5 basics for customer community success

A customer community is the perfect platform for organisations to build real and meaningful relationships with not only customers but prospects too. It is these relationships, which foster engagement, loyalty and lead someone from curiosity to advocacy.

From high-tech to higher education, online communities have a strong use case in most verticals, so long as the strategy is driven by the businesses’ objectives and audience needs and aligns with existing businesses processes and systems. This blog post will outline 5 basic principles for creating a solid foundation for the long-term success of your customer community.

1. Cross-functional buy in

Any customer centric project should spread through the veins of the business - it is difficult to grow an online community unless you have the support and backing of all departments within your organisation. Having others involved from the planning stages will ensure your peers see the value of the community, not only to them, and their roles within the organisation, but to all other departments and roles, as well.

Obtaining cross-functional buy in will also ensure you have the overheads, resources and scaling required to meet the objectives on your customer community roadmap.

You will need to have conversations with every area of the organisation; get them interested in you customer community initiative by connecting the dots between the customer community and their own departmental goals. For instance speak to marketing, product development, sales and find out what their goals and needs are. How can the community help them achieve these goals? Then ask yourself, how does this fit into the overall business strategy?

Additionally, the driving force behind the success of any customer community is executive buy-in. The people at the top must fully understand the goals of the online community and the benefits it will bring the business. If buy-in doesn’t come from the top down, any effort you make won’t be seen as a priority, you possibly won’t be supported in these efforts and ultimately, the community will not be a success.

2. Exclusive content

By building an online community, you actively create a network of online supporters and friends via the targeted distribution of valuable content.

Online communities are content incubators, content plays a huge role in growing and sustaining community health. Not only this, a customer community, complemented by push and pull across relevant social media channels, remains one of the richest assets an organisation can invest in and the most sustainable approach to marketing on the web. So how do you do it?

In the launch stages, your organisation will probably provide the majority of the content in your customer community. This content should be drawn directly from the needs, wants and pain points of your community. Content creation should be led by its value to the users of your community, and not about you or your brand.

Additionally, to grow, sustain and leverage a robust customer community, the community must develop trust, a sense of belonging and social equity - content can, and should, help enable these community objectives. Content should also enable peers to connect with each other more than they do with you. Establish what type of content is going to strengthen relationships within your community, align it with the goals of your members and do not neglect to signal to an outsider what the community is all about.

Remember, an online community is an organic machine for content and if it is nurtured, over time, members will eventually come to both view and add content - creating many storytelling opportunities via their interactions and behaviours.

3. Authentic participation from the organisation

Customer communities are there to facilitate open communication between organisations and its customers. It doesn’t matter how much engagement there is within your customer community between members, or how well it has been adopted, if your organisation is not actively participating within the community - it will not be delivering value - and if members aren’t seeing that value, they are likely to leave.

Participation from your organisation allows you to make better-informed decisions about how to best meet member needs. However, to truly harness the power of your external audiences participation for the organisation within the customer community has got to be both open and authentic.

It is this authentic participation which helps customers get the most out of your products or services – you can quickly resolve their problems, listen to their thoughts and ideas and even give them a voice in deciding the future direction of the company.

This leads me nicely to my next point.

4. Product feedback

People love to share their ideas. Customer communities are ideal for customers to tell you exactly what they want and of any issues they are having. These interactions are a goldmine of product enhancement ideas for your product development team.

For many businesses, the cost of customer research such as surveys, market research etc. is expensive and time consuming. A customer community creates a direct and on-going feedback loop from your customers and prospects, back to the organisation. It allows R&D teams to more easily test features products within the market, make adjustments earlier in the development process and create more helpful products.

For example a customer community would be the ideal place for the R&D team to circulate new product ideas, gather feedback and adjust the idea accordingly.

People also love to be rewarded and recognised for their efforts, therefore it is always important to note that this is just as important in your community as it is in the outside world. For this reason, it is always sensible to make members feel that their contributions count - gamification could be employed to reward feedback from customers.

5. Community guidelines

Community guidelines are a place for you to set the tone of your community and lay a foundation for what is acceptable and what is not. Members should be expected to follow a few basic guidelines to ensure that every user feels safe and comfortable engaging with others in the community.

It is advisable to get every new member to agree to these guidelines when they join your customer community as community guidelines also provide a reference for making moderation decisions. For instance, should you ever need to ban a member, or remove a comment, you’ll be able to refer the member to the pre-agreed community guidelines that they may have failed to follow.

Do you manage a customer community or have you launched a community? What would you add as being important for setting up for success?