mentioned earlier, the Starbucks program had implementation rates of ~0.18%. The Product Development Ideas forum, after four years, had a much lower participation rate with 508 ideas generated (compared to Starbucks’ 150,000) but with a much higher implementation rate of ~7.09% (with 36 ideas implemented).
Differences were generally positive
In the XTRF Community, we had no trolling, no negative attitude, positive attitudes among contributors who were potential competitors, and many genuine ideas and to-the-point comments. The ideas were thoughtful and based on our users’ day to day interaction with our software. The project yielded an impressive number of ideas with merit.
In addition to ideas, other outcomes emerged from the XTRF Community experience, including occasional on-line Community meetings for shared learning and sharing the code for Virtual Columns among the users themselves. To some extent, the XTRF Community experience also contributed to developing our new e-learning platform (internally referred to as XTRF Academy 2.0) and organizing our first XTRF Summit conference this year.
In the upcoming year, we plan to dedicate a significant share of our Production Team’s capacity for the development ideas suggested by the Community. There is a number of topics already pre-qualified for production and even a longer list of ideas under review. Aside from the product development, we’re expecting positive outcomes from launching the XTRF Academy 2.0 and will surely be adding more content there as the project goes on. We’re hoping it continues to build good relations and foster dialog among the XTRF Community, that is useful and insightful.