Are you launching an online community for customers or partners of your business? Your first priority is probably getting your target audience to visit and participate in the community often. This is the right first step.
However, planning an online customer community does end at creating a social space that your customers use and love. The most successful online customer communities have a strong value proposition that entices customers to visit and contribute while simultaneously delivering tangible business benefits to the organization that runs the community.
In part one of this article, I outlined the characteristics of a private online community that really "works" for your customers. Since successful online customer communities provide value to both your customers and your company, the following points highlight the facets of an online customer community that "works" for your business.
6 Characteristics of Online Customer Communities That Work for Companies
Characteristic #1) Creating a Bigger Purpose
Having an active and healthy online community is great and an important first step. However, your customer community also needs to tie closely to your business objectives.
Creating your community around business goals allows you to leverage the increase in customer engagement to achieve measurable business outcomes, such as higher customer retention, making more market-driven product management decisions, and lowering customer service costs.
Characteristic #2) Executive Buy-In
Executive support is important to the return on investment (ROI) of your online customer community. This is still an emerging strategy for most businesses â€“ one that many executives don't have a lot of experience in. If you don't create concrete understanding up front in the planning process, you could face months of re-explaining and fighting for support.
Characteristic #3) Integration with CRM (or other business systems)
To your customers, your private online community is a places to find answers, learn about your company's direction, and share experiences with your products. In order for your community to work for you company, the way that you think about it can't stop there.
Your online customer community generates a tremendous amount of data about your customers. Make sure the customer-facing groups within your business have access to these insights. This is commonly done by connecting your online customer community software platform to your CRM software or marketing platform.
Customer behavior within the community can provide information on who might be struggling, who needs support, and if there's an opening for a further sales opportunities with a specific customer.
Characteristic #4) Innovation and Customer Feedback
An active online customer community provides both active and passive feedback to your company, allowing you to create better processes and products.
- Active feedback refers to deliberately seeking out customer opinions, either by creating a survey or designing a sub-community to specifically validate certain market problems.
- Passive feedback, on the other hand, refers to simply using the behavioral data you collect in your community platform to identify opportunities to improve your products, as well as trends and emerging challenges in your market.
Characteristic #5) Participation and Content Contributions From Multiple Departments
Your online customer community shouldn't just be a marketing initiative or the sole responsibility of your online community manager. Involving multiple departments helps make your community a company-wide affair—from your support staff to your product management staff.
Common activities to bring other departments into your online community team include having them produce or re-propose content, join discussions to help customers, and tailoring report to make the relevant to their business objectives.
Characteristic #6) Centralized Customer Communication
In order for your community to work, it can't be an extraneous part of your customer experience. When a company approaches Socious to replace their current online community software, it is often the case where customers can get everything they need from the company without ever visiting the customer community.
Instead, your online customer community should be the center of your customer communication plan. All messaging and marketing to customers should go through the community. Access to your support ticketing system can also originate from inside your online community portal.
This not only gets people in the habit of visiting the community first and participating, but also makes each message from your company a social experience where customer can immediately ask questions, debate issues, and provide feedback.
Online Customer Community Takeaway
There are many ways for your online customer community to work, but the most successful communities work for both the customer and your company. By identifying characteristics that make your community work for both key groups you can create a sustainable social platform that your customers will value and your business will benefit from for years to come.