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Six Tips to Make the Most of Online Communities

Social media is just one piece of the larger social marketing puzzle for companies large and small. In addition to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, online communities make up a big component of social marketing efforts.

An online community is a hub where people with shared interests can connect to discuss topics of interest, get support and build relationships. It can be a business’ entire website or just one piece within its website. Companies use online communities to support their social marketing efforts by giving their customers easy access to relevant content and allowing their customers to be heard. Typical applications – including profiles, activity streams, wikis, forums and media galleries – help brands build deeper connections with their customers through ongoing conversations and information exchange. These communities equip businesses to build customer loyalty, ramp up social customer engagement and increase company awareness.

After a business has built its online community, the next step is to optimize it. Below are six best practices to help companies make the most out of their online communities:

1.    Post industry news, products updates and company announcements.

  • Share news about the company with customers. For example, if a new product update is announced, customers can get information about new features and can also share their comments on the news. This allows the company to receive immediate feedback.

2.    Engage experts and customers to share best practices relevant to the industry.

  • By engaging with experts, customers can learn from the best and stay in touch with the industry. A company can recognize its top expert and customer contributors by announcing them at conferences, highlighting them in the company blog or through other creative avenues. This encourages the exchange of knowledge between experts and customers.
  • A great example is Dell’s IT community, which is dedicated to best practices for data center and end-user computing. In the Dell TechCenter community, the company sponsors blogs about events and shares editorials and news in the industry. About 80 bloggers contribute to the community, with 10 to 15 regular writers who share their expertise. In addition, the Dell TechCenter Rockstars program rewards IT professionals (and Dell employees, too) for their contributions to online technical conversations in the community, in social media or on their personal blogs.

3.    Gather customer feedback, ratings and reviews on products and services.

  • An online community can serve as a platform to gauge customer feedback. Businesses can post questions and ask for feedback on their products and services. A company can house an idea center where customers can share their ideas and other members can vote on their suggestions.

4.    Use customer discussions to collect ideas for research and development.

  • Companies can gather information on issues that customers are experiencing with their products or services, as well as ideas for research and development.
  • A good example is Nextplora, a full-service market research firm that is paving the way in social research. It engages more than 50,000 consumers online to refine brand strategies, generate product ideas and gauge customer satisfaction for leading brands, including Kraft, L’Oreal, Danone and McDonald’s. Its community has reengineered the research process, engaged customers into the innovation process and created a more free structure for practical new product and service ideas.

5.    Integrate your social media channels and strategy.

  • Since online communities and social networks are all part of a company’s larger social marketing efforts, it is vital to integrate them. An online community should highlight a company’s social networks, so that users can access a company’s Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn streams easily. It is also important to use social networks to share content from the online community to drive users to that information.

6.    Offer support and training tips to customers and prospective customers.

  • Online communities can provide great information to both current customers and prospective ones. Experts and employees are also members of these online communities and can help answer questions and provide information to prospective customers. Online communities house a lot of information, such as case studies, that prospective customers can review.
  • Texas Instruments’ E2E (engineer-to-engineer) community for peer support and customer engagement is an excellent example of a community that has mastered the art of pre-sales support. The community enables the sales cycle by getting prospective customers the information they need at the right time, and it includes more than 900,000 questions and answers, which enhances its support process.

How many of these best practices have you implemented in your community?

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