Let's face it: the people who are most excited about your online customer community (at least in the beginning) are you and the people who put in long hours to plan and launch the platform. It is rare that there is a roaming pack of customers or professionals in your industry cruising around looking for a new online community to join.
People are busy. If you want your target audience of customers, members, or partners to be a part of your private community, you have to get them excited about it. This does not just happen when you hang out your community's shingle. Along with all of your skill, cunning and charm, it takes deliberate processes to generate interest in your private social network.
Here are seven tips for building awareness and engagement in your online customer or member community.
Tip #1) Use Teasers in Other Marketing Channels
Use your other social networks and your email lists to send out little glimpses of what is in store for those who join your private online community. Don't give away too much. Just enough to make them say, "Hmm, interesting" or "I could use that," and then give them a link so they can see the full article, video, discussion or other resource in your private online community.
Tip #2) Make the Reward Exclusive to Community Members
Customers or members who join a private community don't want to re-read the same blog post you added to your company website this morning or find out about a contest that they already entered on your Facebook page. Think of exclusive content as a carrot and stick approach without the stick.
Providing valuable information, discussions, and access to people that your customers or members can't get anywhere else makes a superb incentive to join, and return often to, your online community.
Tip #3) Position Your Community as the Hub of Customer Communication
Customers and members can tell when you online community is an afterthought. They can tell when you've implemented a private social network mainly to be able to market that you have one, but it is not central to your customer management operation.
The community, content, and email tools in your online community software tools provide all that you need to reach out to your customers or members and consistently keep them engaged, but only if your target audience is exposed to the community.
Rather than managing your membership or customer base as you have for the past decade, use your online community platform to run all member or customer communication through your community. This means company announcements, support documentation, events, and promotional or training opportunities can all be found in your online customer or member community.
The more people are exposed to your community platform, the more comfortable they will start to feel. They will begin to explore the other tools, discussions, and connections in your online community.
Tip #4) Recognize Your Members
Why do people check Facebook? The short answers is that we do it to see what is happening with our friends and family. Transpose that thinking into your private online customer community.
The customers and members in your online community want to see updates and news from around the community. Post stories about how a customer solved a specific problem with your product or feature photos from your latest conference's awards ceremony. People love to get recognition, even if it's only something as small as an acknowledgement of their accomplishments or their 1-year anniversary as a customer.
Highlight any positive news about your community members and you will see more people who want to get in on your rewarding community both to be recognized and to recognize people that they know.
Tip #5) Make Messages Social
There are a lot of ways to communicate with customers or members - from blogs written by executives to how-to video libraries. When it comes to using those messages to keep customers engaged, you have a choice. You can keep hurling one-way messages at your customer base or you can utilize your online community software to make your messages social.
Encourage your members to rate and discuss and ask questions about every communication that you send out to the community. Get customers or members talking about the same thing and you will see how quickly that community can form.
Tip #6) Be Fanatical About Relevance
Relevancy is a cocktail with a simple recipe:
- One part "the right people"
- One part "the right information"
- One part "the right time"
Like I said earlier, people are busy and will ignore platforms that are not immediately valuable to them. Use the demographic, transactional, and behavioral data that your online community system knows about each customer to target your communication and your customer experience to provide each community member with the content and discussions that relevant to them.
Tip #7) Reach Out to Members for Help
One of the most effective ways to get customers or members interested and involved in your online community is to simply ask them for help. Avoid sending out mass emails seeking responses to discussions, but use what you know about each member to send personalized asks.
Match up discussions, articles, and other content in your community with the expertise of specific members. Then, ask those experts to chime in because they are an authority whose insight would benefit the community.
Talk to your long-time, committed members and ask them for help in reaching out to others and to contribute their own knowledge and expertise on specific topics and issues. Invite them to write a guest post, head a discussion, or answers a question from a fellow member.
Online Customer Community Takeaway
Online communities can play a significant role in customer acquisition, member retention, customer service, and product innovation. However, one of the biggest questions we get is how to get busy people interested in joining and participating in the community.
There are several steps to moving customers or members through the onboarding funnel from non-members to fully participating members. Use the strategies listed in this post to be smart about systematically tackling those early awareness and engagement phases. Online communities can be exciting for your company and your customers. However, you have to take the steps to get them to join and participate first.