It’s true -- you can read minds and predict the future.
Sure, communities can help you with customer acquisition and retention, but they can also help you forecast what your members want or need -- improving your members’ experience and your organization’s bottom line.
How can your community help get you inside a member’s head and learn what they truly think and what they really need?
Watch conversations and anticipate needs
No, you don’t need to be like Professor Trelawney (Harry Potter’s divination professor) to predict member needs -- even before they know what they are. You just need to keep a pulse on the community and put your ear to the ground -- listen to their conversations with an unbiased, open perspective.
99.9% of the time reading your members’ minds is not going to be simple. Sometimes members will tell you exactly what they want, but most of the time you’ll have to read between the lines. They might not even know exactly what they want or what the problem is -- they’re just expressing a frustration or bump they encountered and are looking for a solution.
How do you read between those lines to glean the important, relevant information? Here are two ways of going about it:
- Ask yourself: Are there questions that are popping up repeatedly? Are big picture questions being asked that address larger issues? For example, are people unsure about how to deal with a new piece of industry specific legislation? Are changes happening in the field you serve that are making your users uncertain about future aspects of their business? Are members looking for best practices regarding your industry or product?
- Watch for themes. You might not continually get the same question, but there might be a common thread weaving its way throughout the community, your organization or products. Without even meaning to, members could be helping you connect the dots.
Once you spot these areas of concern or uncertainty, what should you do?
These are great places for you to step in and offer members value and insight. Host webinars or an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with an expert, create an ebook or schedule a meetup to cover those topics. Intelligence gathered from the community should directly influence your content and strategies. Not only will current members applaud your well timed, on-point material, but its relevance will be a draw for prospective or future members as well.
Other ways to address members’ needs
When you figure out what members are thinking, your world opens up -- and there are huge opportunities to improve your products, organization or processes.
Beyond powerful content creation, there are two big ways you can proactively address members’ needs:
- Improve products and services based on member feedback (or complaints) that arise in discussions. This is especially helpful for companies with several products or many users -- community is a great place for your users to troubleshoot and ask for help. If members continually have trouble with something, or if members suggest improvements, take that feedback to heart -- it could help you improve your products, processes or organization.
- Crowdsource fresh, pertinent ideas from your community. Observe what members talk about, what’s important to them, and areas they want to know more about. We do this for our annual conference, Higher Logic Super Forum, in order to create the best speaker line-up and most helpful sessions for our clients. By listening to your members’ conversations, you can purposefully cultivate ideas for new products, product improvements or conference events to better fit your members’ needs.
Finding powerful information
How do you spot this type of important information from your members?
To really understand what members think and predict what they want, you need to be in the community, reading their discussions, watching what they upload and download and occasionally asking questions. Sometimes it comes down to community manager intuition, especially if you know the community’s character well -- which is one more reason why it’s important to have a dedicated community manager.
But luckily it’s not all a guessing game. There are tools you can use to help the process, like Google Analytics, reports from the platform, or external business intelligence tools fed by community data via APIs (application program interfaces). Tracking data is important -- what discussions are people participating in the most? Which piece of content from the resource library is the most used? Understanding what members do, where they go, and what they find most valuable will help you make accurate, predictive decisions.
Create word clouds to spot trends -- pick out the most used words within certain discussion groups. Use these as keywords to direct your content’s direction and actions you take. It’s also important to understand the context of the words -- which is where keeping a pulse on the community by reading discussions is crucial.
Involve members in your innovation
Members can be your greatest allies for bumpy roads and changes ahead. Harness their expertise, passion and power by creating real, structured programs to promote their relationship with you. Whether it’s an ambassador program or something else that better fits your community, find those MVP members who know your product or organization inside out to help you and provide them a conduit for giving you feedback. They have a different perspective than you’ll have, and with that comes valuable insight.
Lego understands the power of community and engaging members in a way many companies don’t. Through community, they tap into their members’ deep knowledge of their product and enthusiasm for the brand. These MVP users care about the products and want Lego to succeed -- and they feel important when Lego reaches out to them for help. Plus, it’s cheap for Lego -- all they need to do is give these users Lego bricks in return for their help.
Using the community to make your products or organizations better not only helps you, but it helps your members. They know you listen to them and that their input is valuable and important. And feeling valued, helpful and important are top motivators to get users participating and engaged in a community.