Are happy customers as engaged as they can get? Or is there any way to increase their engagement—by giving them more purpose and helping your organization create more value for all members? As it turns out, there is more to customer engagement beyond simply being a “happy customer”—specifically what we call “promoters” and “co-creators.”Online communities not only help you find these people—your most enthusiastic, valuable customers—but can also help you nurture them. Once you know who these people are and what drives them, you can create programs and structured ways for them to contribute, within the community and in the world at-large.
But before diving into exactly how an online community can help, let’s take a look at exactly what these customers look like.
A promoter is a customer who loves your product—and loves to talk about it. They go above and beyond to recommend your team and company to their social and professional circle. A classic example of a promoter is a person who writes a good review or shares a success story about your company or product to their social media network.
Within your community, their stories and praise can help gain the trust of prospects (if parts of your community are open to the general population) and can help convert lurkers into participants by being active on the platform. Basically, they are good examples of what an engaged customer and community member looks like.
Because of that, they’re a very valuable portion of your customer base. They help spread the word about your company and offer social proof within their circles that your product is valuable and worth paying for.
Promoters clout is strongest within their networks. But to gain influence beyond that universe—that’s where co-creators come in.
Co-creators are promoters 2.0—and, ideally,promoters become co-creators. Not only do they promote your company or product by publicly speaking well of it, but they actively help your company come up with new ideas, bringing more value to all your customers. In essence, you and your co-creator customers are partners, working in tandem on the same project. Co-creators do this because they believe in your company so much that when you succeed, they also succeed.
Most customers who participate in an online community inherently contribute content with each thread response, but a co-creator does more than that inherent, passive type of content creation. What does that look like?
Depending on what type of company you are, or what types of products you sell, their contributions and creations will look different. But here are a few examples:
No one knows what your customers need more than … your customers. You don’t need to include every single customer while you innovate your product and beta test new features—that wouldn’t be helpful at all—but it is helpful to include a select number of customers. Vimeo does this by including top community members in the product usability testing process. By testing updates and products with these users, Vimeo can learn what users think and how they’d use the product before launching to everyone. This way they can confirm it’s a good move or fix glitches before rolling out to their global user base.
Cognitive surplus may sound like an odd term, but it’s a pretty simple, yet transformative, concept. And, chances are, you’ve come across it before. Basically, cognitive surplus is the idea of breaking down large tasks into smaller tasks and giving space for many people to chip in very small amounts of time to get it done.
Wikipedia, the ever changing, ever evolving online encyclopedia, is an excellent example of this. Although they don’t sell a product, they’re still a valuable example to look at. The company, a non-profit, only has 250 employees. It would be impossible for them to constantly update and monitor the site, muchless contribute to its content—especially given the number of languages Wikipedia supports. That’s why they rely on over 80,000 active volunteers who contribute content, fact check, and monitor the site. They are truly co-creators who believe deeply in the mission.
One of the reasons this method is so successful is because volunteers can choose to dedicate as much—or as little—time as they want. The enormous task of creating and maintaining Wikipedia is broken down into small, sometimes tiny, pieces by thousands of people.
A big part of online community is customer content creation. By simply posting a new thread or replying to a discussion, customers contribute to your community, increasing its value and SEO. But you can also set up more formal content creation programs to really tap into your customer’s knowledge.
Duolingo, the language learning software, doesn’t just want students to help create content—their goal is to translate content into many different languages so everyone has access. They partner with major news outlets, like Buzzfeed and CNN, and give their students pieces of content to translate. As part of their learning, students translate pieces of these articles that are then republished for everyone to read.
This method is so effective because everyone wins. Students learn how to translate real pieces of writing, not just made up paragraphs in a textbook. And Duolingo has a service that allows it to stay free and without ads. Students—all students—are truly co-creators, essential to the entire process. Not only can they feel good about learning, but they know they’re contributing to two great causes—article translation and keeping Duolingo free.
Although the above examples are is unique and specific to each organization, there are two very important common threads. First, these organization’s customers and students didn’t start co-creating on their own. Each knew they wanted to engage with their customers more deeply, and devised ways to do so.
Second, co-creation has to help everyone. Organizations can’t be selfish and expect to ask more of their customers without expecting customers to see what’s in it for them. They need to benefit, too.
Take a look at what your customers need and what your company needs and find ways to connect the dots and include everyone. That’s how you can begin creating your own program to engage co-creators. And how do you find these people? Begin by looking at your promoters—they’re already vocal about how much they love your company and product. They just haven’t been given a chance to take their energy to the next level. Give these people the opportunity to contribute to your company in another way, and you may be surprised by the results.