Higher Logic Blog

8 Ways to Use Online Community Software to Help Your Business Go Green [Earth Day]

Written by Joshua Paul | April 22, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Is there a mainstream company or executive out there that doesn't love a well-thought-out green initiative? The PR advantages, cost savings, and good feelings that come with conservation measures are too much for most people to overlook.

However, the key is identifying the right earth-friendly policies and operational changes for your specific organization. What makes an effective and executive-friendly "green" strategy? To get your senior management on board, your plan to get greener must:

  1. Benefit the organization
  2. Helps customers or members
  3. Reduce consumption of energy, paper, fuel, etc.

Some conservation plans address one or two of these principles, but the most sustainable green initiatives tackle all three. This is where online community software comes into play.

Since it is both at the center of your customer relationship strategy already and can have a direct impact in your company's performance, your online customer or member community should play a central role in your green initiative.

Here are eight ways that your company or membership organization can use your online community platform to celebrate Earth Day today and throughout the year.

Way #1) Share Documents Online

Increasingly companies are moving support documentation and other files into their online customer or member communities where customers can share additional tips, provide feedback, and ask questions.

Private online community software enables organizations to control who has access to particular documents from small working groups or committees to entire customer segments. This granular access lends itself to moving more of your knowledge base and group collaboration online both for security purposes (only the appropriate people can see each document) and to ensure that each customer is only getting information that is relevant to them.

Company Goal:

  • Lowering support costs
  • Boosting customer satisfaction

Customer Goal:

  • Finding accurate and up-to-date information faster

Green Goal:

  • Cutting down on paper usage and fuel consumption from documentation delivery

Way #2) Hold Meetings Online

In-person meetings are not considered very earth-friendly, even if you provide those little branded notebooks on recycled paper. Costs to the environment include everything from fuel for travel to paper for handouts.

Reduce your carbon footprint by holding private internal meetings in your online community platform. You can either use the built-in events calendar to invite specific attendees to a real-time web meeting or set up a private community where you can use discussions, shared documents, and wikis to hold the "meeting" over a 24 hour period.

Company Goal:

  • Reducing the cost of in-person meetings without losing the collaboration

Customer Goal:

  • Getting involved in product, advocacy, and other decisions without the time and monetary costs of travel

Green Goal:

  • Eliminating fuel needed to travel and reams of paper used in handout and binders

Way #3) Use Mobile Event Apps

Cut down or eliminate the amount of paper you give out at customer events and conferences by using your online community software's mobile event apps. The mobile conference and events apps build into your online community software's event management system enable attendees to manage their agendas, view handouts and speaker presentations, get event updates (e.g. room changes), and a host of other social activities €“ all without using a single piece of paper.

Company Goal:

  • Decreasing the cost of printing at events

Customer Goal:

  • More accurate, personalized, and interactive options for participating at events

Green Goal:

  • Eliminating paper consumption and printing energy usage

Way #4) Start a Green Group

Getting greener is not just a concern of your organization. I'm guessing that it is on the minds of many of your customers or members. Start a "green group" in your online customer or member community that can discuss how your organization and your industry can do more to support the environment.

Identify a group of volunteer leaders to help create and curate content, as well as evangelize the group to other customers or members. If this sub-community gains traction, it could make a difference with getting innovative executives to champion change or it could become the basis for a panel discussion at your next conference.

Company Goal:

  • Improving customer engagement
  • Getting product and service feedback

Customer Goal:

  • Leadership opportunities
  • Collaborating on an important cause
  • Making a difference in your product and industry

Green Goal:

  • Elevating green initiatives within the customer community or membership
  • Making changes in business operations to implement more earth-friendly practices

Way #5) Share Earth Day Tips

Sometimes people are more likely to act if you separate the deciding what needs to get done from the doing itself. One of the simplest ways to celebrate Earth Day inside your online community is to help your customers, partners, or members take green steps themselves. With busy people spending much of their week in the trenches, they might welcome actionable tips for things that their businesses can do to be greener.

Use your online community software to produce a series blog posts or add videos to your online community's media library with tips for how your customers or members can incorporate more earth-friendly approaches into their businesses. Encourage your customers or members to add their own tips in the comments areas and rate their favorite pointers.

Company Goal:

  • Increasing customer loyalty
  • Raising the value customers place on their relationship with you

Customer Goal:

  • Go green without having to do all of the thinking and doing

Green Goal:

  • More organizations will take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and resource consumption

Way #6) Create a Checklist

In the same vein as the tip above, use your online community software's document libraries to add a checklist for your specific industry that includes ways to conserve energy and other resources. Promote the checklist to your customers and make it easy for them share it outside your private customer community.

Company Goal:

  • Attracting positive public relations attention
  • Drawing appreciation from customers

Customer Goal:

  • Finding easy approaches to bring green initiatives to their organizations

Green Goal:

  • Proliferation of earth-friendly actions

Way #7) Conduct Online Translations

Though most everyone wants to support the postal service, snail mail is one of the least green methods of conducting business. Think about all of the paper being pushed in your customer transactions, invoice printing and mailing, payment mailing, payment processing and hand copy storage, etc.

Your online community software enables your organization to move many of those transactions online. This includes dues payments and membership renewal invoicing for associations and user groups, event registration, and product purchases in the online store.

Company Goal:

  • Lowering transaction costs
  • Increasing margins on products, events, and membership

Customer Goal:

  • Faster transactions with better history tracking and documentation

Green Goal:

  • Reducing paper usage, energy consumption from printing, and fuel for delivery

Way #8) Launch Virtual Products

Your online community software's ecommerce platform or integration enables you to sell virtual products that your customers or members can download. This eliminates packaging and shipping costs, as well as other resource consumption.

To celebrate Earth Day, evaluate which of your physical products you can convert to digital downloads. You can either replace the physical items with your virtual products or sell them alongside your physical goods.

In addition to converting existing products, brainstorm new downloadable offerings to sell in your customer community's online store. Virtual products could include videos, ebooks, manuals, audio recording, and other content that your customers or members need to do their jobs.

Company Goal:

  • Improving the margin on product sales
  • Increasing the number of products to sell

Customer Goal:

  • Getting products faster
  • Having options for which format to receive the content product

Green Goal:

  • Reducing environmental costs associated with producing and shipping physical goods

Online Community Software Take Away

New social platforms with a broad reach into your customer base and a wide variety of built-in tools, like your online community software platform, can play a big role in your green initiatives. As you read in the tips above, using your online community software to do right by the environment can also lower operational costs, increase customer loyalty, and bring customers closer to the product development process.

If you are effectively able to engage customers around common earth-friendly goals, you may even want to create a press release and use your other public relations channels to get some positive media attention for your strategy.

I recommend starting small. Use the survey tools in your online community software to measure the interest of specific customer or member segments. Then, decide which of the approaches listed above would garner the most engagement on which to build a green strategy that benefits your organization, helps your customers or members, and supports the environment.

Your Turn

How are you using online community software and other social tools to celebrate Earth Day throughout the year?

image credit: Corey Matsumoto