In 2012, you wrote this blog post, explaining why you were shutting down your customer community, The Jungle. You said that customer communities weren’t growing, that yours was unwieldy and that better alternatives existed.
Now, with the power of hindsight, we think you should bring back your old customer community, The Jungle. Here’s why:
When you closed The Jungle back in 2011, you said that customer communities were once common, but quickly becoming a thing of the past. That social media platforms like Facebook were taking over and changing the face of the internet and human interactions online, making private communities obsolete.
In one sense, you were right. We agree, Facebook and other social platforms did change the way the internet works and how we operate within it -- which makes community platforms even more important and powerful than ever. Our lives are so geared towards online social interactions -- even more so now than we could’ve imagined only five years ago -- that it’s critical you have a safe space online for your customers.
One of the main reasons you said community didn’t work was because it quickly -- “inevitably” -- became spammy, “inhospitable and full of weeds.” That you needed to lock down certain accounts and take a more hands-on approach to community. And we know -- communities can take on a life of their own. That’s why community management is such a fast growing profession right now.
But it’s important to remember: successful, sustainable communities don’t just grow organically. They need to be tended to, strong terms and conditions need to be followed, and the community needs a leader to keep everything and everyone in check. It doesn’t mean the community manager needs to rule with an iron fist or approve every single comment or upload, but it does mean that communities take work. It’s up to you to decide if the effort is worth it -- often it is, and the benefits usually outweigh the costs.
Today, five years after you posted your announcement to end The Jungle, we see community growing faster than ever -- and don’t expect it to fizzle out or be the latest failing trend.
You highlighted the Knowledge Base as a good alternative to community, saying you’ve invested heavily in it and that it should have answers to almost any question a customer could have. This is an incredible resources for your customers, but don’t you think that community could be especially powerful for a resource like that? Why should your Knowledge Base be a static library?
Your customers, who are in the product every day, often have very valuable insight. Valuable to fellow customers, since they have the same perspective, and to you, since they can point out areas of improvement.
Plus, as your product evolves, you’ll need to constantly edit your Knowledge Base to keep up. In a community, most of the content is generated by users, taking an enormous load off your back, allowing you to concentrate on other efforts.
And what if customers don’t find what they need on the Knowledge Base? You said that Twitter would suffice for one-on-one interactions with customers. You even created a plugin, LongReply, so that customers could communicate with you through Twitter with more than the 140 characters Twitter allots (although it looks as if LongReply no longer exists).
Many people use Twitter as part of their customer support. It’s a great social platform for certain needs. But why not bring those conversations into a community where other people can participate and learn? And Twitter is a massive platform where you don’t own the data and conversations your customers are having - wouldn’t it be nice to keep those great convos in one place?
It’s true that some problems need to be solved with one-on-one support, but many people have the same or similar questions. Rather than answering the same question over and over again on Twitter, a community saves you and your customers time -- only one person needs to ask the question and everyone can learn from them. It’s also more helpful for customers -- rather than needing to ask for help, they can quickly search for a similar question someone already asked on the community.
Prominently showing customer questions and solutions also demonstrates a great sense of transparency -- you have nothing to hide and aren’t trying to cover up any problems. This will help you win new customers who come across the community and retain existing ones as well. And, if problems arise -- people have gripes and complaints -- at least it’s on your turf, rather than someone’s blog or website. It doesn’t mean you should delete any negativity, but it does mean you have the opportunity to respond thoughtfully and ensure the issue doesn’t get out of hand.
Your customers highlighted this in the comments section of your announcement -- Facebook and Twitter don’t have the same features. It’s harder to search past discussions and learn from past posts. You can’t upload and save helpful documents. You have to have a Facebook or Twitter account to interact with the company, and not everyone likes using social media -- especially if it means using their personal account.
And there isn’t the same sense of community, that “we’re all in this together.” Twitter, especially, creates silos and keeps customers separate from each other. Even if that sense of community isn’t important to you, it is to your customers -- and is even more so if you’re dismantling an established community.
But the features aren’t just better for your customers. A private community brings prospective and current customers to your website and your information, rather than directing them to a third party site. This gives you better SEO and control over what they see. Private communities also have powerful tools for community managers, like automation rules to motivate customers to participate and dashboards to help you track key metrics and engagement.
Four years might not seem that far off, but in the technology world, it’s a long time. And it’s hard to know which tech trends will stick, and which will fizzle out. But customer communities are here to stay -- they’re growing, and right now The Jungle could be, too.
We hope you reconsider communities, and the value they have for companies and their customers.
And we’d be happy to help reinstate yours.
MailChimp fans at Higher Logic