A private online community can be a tremendous driver of customer retention, revenue generation, and member/customer satisfaction. The way that your organization positions its online community for customers, or members, is one of the most important decisions in creating a viable social strategy. Why? How your online community is positioned determines how much usage it will get, the amount of value your audience sees in your organization, and how your organization is perceived as viewing community building and its customers.
Your online community can fall into one of two broad categories:
Positioning your online community at the center of your organization leads to higher engagement levels and retention rates. Not doing so can lead to slow adoption from the start and a failed community down the road. Funnel as much customer or member communication through your online community as makes sense to reinforce the habit of using the tools in the community to receive, consume, share, and collaborate on information related to your organization. Make it your one-stop "customer satisfaction" shop.
Member communities fail for many reasons. However, one of the biggest reasons is that the association is giving away content on Facebook, building an active community on LinkedIn, and has a private member community hanging off the side of their website. When members and non-members can get all of the information they need and stay connected to the organization on all three platforms, there is no reasons to continue to engage in your private online community and it will fail. This is where positioning your community is important.
Associations should use their public social networks to expand their reach and promote content, discussions, and resources that reside in their private online community. This flow engages your community and highlights the tangible benefit of membership by promoting the valuable, helpful resources that only come with your online community.
If you have put a gated customer community out there and want customers and partners to use it, you have to shift your customer communication strategy to flow through your community software. If your customers are getting the information, feedback opportunities, and support they need through other channels in your company, why would they log into your customer community? Making your online community central to your customer's success will keep them engaged and returning to your community often.
If your customers only have a finite amount of time they are able to commit to your product, traditional customer activities such as downloading documentation, working with support to solve problems, understanding the product roadmap, and learning best practices all cannibalize your online customer community if they are not part of your customer community.
If Your Customer Community is on the Periphery of Customer Communication
Customer's Time for Your Product = 100%
- 15% understanding documentation
- 20% working with support
- 10% providing product feedback
- 15% learning best practices
Remaining Time for Your Customer to Engage in Your Customer Community = 40%
By positioning your customer community outside your main customer communication flow, you are not giving your community a strong chance of survival, and not giving your customers the experience they demand.
If Your Customer Community is Positioned at the Center of Customer Communication
Customer's Time for Your Product = 100%
15% understanding documentation with the help of comments left by other customers
20% working with support in forums
10% providing product feedback through surveys and innovation tools
15% learning best practices from other customers
10% collaborating with other customers to help them
10% sharing ideas in the community
10% adding documentation and videos
10% commenting on documents, requirements, and blog posts
Total Customer Community Engagement = 100%
(photo credit: jronaldlee)