Community is an ideal toward which all social networks should aspire. In a true community, everybody is pulling for everybody else, sharing whatever assistance, expertise, and insight they possess with anybody who might benefit.

We all know that most communities are a bit more one-sided than that. In most communities, most people are essentially there for the ride, contributing little while benefiting from whatever resources the more generous among them have chosen to share. This is not necessarily a criticism of individuals or of society in general, but rather a recognition that as communities scale beyond close personal relationships, the bonds of reciprocity and altruism often grow weak.

This truism applies just as much to customer communities as to any other. Enterprises have avidly adopted social networks as virtual extensions to such customer relationship management (CRM) functions as call centers and user groups. In the new world of social-network customer communities leveraging blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other channels, it is not uncommon that a handful of individuals post most of the useful content and feedback while the majority simply consume without contributing. And that’s fine, as long as you keep encouraging and incentivizing these actively engaged individuals —whom Forrester refers to as CRM highly empowered and resourceful operatives (HEROes) — to keep the useful content coming. In the final analysis, these are the sorts of individuals — expert customer service professionals, longtime customers, or even highly enthusiastic hobbyists — who can spell all the difference between true community and a haphazard scattering of nominally affiliated strangers.

How can you spot a true CRM HERO when you see one and make them the pillar of your customer satisfaction strategy? I recently published a two-part Forrester study that explains how CRM professionals can bring the best of leading-edge advanced analytics and even some slightly lower-tech approaches to zero in on these HEROes wherever they reside, inside your organization or out on the public social networks. In this two-part study, I discussed the criteria for finding CRM HEROes, which boil down to the following:

  • They proactively share deep expertise. You know a potential HERO when you find employees or customers who, at their own initiative, continue to deepen their expertise in some subject area of interest and do not selfishly hoard this knowledge. Instead, they use every channel and opportunity to share this expertise with others, be they customers, employees, or other stakeholders.
  • They wield their influence for good causes. A potential HERO has often gained considerable influence based on a tendency to share expertise, educate others, and help others with issues. Generally, positive word of mouth builds the HERO’s sphere of influence as others flock to this collegial resource person.
  • They self-provision an innovative blend of technologies. A HERO is someone who applies any necessary blend of his employer’s business technologies and his own personal technology assets to serve the customer. Often, a HERO implements, in his daily work life, what Forrester refers to as Technology Populism. Using groundswell technologies, an individual worker can now rapidly self-provision his own Web-based communications, personal productivity, information feeds, social network connections, and workgroup collaboration tools without the intervention of a skilled IT staff. To the extent that the worker can telecommute and thereby securely access his employer’s full IT resources, he becomes a potential super-HERO.

Business process professionals can search for these HERO hallmarks in various ways. In each of the following approaches, you can apply various levels of analytics to look for telltale signs of the requisite expertise, influence, and technical innovation:

  • You can administer structured surveys. On a periodic outreach basis or through a continual online portal-based form, you can survey for success stories of innovative, grassroots deployment of groundswell technologies. You’ll need to do due diligence on these nominations to determine whether the lauded individuals did something particularly imaginative with various and sundry IT resources.
  • You can conduct field observation. Often there is no substitute for observing how your service, sales, and other-facing teams actually do their jobs. To the extent that some people incorporate a wider range of social media, mobile devices, and other advanced technologies in their daily jobs, it may indicate a stronger commitment to connecting to customers on many levels.
  • You can search and mine for influence and expertise using analytics. Search engines and knowledge management tools can help you gauge how much content people publish on various topics and how often others cite these people, both inside and outside your company. You can also search and browse for expert personnel in the company’s portal-based directory or customer community social network site. You can also apply advanced analytics approaches — such as social network analysis — that use statistical graph analysis in the search for complex patterns of influence and expertise.

As social CRM gains traction in enterprises everywhere, leading-edge organizations will focus the full power of advanced analytics on the customer-relevant communications that flow through social media. Influence and expertise-mining tools — leveraging statistics-based social network analysis — are coming to social CRM. If you want to find many of today’s leading CRM HEROes, mine the communications within public social communities as well as within your company’s private social networks. The fact that someone is blazing new trails in social-focused customer communities would indicate that they are, at the very least, a technology-savvy, expertise-sharing influence magnet.

None of these approaches, by itself, is a surefire method of finding CRM HEROes. But they should all be employed to narrow down the list of people who have the motivation, creativity, and influence necessary to become HEROes. It’s up to your organization to give them the recognition and encouragement to realize their potential within your customer community.