In most cases, when businesses start down the path toward creating an online customer community, they're doing it for the first time. Compared to other business strategies, relatively few people have developed online community strategies, managed a community, or actively tried to increase engagement in a community.
There's nothing wrong with this.
Building and leveraging communities of customers, partners, and employees is still an emerging strategy, so it's not surprising that most people have never planned or managed a customer community before.
Why Should You Think About the Tough Questions?
When you first start the process, there are a lot of unknowns. The difference between thinking you should have an online customer community and actually having one can be intimidating enough to scare even the most ambitious companies.
However, as with any new project, being aware of the unknowns and developing a plan to address them can help you avoid those scary high-pressure scenarios when you need answers from your team or have to provide them yourself. Rather than getting taken by surprise and potentially derailed by one of these questions, you can be ready and prepared to handle them.
Keep in mind that these are likely the same unknown questions that the higher-ups in your company will be asking when you pitch the idea of a customer community. Taking the time to develop answers and a strategy that addresses these important questions makes your community more likely to produce the business outcomes that you want to see.
5 Must-Answer Questions That Come Up When Creating an Online Customer Community
Question #1) Why Will People (Specifically, My Target Audience) Use The Community?
The answer to this question makes up a large part of the equation behind launching a successful online customer community. It is often referred to as your community's value proposition or "the reason why."
Understanding the answer to this question will help you understand what your customers want from your community, so you can then give it to them. Examples include:
- Faster support
- Networking and ideas from other customers
- Insight into your company and its future plans
The broad range of ways that your community can provide value to specific personas enables you to develop a strategy that is unique to each of your target audiences.
Getting this aspect of community creation right is how you'll convince your customers to come to your community, have an experience that is worth their time, and return to the community frequently.
Question #2) How Will The Community Provide Measurable Benefits To My Company?
If giving your target community members a reasons to visit and participate in your online community is half of the equation, proving business value to your company is the other half. This can be an especially scary question to answer, but it's also one that cannot be overlooked.
Throwing up a Facebook page for your business is expected these days. However, that page is not expected to have a direct business impact at most companies. The same is not true for your private online customer community. The benefits to your company must be clear.
Online communities act as the cross section between creating value for your customers and creating value for your company. The intersection of these two priorities is where the most successful online communities fit.
Successful online customer community strategies provide valuable content and interactions to your customer and, at the same time, provide important information about your customers back to you company.
While it takes a lot of effort to create an active online customer community, never lose sight of the value that the community needs to bring back to the sales, support, and product management teams at your company.
Question #3) How Do I Keep My Colleagues, Management, And Most Vocal Customers On Board With Our Online Community Strategy?
This is a common concern, not just in the early stages of community creation, but throughout the planning, launching, and growing phases. Communities grow slowly and it often takes time to see the results your management might want to see.
Prepare key stakeholders for this at the start to buy yourself some time to make your case and lay out a more convincing roadmap to results. It takes a village to build aÂ customerÂ community and you want all the important members on board with your community's vision and strategy.
Question #4) How Do I Get People To Visit The Community Regularly And Contribute?
This common concern is different from why your customers would use the community in the first place. This question involves how to increase engagementâ€”the most common concern when creating an online community.
More than just getting your customers to visit your community, you want to turn those regular visitors into contributing members. Your community is only as strong as your level of member participation, so having a plan for encouraging ongoing engagement is critical.
Question #5) What Kind Of Time, Money, And People Do I Need To Launch And Grow An Online Community?
Even if the idea of having an online community sounds great, you still need to have a clear idea of the logistics behind your strategy.
Beyond just creating and launching an online customer community, you need to make sure you have the manpower and funds to invest in monitoring key online community growth metrics, managing your community, and integrating the social data that comes out of your customer community into other areas of your business. Think about:
- Will your team need training to develop any particular expertise in order to properly run your community?
- Will you need to hire someone new or outsource any of your community management operations?
Preparing yourself to answer these important logistical questions from the very start will avoid any unpleasant surprises from a resource starved customer community.
Creating a Customer Community Takeaway
When you're ready and prepared to answer the scary questions, they don't have to be so intimidating. Even though these common concerns might seem daunting now, rest assured that they all do have answers and the benefits that your organization will see from providing your customers with an online community will be well worth the effort.
When in doubt, don't hesitate to seek out resources or advice from professionals who know all-too-well how scary these questions can be. Creating an online community isn't something you should have to do by yourself, and answering the tough questions shouldn't be either.