There’s a lot of hype around online communities now. But does that mean your organization really needs one?
You’re not alone. You or your stakeholders may be skeptical about launching an online community – after all, no one’s really asking for one yet. Why invest in something that may not seem like an urgent need? You’re right to ask questions and be concerned. You want to invest your time and money into improvements that will bring value to your organization, and it’s not feasible to put them into just any project.
Every organization is different, with a special product, industry niche, or value proposition for its members. But an online community addresses three challenges every organization has:
1. Customer Support: Online communities provide instant access to resources.
2. Exclusivity and Privacy: Online communities’ appeal starts with a safe space to encourage sharing.
3. Brand Recognition and Ambassadors: Online communities make their members feel part of your organization (and its mission).
Let’s dig deeper.
1. Online communities provide 24/7 access to information.
Online communities are buzzing with answers around the clock, far surpassing the nine-to-five accessibility of a customer service department or a local chapter’s reception desk. They stretch your organization’s resources further than you can do on your own.
Members can ask questions and get answers at any time, instead of sitting on hold listening to elevator music. Other members may suggest creative ways to solve a problem before your representative has to step in. If members’ questions are customer service-related, they may be able to find related discussions about the issue they’re experiencing.
You can also provide resources that help them find the answers they need. Online communities are perfect for this type of self-service option because you can create private resource libraries with information on frequently asked questions.
Your documents and resources can all be secured behind a login, which protects information you don’t want to make available to the public on your website. Members can log in and search these resources to find what they need.
A secured login also means members have a private space to interact.
2. Online communities’ exclusive appeal encourages sharing.
When members join your online community, it’s like you’ve just admitted them to the inner sanctum. They’ll have access to resources, experts, and conversations that people outside of the community can’t see. The privacy a community creates provides a space for members to open up, connect, and express themselves.
Additionally, by using a secured, online discussion space instead of a public social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re giving them the privacy they need to openly share.
A private community takes the proven concept of public social networking and makes it more secure.
Members don’t have to worry about just anyone digging through their information. Members may be more willing to trust other users based purely on the fact that they’re in this gated community, too. This in turn can lead to more successful problem-solving and better networking.
3. Online communities make members feel part of your organization.
How can you strengthen that sense of connection and belonging to your cause or brand? The answer is often simple: Help people feel heard.
A member might suggest an update to a product, which is validated and echoed by other members, and might even make its way into the product after your organization sees the buzz. Members become part of the feedback loop and in turn become part of the bigger story you’re telling.
A community gives members access to you and other members and fosters a feeling of belonging to the community.
People buy from or join organizations because they’re united around a common theme. Giving members an online community is the perfect way to keep convincing them of your mission and making them part of the mission, too.
Go above and beyond to meet those hidden needs.
No matter what kind of organization you are, you’re probably always looking for ways to increase people’s satisfaction with what you provide. Offering them more than they expect and providing an outstanding experience can increase their satisfaction with your offering and retain them as members or customers year after year. If you decide to pursue an online community, consider doing some research to see how a community fits into your organization.
Your new online community members will benefit from their community experience immediately, which makes it a great way to go above and beyond, meeting these three hidden needs. Members and customers may not be clamoring for an online community now, but you can bet they’ll jump right in.
Learn more about how online communities are acting as change agents in organizations. Download The Community Roundtable's The State of Community Management 2018 Report.