A customer community is a vital catalyst for businesses that want to differentiate based on customer experience. Vibrant communities create collaborative partnerships with customers, providing first-hand insight into their wants and needs, while simultaneously elevating the level of accountability that departments and individual employees have regarding the quality of customer service and experience.

But thriving communities don’t just happen on their own—they need to be set up, moderated and cultivated internally. Successful customer communities require equal parts art—cultivating conversations and engaging community members—and science—a data-driven, analytical approach to understanding the community in order to grow engagement, manage participation, assess content effectiveness and gauge impact on customers. 

So, how do you organize internal processes and prepare employees to put your customer community to work for you? Here are seven steps that will get you on the right path to success:

1. Go where your customers are

Don’t make customers and prospects find you, be present where your customers and prospects spend their time. Today’s tech-savvy customers and prospects look for information about companies and their products in many places: your website, on Google, and in social media. By posting links to relevant community conversations across social channels, companies can improve customer engagement and capture the attention of new prospects.

The more community doors you can open for your customers and prospects, the better. You can simplify this process by choosing a community platform that stays on top of consumer trends and makes it easy to integrate your community with existing channels.

2. Leverage the power of search engines

Because your customers are generating the bulk of the content, you will benefit from the volume and long-tail nature of conversations in the community. In addition, search algorithms give preference to user-generated content. As a result, your community will produce some of the highest ranked SEO content on your site. The SEO juice your customer community will generate will filter up to your homepage, helping your company’s website rank higher in search results pages over time.

However, some community platforms will rank better in Google than others. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Choose a platform that creates a URL structure that includes your brand name and the words of the customer in the title
  • Add your own keywords and tags so they’re easy to index
  • A good platform will have a large body of content so that your company will benefit. For example, Get Satisfaction hosts more than 10 million pages that are crawled by search engines several times an hour. This sheer size of the platform makes it a magnet for search.

3. Go mobile

We’re shifting from a desktop to mobile-centric world. Customers and prospects are constantly on the go—traveling to work, attending offsite meetings or engaging in a range of other activities that don’t involve sitting in front of a computer. Today’s customers are increasingly likely to be browsing the Internet and searching for information on their cellphones and tablets rather than on their PCs.

If you haven’t already implemented a mobile strategy, you’re likely missing a large percentage of prospects and potential customers. But providing an optimized mobile experience doesn’t only mean offering a mobile app, it requires optimizing your browser-based experience for all screen sizes, regardless of device or operating system. Be sure to select a community platform that uses responsive design elements so your customers can get an optimized view of the community no matter where or how they are access it from.

4. Seed your community with quality content

You probably know the common questions and issues that your support team receives. So as you launch your community—and then on an ongoing basis--post content that addresses these same questions. Seed answers to your FAQs right off the bat as conversations, so they’ll be available when your first customers come looking for them.

It’s also important to periodically post topics and ask questions of your community that will generate ideas and drive engagement, such as asking for feedback on future products. The insight you gain is coming from your customers and prospects. This is even more valuable than insights from a focus group because it’s directly from the people who are already interested in and buying your products. 

Realize that all content is not evergreen. Tend to your community like a gardener by seeding it with helpful content, weeding out outdated or irrelevant information, and cross-pollinating it with links to and from other places.

5. Monitor participation and cultivate advocates

Monitor participation and identify power users and advocates to help build a thriving community. There are three key ways to accomplish this:

  1. Identify the people in your community who are most vocal, knowledgeable and helpful. These are your champions, and they might be in your branded community, as well as in your greater social media and customer community.
  2. Reach out with questions to encourage engagement between customers. Guidance from community managers can unlock the goodwill of your best advocates. You just have to ask.
  3. Treat your champions to perks. For example, host them in your office or at an event or give them exclusive access to new products before they launch. Most champions are highly motivated by these non-monetary incentives and appreciate the connection with the company.

 6. Know when to get out of the way

Sometimes when customer questions are raised in your community or in another social channel, you have to step back and let your community members and customer champions take over. By designating a specific wait period before responding, and even reaching out to specific champions to see if they want to respond, you train and empower your community members to step up. This gives your community members—especially your more committed, active advocates—a sense of purpose and it allows you to get more value from your community.

7. Understand the health of your community

It’s important to track key statistics such as total number of visitors, revisits, users, new users, active users, community page views, topic page views, new topics and new topics with replies. Indicators of a healthy and thriving community are highly dependent on your overall community strategy. For example, a B2B company with a sophisticated lead nurturing program may want to assess the depth and quality of community conversations, while a B2C company that serves millions of customers may be more interested in tracking the breadth of engagement. 

Communities break down silos within companies, and departments across the enterprise begin collaborating and working together to address customer issues and analyze customer feedback. The result is that the entire organization begins to work together with a unified goal of creating an experience that fosters a loyal customer base.

About the Author

Scott-hirschScott Hirsch is a member of the founding Get Satisfaction team, and serves as Vice President of Product and Content Marketing. He can be reached at @dscotthirsch




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