My favorite childhood game was Telephone. My friends and I would sit in a circle for hours passing messages around by whispering in one another’s ears. Hearing how the original messages changed to something nearly unrecognizable at the end always made me laugh.
Telephone isn’t just an entertaining childhood pastime. It also teaches a valuable lesson: indirect communication is rarely accurate. You lose essential meaning when there isn’t a one-on-one connection. It’s a problem that happens not only with people, but with software systems as well.
Unless your business technology, including your online community platform, association management system (AMS) or customer relationship management software (CRM) talks to one another directly, the information they collect won’t reach its potential. Instead, they’ll create data silos that fragment your view of customers and members.
Integrated software, on the other hand, communicates directly with other systems to provide clear, helpful data you can use to improve business results.
Unfortunately, according to The Business Impact of Online Communities study, 37% of organizations still haven’t integrated their online community and CRM. Not only does that create more work for your team and your customers, it prevents your community from providing key value to your organization.
Whether you’re a business or association, it’s essential to integrate your community with your tech stack, especially your CRM or AMS. The integration itself won’t even be a burden for your team. In most cases, your online community software provider will take care of the technical requirements, so you’ll get these benefits with little extra effort on your part.
Manually setting permissions and giving community members access to different areas is labor and time intensive. With an integration, your AMS or CRM can automatically set permissions based on membership level or purchase history. That will save your staff hours of time.
Automatic permissions also give your customers a smoother experience. They won’t stumble around community spaces they’re not allowed to participate in or browse discussion forums that aren't relevant for them. Instead, they’ll instantly have access to the most valuable content and conversations for their needs.
Without an integration, your members likely need to sign in to each of your tech systems separately. Once they're logged in, they must manually update personal information multiple times - once for each system. That's a lot of extra work that can drive members away from your community.
Integrations alleviate this with single sign-on and communication paths. Members who log in to your online community or another organizational site will also be automatically signed in to your CRM. And, because your staff and admins update information in both systems, the integration streamlines any changes they need to make. No one wastes time doing things twice, which creates a smoother experience for members and customers, as well as cleaner, more useful data for your staff.
In The Business Impacts of Online Community study, customer intimacy was the second most popular source of competitive advantage. Businesses and associations want comprehensive information about their audience’s problems, interests, and priorities from start to finish.
Online communities are powerful tools for learning about customers. They collect online activity data on the web pages, discussions, and content people are most interested in. It starts with prospects who browse the public sections of your online community, tracking their interests and how they change as prospects move through the buyer’s journey. When people gain full access to your community as paying members and loyal customers, you can see how their activities and needs shift over time.
An integration combines that activity information with demographic and financial data, creating a 360-degree view of members. You can then tailor your content, benefits, and product suggestions to what each customer needs. Such personalized offers often achieve a much higher return for your organization while fostering loyalty in members.
Getting to know your community members also makes it easier for you to empathize and provide more valuable messages. This happens when you get a complete understanding of your members’ problems. As you combine community data with your CRM or AMS, you not only see the problem's symptoms, you also see the cause.
For example, consider a loyal association member who lapsed in their dues payment. Your integration shows you their combined demographic and activity data, and you notice there’s no employment information on file. Not only that, but your member is networking heavily in your online community. They’ve lapsed in their payments because they’re currently unemployed and searching for a job.
Now that you understand the cause of the problem, you can be more empathetic in your outreach. For this member, you may offer more resources and a three-month grace period to help with their job search instead of a standard renewal notice. You’ll likely get a much better response and your empathy could inspire lifetime loyalty.
How is your community impacting your organization? Many professionals don’t know. In recent research, 35% of community professionals said they lack the metrics needed to report success in business terms. Many even responded to financial questions by saying “I don’t know” or “I guess."
Don’t be one of those professionals. Integrating your community with other tech systems lets you track how engagement activities influence business goals like revenue and retention. You can see how sales increase as customers participate in discussions or how renewals spike when your association launches a new professional development webinar in your community.
Use that data to align your member engagement strategy with business goals. You can improve retention by reaching out to struggling customers who often visit your help forums, for instance. Your sales team can also identify upsell, upgrade, and add-on opportunities as you encourage more members to visit your product and pricing pages. Track your success by tying activity and engagement to business results through your integration’s data.
Expert Tip: If your AMS or CRM system doesn’t have the analytics you need to see how your community connects to business results, look for a third-party system that deals specifically with “big data.” The best online community software, AMS, and CRM platforms can send information directly to these third-party systems so you’ll have better tools to analyze data and turn it into actionable insights.
We’re fortunate to work and serve the public in the technology era, with software and tools that let us learn about our audience and provide them with the material they need to succeed. Each of your technology systems collects essential data on your customers – data that must be combined to give the best view of customers and members.
The trailblazing behemoths we all know and love (Amazon, Netflix, and Google) jumped on this data bandwagon years ago. It’s one of the more well-known contributors to their success and it can help you in similar ways. The right data, piped through the right integrations, will reduce the workload of your staff, cut down on frustration in your community, and personalize the member experience.
If you don’t have an integration between your online community and CRM, now is the time to get one. You can’t provide the experience your members want without it. And if you don’t provide an outstanding experience, your members may leave to find someone who will.