Why an online customer community?

Collaboration among people is critical in our networked world, whether it’s online or offline, and social collaboration platforms, such as online communities, are an easy way to enable it. Online communities allow members to interact through the Internet and act as information systems for collaboration. In this digital age, online customer communities have become an important way for businesses to engage with their customers. Some benefits to building customer communities include:

  • Stronger company/customer relationships
  • Decreased volume of customer support calls
  • Higher customer retention Increase in feedback and ideas

As with every type of community, there needs to be some structure and guidance. It’s easy for communities to become ineffective and disorganized because of all the noise being generated by all the members. Social media can be used to grow online communities, but when a company builds its network on a platform like Twitter, they are confined to that technology’s business model. By creating their own custom customer communities, companies are able to connect their customers with the exact business data, information, and documents they need in order to have a great experience.

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The path to success isn’t always easy, which is why we came up with 3 key points to keep in mind in order to create a successful online community.

Have a community manager

In order to keep peace and order within an online customer community, having a manager is your first key to success. The main goal of having a community manager present is to establish the rules of the community, moderate, and act as support for all of the members. It’s important for the community manager to be available to answer questions and ‘be there’ for groups.

A lack of clear objectives and vague direction are barriers to successful collaboration. Community managers will also have a hand in determining the rules for participation and contribution in addition to monitoring activity. For a customer community to run smoothly, communication needs to be clear amongst all members. When new members are joining a community for the first time, having a good onboarding process is critical for them to understand what the community is about. Equipping new members with the information they need to succeed is helpful for them to get introduced to the community and begin to align with the goals.

Consistency and content

No one likes to be part of a boring group. Being consistent with updates and posting content will keep the community engaged and active. Communities are often not self-sustaining. You need to create a plan for getting people there, for ongoing content development, for communication, and for enhancements to continually evolve the community experience to meet everyone’s needs.

Consistency can encompass a number of factors in a customer community. Think about traditional media and how they operate. Traditional media (such as television) run on set schedules and seasons so that their audiences know exactly what to expect and when. This can be applied to online customer communities as well. By consistently being available to your community to answer questions and publishing content on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, they can be assured that this community is something they can rely on and begin to build trust with your company.

Content is a definite key in an online customer community. What are the members supposed to interact with if nothing is there to provide them with information and value? The content that lives in communities needs to be educational, inspirational, and entertaining. Overall, the content needs to be of some value to the members. By consistently providing content to your members on a regular basis, this will give them a reason to keep coming back. Some content ideas can include:

  • Blog posts
  • Company updates
  • Mixed media (video, images etc.)
  • Forms

Embrace a collaborative environment

We hear the word “collaboration” being used a lot in businesses today because it works. Social collaboration encompasses the idea of working with others and is essential to a workflow process. Teamwork has always been the underlying factor of social collaboration. People thrive in environments that allow their opinions to be shared and heard by others, which is what a community can offer for their members.

Collaboration has been redefined in a digital workplace. By encouraging social collaboration in an online community, you’re giving your members access to utilize and collaborate on business data that is important to them. Just like how community centres are built for bringing a community of people together, online communities do the same – just virtually. The environment itself is designed for sharing, with areas such as discussion forums, comment sections, and ideas modules. It’s easier than ever to start conversations and discussions now that technology has allowed for these features to exist.

Online customer communities can no longer be ignored as a key to success for business collaboration.