I'm sure that I'm not the only one who is filled with that sense of dread when approaching a car lot. I know that the minute I step out of my car I'll be swarmed with sales people desperate to meet their monthly sales quota. Nobody likes a hard sell, and that's why companies are increasingly building online communities to keep current and prospective customers informed and engaged.
As people across all age spectrums continue to use social media more heavily every year, the opportunity for businesses to leverage their customer community also grows. This is due, in large part, to a paradigm shift in the way we seek out and absorb information. Think about it, when was the last time you went to a company's sales representative for an answer before trying to find the answer you were looking for online first?
So, rather than having traditional sales or marketing professionals hound prospective customers with pitches that they don't want to hear, they now can have access to relevant information that customers do care about. Not only that, but because it is information that was put out there by one of their peers, they are more likely to value that information more highly and it is far more likely to make a more substantial impact on that prospect's buying process.
An online community gives your organization the platform to tie conversations, which your customers may very well already be having, directly to your organization. This is often times a win-win-win scenario. Your prospects are able to directly interact with your customers, your customers have a forum where they can ask and answer each other's questions, and the company gets to sit back and collect leads and better intelligence, increase customer retention and lower support costs in many cases.
Your customers and prospects are already engaging in social media interactions according to studies like this one from Pew Research Center. Online customer communities allow your organization to capitalize on these interactions.
By using your community to take advantage of opportunities to create a dialogue around your products and/or mission, you will begin to start a cycle of word of mouth marketing and advocacy for your organization. And for the reasons I mentioned earlier, this is one of the most effective ways to market to your prospective customers.
The bottom line is that by creating branded online customer communities you are able to capitalize on the social interactions that are already happening around your brand and grow awareness organically. What could be better than that?