Community Feels Good ...with Lithium!

September 24, 2013 | Bounteous x Accolite

We recently added a new arrow to our quiver: development on Lithium’s SAAS platform. It is one of many in an emerging field called Community Management, also known as “Social Customer Experience”, which aims to capture the value in a brand’s stakeholder engagement.

Lithium Community

Building tightly knit communities around a brand is a topic that’s generated a lot of buzz recently in marketing circles. It’s long been known that communities help people do things better; We humans are social by nature and are most effective when working together in groups. A good example is the open source software movement. People team up to volunteer on projects that are much larger than any individual could accomplish alone. Now innovation in community management (and the rise of Social media) has made it possible to socialize while getting things done.

What Is The Difference Between A Social Network And A Community?

Social media has been used to manage communities before – indeed long before ‘community management’ was even a term.  However, a dedicated community management platform like Lithium offers significant benefit over simply using existing social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Social media tends to produce a ‘spoke and wheel’ relationship in which content flows outward to community members and the central organization, but not between the members themselves.


Network diagrams from 1964 RAND Corporation report

Community management on the other hand tends to foster a more distributed network, empowering members to produce more of their own content and have more peer-to-peer interaction. It enables communities to feel more ownership and to be more effective in solving problems. The diagrams above, from a 1964 report by the Rand corporation, outline steps to a future vision of enhanced connectivity that eventually became the internet. Note that diagram (C) – the distributed network – exhibits more connections with shorter distances indicating more peer-to-peer interaction and (it is presumed) effectiveness.

Crowd Sourcing

Why is peer-to-peer interaction important in community? When members of a community become enfranchised, they tend to act in everyone’s best interest. Moreover, when properly motivated they tend to team up on common problems and produce results. Happily, the most effective motivation has proven to be social rewards like recognition and status rather than material rewards. Therefore a tremendous amount of value can be gained at minimal cost through careful community management.

Community can provide (almost) free, what companies would otherwise pay for. 

  •  customer service
  • documentation
  • technical support
  • training
  • news updates
  • brand advocacy
  • advertising
  • QA and testing

But community is about more than just saving money; Leveraging the power of the crowd can also pioneer new ways of doing business. Communities can produce unanticipated innovations.

  • anticipate existing market’s needs and generate solutions
  • innovate new features for unanticipated use-cases
  • present new ways to engage and enlist new customers
  • identify new markets and user groups

Community Is Disruptive

It’s disruptive in the ‘business’ sense that it changes the playing field; It creates new value and opportunities for those that get on early and gives them a competitive advantage. Use of community is growing rapidly. Small companies that maximize their communities’ value will challenge and eventually replace the old-order companies that try to do everything in-house.

This trend affects more than just companies that use community and their competitors. It accelerates innovation and causes market movement across the board by changing customers’ expectations. Brands that don’t invest in a well managed community are doubly missing the boat: letting untapped value go to waste, and also disappointing customers who want to engage.

What Is Lithium?

While there are many social platforms that include community management (see SharepointJive etc…), few focus exclusively on community, and fewer still offer a comprehensive suite of features out of the box.

Lithium’s platform has 4 core offerings:

  • Lithium Communities
  • Lithium Social Web
  • Lithium Mobile
  • Lithium Social Intelligence

Lithium has the power to turn a brand’s website into a social hub and maximize its potential value. They have pioneered the field of community analytics: codifying the parameters of community that drive real results like ROI. Lithium has quantified real-time performance metrics, and can drill down to the level of each conversation and community member to identify the users and ideas with greatest influence.

Lithium also offers marketing and strategy services to put all that deep data to work. However their big selling point is integration for a single coordinated face. They have allowed for fine-grained control over the appearance of its huge list of features, even across platforms to mobile devices and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Everything can be skinned to seamlessly match the core brand’s existing look and feel. That’s where we come in.

What’s IDs Role?

We provide Lithium development for innovative companies like SuccessFactors, including layout, styling and custom components. We also provide ongoing maintenance services to keep lithium-based sites up to date with branding and content changes.

The Nuts And Bolts Of Lithium Development

SuccessFactors Community Rebrand – Before

SuccessFactors Community Rebrand – After

Lithium uses an open source language called freemarker for templating.  Using this powerful HTML-embedded markup, we can present an immersive front-end experience for Lithium’s sophisticated and interconnected content. Lithium offers hundreds of stock widgets to dynamically bring content to its pages. Widgets can take the form of blog posts or twitter feeds, also opportunities for engagement like comment forms or voting buttons. Using Lithium’s developer tools, we can also create custom components to serve up content that isn’t offered in the stock list.

Lithium uses XML layouts to position the widgets and custom components in a flexible grid system. Once the basic wireframe of a page is laid out in templates, we can use the typical styling: css and javascript, to make it match any creative team’s vision. Icons, images and other assets finish the job for a total immersive experience. Developing with Lithium makes it easy to maximize ROI and social capital while putting forward a unified brand for your community.

One of the best features of Lithium’s platform is the naming scheme assigned to each level of hierarchy in the page. Layouts, grid elements and both stock and custom components all have an identifying class that can be used to attach css styling. In our work with SuccessFactors, we were able to completely rebrand their community site with minimal changes to content. Lithium presented a framework of divs and dom elements that we could target to create an entirely different effect. We look forward to seeing the use of well-managed communities grow, and to more projects with Lithium.