You are competing with dozens of distractions when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of your customers, and engagement is in everyone's thoughts because it's one way to get attention in this plugged-in world. Engaging audiences, especially through online communities, can help get your message across in a noisy environment full of people with short attention spans.
But before you can even begin tothink about engaging customers with your online community strategy you have to win over management. Some innovative management teams will see the value behind the community right away, while others might not share your interest.
For this second group, remember that while the benefits of engaging your customers in a branded online community may seem obvious to you, they won't for everyone. Management groups in charge of creating budgets and managing resources, in particular, will want to know how an online community ties into the organization's mission and what the return on investment will be.
When you overlook what management needs from you in an online community pitch, your dreams of building a community filled with peer-to-peer interactions will likely stay dreams. If you are guilty of any of these mistakes below, there is a big likelihood that the only online community you will manage is your own Facebook page.
When, and for how long, you present is almost as important as what you present. If you don't stick to the time that managers and executives allot to hear you out, they'll likely dismiss your idea.
You have to respect the amount of time you're asking for and be strategic as to when you present your ideas for an online community. Try to time your pitch to follow an organizational win so management will be in a positive mood and ready to hear about innovative ideas.
Talking about your personal attachment to the idea of an online customer or member community only tells management one thing: your opinion. It's emotional, and sometimes even irrelevant.
So while it's nice that you think your audience will enjoy an online community, it's not very convincing. Do your research and showcase success stories for branded online communities. Whenever possible, tie your examples to the economics of the investment. Statistics and ROI speak louder than your opinion.
If all you have is a general idea of an online community in your head, that's the way your community will stay. Vague pitches won't get you far with management.
When you pitch your idea for a branded online community it's of the utmost importance that you not only talk about the idea, but also about your plan and what resources will be required. This means discussing the financial investment, as well as the staff and time it will take. Don't get so caught up in getting the idea accepted that you forget to explain how you will bring it to fruition and demonstrate results after you get approval.
Promising your management things like immediate impact, sky-high ROIs, and an astronomical increase in customer acquisition might sound good, but it's not. Setting yourself and your executive team up for disappointment is never a good way to start an exciting venture.
The surface-level goal behind your online community is to create a place where people engage with your company and each other. So be wary of promising increased sales from a percentage of your mailing list, customer base, or anything else. Numbers are less important than activity and word-of-mouth marketing. Tie your engagement into achievable goals.
Telling your management that if you build it, they will come, will set you up for failure. Communities can be largely organic, but you must first create a place that people want to be a part of and seed it with valuable content people can interact with.
To do this, you need an online community engagement plan. Show management that you have a detailed plan complete with content creation and onboarding ideas in place to ease their concerns. Simply building a structure and waiting is not a successful strategy.
If you present only the benefits of an online community without expressing the possible risks, your management team may feel like you are hiding something, which could make them mistrust the entire idea.
Be a good debater and be prepared for all sides of the argument. It's better to face their questions and concerns head-on, or before they are brought up, than to give them the impression you've never thought of them. An unprepared argument is a weak one.
Your online community will not be the first conversation people have about your brand. Be aware that your devout following is talking about you now, whether you have a branded online community or not. You no longer control the brand, and neither does management, it's a combination of what you want it to be and how your customers see it or shape it. If they love you or hate you, they're already talking about you.
Don't ignore this, as it could be incredibly powerful when it comes to gaining support for your community. Make sure management understands the current conversations, and that it's much harder to insert yourself into those conversation when they're occurring on a platform you don't own or have access to. Management needs to know people are already talking about you and you want to be part of the conversation.
An online community is an excellent idea, but if all you care about is your strategy, you may be in for a rude awakening. Online customer communities are customer-centric. This means your strategy may need to defer to the will of the people on occasion.
Implement an online community strategy, but be sure that management understands the community is a vehicle to engage your customers. When customers bring forth content and ideas that weren't on your plan, embrace it.
Ideally, the customer will become passionate about your community and begin providing you with just this sort of content. It might include criticism that you can use to improve your current products, or even generate new product ideas. The collaboration between you and your customers can be wildly rewarding if you let it.
Your management team is on the line for creating a profitable and sustainable organization. If you don't promote your online community in those terms, they're going to lose interest quickly. Don't speak about engagement without referencing core business numbers, strategies, and a plan for how you will get there and measure your success or you'll ruin your chances to create a fantastic online community.