It's no secret that we're big fans of online customer communities and what they are doing for businesses. Obviously, if you follow this blog even a little bit, you're probably well aware of what a great asset online communities are to marketing, sales, support, and product management teams. And while that opinion might seem a little biased, it also comes from a genuine belief in the benefits of highly engaged customers and the enormous potential for company growth that comes from having better customer relationships.
However, while we've been singing the praises of customer communities for quite a while now as we watch our customer repeat the rewards of their online community strategies, it's always nice to see other important figures in the business and marketing world join in the chorus.
Below are four industry leaders that get it. They recognize how important online customer communities are to grow-oriented companies and believe their influence is only going to grow in 2015. But don't take our word for it â€“ take theirs.
What Digital Marketing Experts Have to Say About Online Customer Communities in 2015
When it comes to understanding customer engagement, it's not an exaggeration to say that Bill Lee literally wrote the book on it. As the founder of the Center for Customer Engagement, he's an expert in transitioning your consumer base from mere happy customers to advocates who help your business grow.
In a recent LinkedIn post on top growth trends in 2015, Lee identified customer communities as a strategy on the rise. Pointing to Salesforce.com's Dreamforce, which boasts over 130,000 users in the San Francisco area alone, Lee reiterates that, "more companies can build customer communities than think they can." Those that are willing to take the plunge are likely to see their efforts rewarded. As Lee puts it, "communities of buyers' peers draw buyers“ meaning online customer communities can help attract new buyers by uniting the buyers you already have and building a professional peer network around your company or products.
Mitch Joel and Mark W. Schaefer
Whenever there's a conversation about industry leaders in digital marketing, it rarely leaves out Mitch Joel and Mark W. Schaefer. These two joined up for a veritable "meeting of the minds" to discuss the future of digital marketing on Joel's uber-popular podcast, "Six Pixels of Separation." Before we get into what they predicted, let's back up and explain why their opinion is so valuable.
Mitch Joel is the President of Twist Image who was called the "Rock Star of Digital Marketing" by Marketing Magazine. He blogs, produces podcasts, and writes books all about marketing in a changing world of connection. Mark W. Schaefer is the founder and executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions who also blogs, records his own podcast, and writes books. In short, these men both have a lot to say about digital marketing and a huge number of people who take their advice.
Throughout their discussion, Joel and Schaefer go back and forth exchanging their trend predictions. Inspired by Amazon's acquisition of Twitch, a community platform for gamers and video game enthusiasts, Joel predicts that brands in 2015 will need to "own the network" by building out their own space on the web to be inclusive and interactive. The concept that Joel describes perfectly aligns with the goals and purpose of an online customer community. In his own words:
That type of thinking: we have a network, all different channels, all different types of content, some of them are text-based, some of them are image-based, some of them are video-based. And this whole network is a place where people want to connect and they connect on their own willâ€¦But this idea, I think, is something â€“ it's an idea that's time has come.
Schaefer then touts the example of Caterpillar's online community, pointing out that they've created a network that "engages people and rewards them for solving problems, sharing content, [and] creating content, along different verticals that are important to them in their business."
It's this type of innovation that both Joel and Schaefer think will be part of the competitive edge for digital marketers in 2015. Before they move on to their next trend, Schaefer sums up the anticipation for change best: "It's so exciting because I think we are going to see breakthroughs like this in 2015. I just think there's so much pressure to break out and do something bold and new and I just can't wait to see what kind of other content forms are out there."
Angela Hausman, PhD
Rather than simply identifying trends for 2015, Angela Hausman wrote about identifying megatrends in social media. As a professor at Howard University, an Associate Editor for the European Journal of Marketing, and the founder and operator of Hausman & Associates (her own full-service marketing firm), it's safe to say that Hauman is invested in uncovering what works in digital marketing. She believes that the potential for community-based engagement hasn't even begun to be realized.
Take social media for example. As Hausman says, "too many [businesses] use social media as just another channel for spreading traditional media messages. In 2015, more businesses will understand the power of community engagement." What's missing Hausman points out, is two-way communication that creates brand advocates out of customers and employees alike. She speaks to the power of brand communities and their ability to influence buyers' peers and create more consumer-generated content.
With the social aspect of digital marketing moving beyond simple "following" and "friending" in 2015, Hausman sees building community as one of the top five social media megatrend predictions for this coming year. She emphasizes how building a strong brand community speaks to the big role online communities will have in digital marketing for 2015.
Online Customer Communities Takeaway
While no one can predict the future, experts in digital marketing are well equipped to speculate on the coming trends.
As more and more businesses are realizing that great content isn't enough to connect with buyers and keep customers engaged, they'll look to launch platforms designed to connect their ecosystem. Creating customer communities online to develop brand advocates and grow your business through human-to-human connections is only going to become more important in 2015.