If the world were simpler, congress would be functional, children could play in the street no matter where they lived, and you would be able take online communities tips and apply them to any social networking software that you would like.
However, the world is not simple. Just like public social networks, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, all serve different purposes in your business strategy; public social networks and private online communities play very different roles in your customer management plan.
Though some B2C brand and small businesses are better off building their customer community on public social networks, organizations where customer engagement is a high priority, retention is a major KPI, and customers need the support of the organization and one another to succeed in their jobs look toward private online community software to manage their ongoing customer relationships.
Let's explore why that is.
The Current State of Facebook Engagement
Facebook has always been the 'gold standard' for large social networks, boosting over 900 million users. However recent data and analysis suggests that they may have jumped the shark as a fertile ground for customer engagement.
- Facebook customer loyalty has dropped since its IPO. It fell to fifth in the social network category in the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index.
- According to a study by Reuters and research-firm, Ipsos, Americans are spending 35% less time on Facebook than they did in the recent past.
- As Facebook feels the pressure to deliver financial results, they seem to have turned their focus from engagement to profit-generating features.
Companies and membership organizations need to take the future of the social network into account when deciding where to invest in building an online customer community.
8 Reason That Organizations Avoid Building Online Customer or Member Communities on Public Social Networks
The following are reasons why companies and membership organizations create private social communities for their customers rather than build them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+:
Reason #1) Less Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Data
Online customer communities provide a wealth of information at both the macro and individual customer levels. The demographic and activity data from a company's online customer community provides a treasure trove of information to customer relationship professionals.
Since online communities that reside in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goggle+, can only pipe limited (if any) information into your primary CRM systems, organizations lose this major source of market and customer data.
Reason #2) Privacy and Security
In our experience, firms have two main concerns.
- How can I ensure that conversations about product strategy, proprietary company plans, or not-yet public information stays private and secure?
- How can I ensure that the nature or existence of customers' participation in my community does not show up in their activity stream, which is viewable by non-customers?
Reason #3) Ownership and Upgrades
More often than not, this will not is an issue. However, what happens in those instances where there is a dispute over who owns the content and discussions in your online community.
Additionally, Facebook and the other public social networks limit your ability to export your online community data when upgrading your community to a full online community software platform, leaving may organizations to start from scratch.
Reason #4) Functionality
Much of the power of an online customer community platform stems from the ability to create value for your customers or members. By using forums and listserv groups, file libraries, wikis, blogs, and other features, your organization creates a one-stop-shop for members to get answers, find best practices, and engage with one another.
Facebook and other public networks only offer discussion-type interactions, which limits your organization's ability to provide a more complete and differentiated value proposition to your target audience.
Reason #5) Mobile Engagement
Mobile apps for public social networks are not designed to promote participation in customer or member communities. They are built around individual social networking and don't have the depth needed to support customers' or members' need for access to specific discussions, documents, and other engagement opportunities.
Reason #6) Segmentation
Customers only care about relevant information. One of the primary ways that online communities are personalized is through segmenting information and social discussions. Members of the community only have access to the information that is relevant to them based on customer-type, group or committee affiliation, event attended, or any number of other demographic or behavioral filters. Public social networks have very limited segmentation capabilities.
Reason #7) Management and Integration
It is very difficult to manage a private online community for customers or members on public social networks. Since tools like Facebook and LinkedIn do not integrate with your primary customer or membership database, you have to dedicate a certain number of people-hours to manually making sure that access to the community matched your customer list, as your customer base changes.
Reason #8) Work vs. Non-Work Social Environments
Though the loudest voices on the Internet conduct themselves in a very open way across social networks, a larger percentage of your customers or members separate their work lives their non-work lives online. Often times, people reserve Facebook for non-work activity and are hesitant to blur the lines to become involved in work-related discussions.
Don't Become Noise To Your Customers
While there are benefits to messages from your community appearing in your customer' news streams when they check-in on their Facebook or Twitter accounts, your organization is also running the risk of being ignored as you are just one of many groups that the customer is getting updates from.
A recent University of Michigan study on firm-sponsored online communities found the following:
"While it is likely that hosting customer communities on third-party websites such as Facebook provides reach to a broader audience, this strategy does not offer the same level of access and control over customer interaction management and data offered by a firm-sponsored social network, nor is the third-party community interaction data commonly available to the firm in a manner that can easily be liked to customer-level purchase behavior."
Online Community Takeaway
Facebook and other public social networks play a significant role in brand building, lead generation, and listening to your market and customer. However, ongoing customer management and collaboration is better served by an online community software platform.
Given the amount of non-technical time it takes to plan, launch, and manage an online customer community, most corporations, associations, and user groups invest in a private social networking platform that gives them the flexibility, scalability, and features they need to keep customers engaged and help their members become more successful.