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Is an Online Community Right for My Company?

I get that question every so often from my colleagues. While it is clear not every company, product, or service offering is a fit for an online community, even I have been surprised at how well certain communities have done that you would not think would be a good fit. The reality of the situation is that even though you think your product or service is unexciting or you don’t have a huge following, depending upon how you define your success criteria, a community might actually be a perfect fit.

Here are some things to consider as you decide whether or not to build your own online community.

You want to gather TIMELY feedback from your customers.

An online community is one of the best ways to gather immediate feedback from your customers. All you have to do is ask the questions and people will answer them, often without having an incentive to do so. Whether it is a simple one question poll, a survey, or discussion thread, there are many ways to gather feedback from your customer. For example, one of our clients wanted to know whether to allow customers to buy their product outright or only offer an ongoing subscription model. We started a discussion thread on the topic and within minutes they had feedback from their customers on what they thought. This valuable feedback steered them away from making a big mistake with their customers and saved them a lot of money.

You want your customers to tout your offering to other potential customers.

Referral sales from your customers are the number one benefit of online communities. A community is an ideal place to get people excited about your offering, and in turn, they can get others excited about it also. The more passionate that people can get about your offering, the more they will refer their friends. Just make sure that it is easy for your customers to share your information through other social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. by putting share buttons on your community.

You want your customers to talk to each other.

An online community provides a forum for your customers to communicate with each other. This is good for two reasons:

(1) Customers can get their questions answered from other customers quickly without having to utilize your in-house support offerings. This saves you time and money.

(2) It gives a forum for your passionate users to convince perspective customers to buy your offering. People inherently trust other customers more than they trust your own company. Site visitors who interact with both reviews and customer questions and answers are 105% more likely to purchase while visiting. Customer communication is a good thing in most cases.

You want to educate your customers.

People may not go to your website anymore to determine whether to buy. An online community provides a place for people to go to learn about your products in a more friendly environment than the stuffiness of your corporate site. A typical community will have articles, blogs, forums, videos, picture galleries, downloads, groups, and many other ways for your customers to educate themselves in the most appropriate way for them. Education is especially important if your offering is hard to explain or use or can be extended or modified after purchase. The more complicated and extensible the offering, the more benefit you will get out of community education. The education doesn’t have to come from you either. Much of the content will be user generated, taking the burden off of your team.

If you would like more information about how to get started with an online community contact us for more information.

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