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Creating an Effective Peer-to-Peer Community

CHALLENGE: Your web site should be the gateway to an engaged online peer-to-peer community. It can be a space where customers and prospects share ideas and insights, troubleshoot common problems, and (you hope) praise your brand.

Supporting these communities is now an essential marketing responsibility … but unless the peer-to-peer experience is driven by Voice of the Customer (VoC) based expectations, you risk falling well short of the desired community experience.

ERROR #1: Assuming customers will do all the heavy lifting. Too many organizations imagine that having a peer-to-peer space means that customers will take on most or all of the work when it comes to monitoring discussions, responding to questions, and overall, establishing and maintaining the structure of the community.

Best practice you should follow instead: You and your team members should be active members of the community. Leadership should come from your company in these areas: contributing content, monitoring discussion groups, and if necessary, excluding people who violate the accepted rules of the space.

ERROR #2: Over-reliance on e-surveys. Online surveys are acceptable for some situations, but they should not become your only, or even your main, means of communication with your customer base about what goes on in the peer-to-peer community. Why not? Because one-way surveys don’t allow customers to share in-depth insights, challenge priorities, pass along ideas and stories, and offer game-changing suggestions.

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Best practice you should follow instead: Invest in in-depth, person to person interviews with select members your target audience. You can do this through face-to-face interviews, phone discussions, Skype calls, and other exchanges. You must not only be able to ask the customer what he or she expects from the peer-to-peer experience, but also able to listen to an extended response. As you design the community, make sure you are following your customers’ lead. Don’t make them prisoners of a questionnaire.

ERROR #3: Thinking that peers are enough. In addition to contact with fellow users, customers in this space also expect access to content experts with deep understanding of key issues. These should be people who can serve as resources for both short-term problems and long-term growth. Too many peer-to-peer spaces offer no access to true experts.

Best practice you should follow instead: Recruit (and consider compensating) experts who can offer insights, advice, and deep experience on the challenges faced by your community.

For an example of an innovative business built around an engaged peer-to-peer community that has mastered all three of these best practices (with senior graphic artists serving as content experts), visit Threadless.com.

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