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6 Online Customer Community Tricks You Can Steal From the Government

Written by Joshua Paul | on August 30, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Online Customer Community Tips From the GovernmentBeing heard is an underestimated motivator.

Customers want their voices heard. Donors want their voices heard. And citizens want their voices heard.

The Obama administration has put creating community at the center of its digital strategy. For instance, to help solve the problem of needing to respond to tens of thousands of requests from citizens, the White House launched We the People, an online petitions initiative. Any member of the public can start a petition. However the White House only responds to We the People petitions that reach a certain level of support.

This online app forces people to work together, engage, and build community to get their voices heard. For the government, it helps to prioritize feedback from citizens and focus their time on issues that have the beginnings of a movement behind them.

Companies, user groups, and associations can also use this online community functionality to prioritize product requests and other ideas from their customers or members.

In a recent interview, Joseph Porcelli of GovDelivery discussed how government is engaging citizens using online communities.

It really comes down to what else we can do together. Government really sees itself not as a solution, but a platform. It facilitates inspiring and providing people with the tools and the data to make contributions to improve their daily lives.

- Joseph Porcelli, GovDelivery

Many of the innovative ways that government agencies are using social communities provide insight into how companies can keep their customers engaged. Here are 6 tricks that social business professional can borrow from the government (tax free):

Trick #1) Identify the Behaviors You Want to Change

Government online communities are all about changing behavior of people to be safe, be healthy, get educated, and more. Pinpoint the behaviors in your prospects, customers, employees, and partners that would help your company and your customers. For an example, are support costs rising because customers are not trained well enough on your product? Use the features available in your online community software to build engagement programs around changing that behavior.

Trick #2) Help Your Customers Learn Something and Share It

FEMA's National Preparedness Coalition is designed to get citizens to learn how to prepare for a disaster and then teacher it to others in their online and offline social networks. Similarly, your online customer community can increase the spread of your ideas, lower support costs, and create brand advocates. By taking a page from the government's playbook, you can do this by making it easy for your customers to educate themselves and making it even easier for them to share that information with other customers and non-customers.

Trick #3) Empower Your Company, but Empower You Customers More

Successful government online communities are less government-centric and more citizen-centric. Online customer communities can do a lot for your company. However, you'll only reach you company's business goals when you empower your customers to solve problems together and take advantages opportunities to engage your company and each other.

Trick #4) Segment Your Community

The U.S. Navy created the online community, NavyForMoms.com, because they realized that moms played a major role in one's decision to be recruited into the Navy. You can solve real business problems by targeting decision makers in your online community. If you uncover that CIOs are major players in the decision to upgrade or renew your product, create a group or community within your larger online customer community that focuses on providing content, discussions, and connections to CIOs.

Trick #5) Build On What the Community Is Already Doing

Many government agencies have mastered he technique of building adoption of their private online community by building on the citizen engagement programs that are already in place. Look around your company and map out which departments have contact with your customers. How do your customers hear from your company? Find out what is working in those areas and include those initiatives and communication strategies in your online customer community.

Trick #6) Be the Social and Content Hub of Your Market

Any government agency can create a private social network for government employees, but it is the non-government-run Govloop.com community that has positioned itself as the shadow social backbone of the federal government.

Professionals want community. According to a recent report, 40% of professionals' online time is spent engaging in peer-to-peer online communities. In many cases, if you provide enough content, value, and engagement opportunities, you can position yourself at the center of your market with your online customer community €“ to engage and educate prospective customers, journalists, consultants, partners, and employees.

Online Customer Community Takeaway

Innovation does not always flow from the private-sector into the public sector. A look into government 2.0 strategies can offer very useful community-building tips for companies that want to keep their customers engaged. Along with building awareness of offline and online programs, some government agencies do an excellent job of empowering people to work together to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.

Evaluate your online customer community by overlaying this approach and the tips above to find new ways to create operational efficiency and strengthen customer relationships.

Get the metrics you need to track ROI in your online customer community.

Topics: Customer Communities, Online Community

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