Online Communities in Business Are Not Just For Social Media Geeks
Online customer communities, private social networks where customers, partners, and employees are brought together by companies for the success of their customers, are often thought of as the domain of the social media team.
As they become more central to a business’s sales, retention, and customer management goals, online customer communities increasingly play a vital role in multiple departments. While community managers are still the quarterbacks of online customer communities, successful organizations use a matrixed approach to community management where several employee groups are active in the community without needing approval from the community manager for each interaction.
Some departments will be more active during certain parts of the year than others and not everyone from a specific division will participate in the community. However, it is important that the interests and knowledge of each department be present in the community at all times.
The following groups of employees should be in your online customer community daily:
Employee Group #1 Marketing
The marketing group includes the community management team and is responsible for segmented marketing to existing customers. What are they doing in your online customer community?
- Listening to changes in the industry
- Managing the content plan
- Posting content
- Responding to discussions
- Sending targeted email communication
- Engaging both brand advocates and disengaged customers
- Measuring customer sentiment and satisfaction
Employee Group #2 Sales
The sales department has a strong interest in keeping customers engaged, especially when using the community to convert leads into customers and when additional sales opportunities exist with the current customer base. What are they doing in your online customer community?
- Helping prospects and leads get the most out of the community
- Upselling existing customers
- Engaging customers for targeted add-on sales or additional services
- Ongoing account management
- Checking in on reference-able customers
- Conducting customer evaluations before engaging in the renewal process
Employee Group #3 Customer Service & Support
The customer care group often includes the implementation group and is the primary department responsible for making sure that individual customers are successful with your products and services. What are they doing in your online customer community?
- Posting content, documents, and videos
- Answering questions
- Connecting customers with questions to people with answers
- Listening to peer-to-peer support activity
- Identifying trends in support needs
- Proactively addressing the concerns of customers in trouble
Employee Group #4 Product Management
Your product management and product development teams want access to your online community to create more profitable products and services by making sure that they are solving the right problems in the market. What are they doing in your online customer community?
- Listening for market trends in discussion groups and listservs
- Gathering data in focused product discussions
- Confirming market needs using surveys
- Validating product or service concepts
- Tracking enhancements and prioritizing features
- Recruiting beta-testers
Employee Group #5 Partner Management
This groups managers the partner relationships and revenue streams for the online partner program. They ensure both partners and customers are getting value from partners’ presence in the community. What are they doing in your online customer community?
- Recruiting partners
- Partner nurturing
- Marketing relevant partner information and services to customers
- Monitoring partner activity
- Tracking customer engagement with partners
If you scan down this list knowing that particular departments in your company are not engaged in your online customer community, then who is managing those tasks in your online community? If the answer is nobody, then chances are, you are not getting the full ROI from your online customer community.
Online Customer Community Takeaway
In order for your online customer community to be central to meeting your business goals, it must be seen as a strategic tool across your company, not an extraneous website feature. Choose an online community software platform where multiple non-technical employee groups can monitor activity and participate with minimal hand holding. Set guidelines for participation and conduct ongoing strategy and community management training for each department.
As you can see in the list above, the benefits to your company of having core business units engaged in your online customer community are very real and can play a significant role in the growth of your business.
Which departments, from your organization, are accessing your online customer community each week? Tell your story in the comments below.