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NetApp's Thriving Online Community Forum - What Makes it Tick


NetApp, Inc.

NetApp - The Company and Online Communities at a Glance:

NetApp, Inc.’s community forum manager, Ian Wikramanayake takes us behind the scenes to show what ultimately keeps the community thriving. In the surge of social business networking and communication technologies therein lies organizations like NetApp that know the lines of communication and collaboration directly impact their internal and external performance.

Based in Sunnyvale, CA, NetApp is a reputable network storage and data management solutions company, employing over 10,000 people. Its’ market leadership is established on two fronts - by the analyst firm, Gartner, who rated NetApp in the Leaders quadrant for mid-range and high-end modular disk arrays, and by FORTUNE magazine who rated NetApp in the top 10 companies to work for.

NetApp’s innovative product solutions and inbred cultural passion for helping people are clues to its’ thriving community platform. Marketing knowledge of users’ expectations helped tap and tag what users want, mainly its organization of customer groups and conversations as you’ll see further in this discussion and on the site. But it’s not just one online community – but rather a set of defined communities (forum, blogs, user group events) that give direction and support for users to get answers and bond community members under one roof.

NetApp's Community Intention:

Users have a go-to place online for knowledge sharing. Implementation questions and inquiries and customer specific problem solving contribute to the support among peers and NetApp employees. Ian and other employees are continuously monitoring the community to ensure users are getting answers and to chime in when needed.

As many companies look for the sweet spot, NetApp chartered community engagement through trial and error. The forum is open to the public to totally engage with guests or product users. This intentional transparency, for sake of positive reinforcement, converts to community minded practices and trust.

Users are greeted on the community forum welcome page by an artistic sketch of fun loving penguins. And first impressions are important as well as quick visual cues to help users save time to see what they need.

NetApp's Community Interest - The Driving Force to Come Back:

Knowledge sharing is by far the greatest contributor to NetApp’s community forum interest. Marketing is shied away, and scaffolded off to side columns with new products and solutions available for users' own pursuit.

Furthermore, as Ian mentioned, third party validation are attractors for users. Third party validation is the ability for peers or others to acknowledge and give credence to your solutions and sometimes even present alternatives that may be better.

As a practice, observing what others are configuring has its advantages outside of textbooks. Amidst our peers, we’re apt to get answers and share what we know. Otherwise, the poker hand at some point will have to be laid down to show the straight flush. So, why not share what you know to help others in a peer to peer environment.

NetApp Community Participation - Recognition and Advocacy:

Overlooked in many organizations, NetApp has made recognition an important method of acknowledging community members for their active participation, or what observations may speak of, the careful balance of our jobs and human nature at work. Some of the examples include:

  • Fun contests, like IT Survivor, help users compete for prizes, in this case, Vespa motor scooter. The nominees are given space to demonstrate via video and displayed messages why a fellow user should vote for them. There is Mike who never misses a megabyte, or stroke victim, Willie who found IT as a way to learn new skills and help others.
  • Featured Hall of Fame is the framework for NetApp’s Member of the Week profile offered as a kindly reminder and promotion among members who have contributed above and beyond the call of duty. One of the recent member’s profiles show heavy contributions to activity and content in the forum. How does it feel to read, “how are you doing with product X installation?” Peer conversations surround these thought provoking and supportive inquiries.
  • Users range from systems and database administrators to IT managers, and largely it’s the credibility among peers that give them the desire to participate as well.

NetApp Online Community Benchmarks - Design and Deliver:

Designing and building the community from the ground up seems like the perfect answer, like your house, the place you’d like to come home to, and have friends over, too. The place where special teams, customer groups, and members at large exchange what they know are solid foundations for benchmarking.

Trending content on the Activity navigation shows popularity of topics, and what NetApp pays attention to that drives community operating efficiencies, according to Ian.

NetApp’s participation statistics show a noteworthy 60% returning visitor rate. Community members are engaged in what they’re doing, sharing ideas and information, and enjoying the experience – surely this seems like a perfect world.

The number of NetApp members in the online communities is currently reported at 100,000 registered users. From launch to the present, representing four years of nurturing, monitoring, and engaging, the community count is also a record of accomplishment.

The bottom line is that users know someone, whether a NetApp employee or a peer is going to be there for them.

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