Since the beginning of the Internet, there have been communities. Those communities have become increasingly complex and diverse, though. From social media communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to more traditional forum-based communities, companies have tried to capitalize on the power of the crowd.
Communities Past and Present
Communities typically have two functions. The first is social, and is usually backed up by marketing departments. And companies are breaking out the checkbooks to get this kind of engagement. According to eMarketer, U.S. marketers last year spent $3.08 billion on Facebook brand pages and social media advertisements, with little return to show for it.
Social communities often incentivize people to join (i.e.: Get 15% off for liking our page!). But once this initial incentive is gone, there’s little reason to return.
Forum-based communities, what we will call branded communities, are typically geared towards a support function. They represent a peer-to-peer channel, where customers can help each other answer questions, instead of dealing with support phone calls.
When I do a Google search with a question, I often end up on these pages because they tend to rank highly. Their content is typically highly relevant and matches my natural language, branded query (i.e.: How do I change my Moto X backplate?).
For all of its monetary potential, the Internet is a dangerous place for companies. Customers complain, and they complain loudest in communities. These disgruntled posts and tweets hurt your brand. Not only is it influencing your current customers to perhaps leave, but this same content is being discovered by prospects looking to validate your solution.
Consumers are turning to branded online communities for more than support. The challenge for companies is to keep customer engaged who are just looking for discounts and free content. (Via Marketing Charts)
The Post-Sale Jail
Communities, alongside product and help content, are oftentimes caught in the post-sale jail (Read this great whitepaper by Tim Walters, Ph.D. to learn more about this idea). Companies don’t recognize the value of this content and communities throughout the entire customer journey.
Since communities can rank highly in search engines, leaving this peer-to-peer badmouthing support channel in the post-sales jail tends to paint a poor picture for customers and prospects. Companies place much of their brand control efforts into marketing and sales, so communities and help content don’t get the same care.
According to (IDC), “buyers of technology report that interacting with technical content is the second-most important pre-sales activity.” Consumers are turning to Google to find out technical information about your products before they even reach out to your company.
Social communities might be great for brand awareness. But when it comes to converting likes to purchases, you’re not going to see a high rate of correlation between the two. With peer-to-peer branded communities, they’re often not even connected to the the commerce side of the business.
The Missing Link
If you’re going to have a branded online community that serves the entire customer journey, there’s a missing link to consider: the authoritative product and help content your company produces.
Peer-to-peer channels should not be viewed as a “support channel.” Customers are not a substitute for authoritative content. And yet, many companies see it as such. Peer-to-peer should instead be seen as an insight channel. Branded online communities are a great way to capture information about the customer’s experience with your brand.
By bringing your authoritative content into your branded community, you’re providing customers the support they need to succeed and the answers they need to validate your solution. With a good community manager and analytics linked to your authoritative content, you’re going to have insight into the way customers interact with your products.
The Customer Success Community
Customer success is about ensuring every interaction with the company helps customers become product experts. Companies who focus on customer success have increased their revenue by reducing churn and increasing upsells/cross-sells. Left to their own devices, online branded communities diminish customer success because, without the company’s authoritative content, the customers, and not the company, are positioned as the experts.
Brand loyalty requires your customer’s trust: trust in your product, trust in your sales and support teams. When you’re not the own expert in your community, you’re tacitly losing your customers trust.
To cash in on communities, you need to bring your authoritative content into the mix as the resource for your buyers and customers. They’re already coming to communities for more than support, you just need to make sure you’re meeting their needs.
Featured Image via Social Media Examiner