I just read Josh Ledgard's "Facilitate Knowledge Transfer in Online Communities" and had to share it with you.
I'm often asked how products teams can best participate in their online communities. It would be simple to say "go talk to customers" and be done with it, but you can have a more targeted approach than that.
They key to successful support communities is facilitating knowledge transfer between those with product expertise and a customer set who uses the product. Today the process of knowledge transfer from Microsoft to customers is slow because we create artificial barriers by not investing in, supporting, or measuring the success of community support channels.
This following model describes an example of an ideal flow of information throughout a product lifecycle where knowledge starts in the hands of the product groups, transitions to top customers and support representatives, and finally transfers to a much broader customer set until customers know more about the products we shipped than we do anymore. See the end of this post for an example of the initiatives and goals that could be applied over the lifecycle of a product.
*Although it looks like the product groups have to bear a large “support burden” early in the cycle, the actual volume of support requests into the online system is very low until the product is shipped.
One would think that some knowledge transfer to the customers during the planning stages (as opposed to merely seeing it as a one way flow *out* to customers) would be a pretty important key to success.
But perhaps there's a fine line between being naive vs. just arrogant.