Good evening my lovely readers,

 

This week in the world of the groundswell is all about online communities. These involve forums or wikis, that allow customers to ask questions, receive answers, and discuss with other customers about different things regarding the product or services your organization offers.

 

Determining whether to tap into the groundswell through way of these online communities is an important aspect for any company. Of course, it depends on the goals you have in mind. If properly managed, these communities will create benefit by “…helping your customers support each other [which will] make them happier, save money, and generate insights” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 171). Before you go ahead and dive into this endeavour, there are three things that Li & Bernoff (2011) suggest you should examine: (1) what problem you will solve, (2) how you will participate, and (3) should you create a support community or join an existing one.

 

What Problem Will You Solve?

If you plan to set out and create a support community such as a forum, wiki, or other alternative, you must first determine why people will participate. This involve looking at it from a customer’s perspective and understanding the problem the creation of this community will solve. What is the biggest issue faced by your customers, and will this help solve it? For example, many individuals try to resolve problems with their vehicles themselves, however, this is not always easy. When it comes to troubleshooting a vehicle, there could be multiple issues affecting a specific aspect. Sometimes it is easy to fix, other times, well, it leaves you scratching your head. That is why many companies have created support communities to allow customers to discuss these issues, gain some insight, and even find the solutions to their problems. In this instance, having a support community fills a need and resolves a problem. Another example is Reddit, which is an online community forum to allow its users to discuss anything and everything that they wish to.

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How Will You Participate?

“Support communities need activity – few will go to a forum that’s not buzzing with activity…Activity creates content, which creates traffic and links, which boosts search engine placement, which drives more traffic, and so on” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 172). To start this community, you must figure out whether your forum or wiki even has a chance of succeeding on a volume basis.

22 percent of all online consumers participate in forums, and most of those people say they actually contribute to the forum. Your customers will be different, of course – you’ll need to do research to determine whether your customers are more, or less, likely to be forum participants. But even if 40 percent of your customers participate in online forums, they won’t necessarily participate in yours. (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 172)

Companies should estimate that between one and five percent of their customers will participate in a support forum, depending on your customers social technographic profile, and that building that participation can take upwards of a year or more. So how are you going to get your customers to get involved? Well, it first involves you. “You will need to drive people to the forum with messages on your Web site, in your packaging, and on your telephone systems. But even more important, you need to participate” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 173).

 

Should You Build or Join?

The most obvious thing to do is check whether there is an existing community for your customers. If there is, why would you take the effort to create one? The participation is already existing, the consumers are there in full force, and all you have to do is get involved. Many companies are afraid to dive in because they fear they’ll pollute the community discussion, but don’t. Many times, you will be amazed at how many people actually want to hear from you – in fact they are there explicitly for YOU. “Post by the company will garner a lot of attention. If there’s a vibrant community around your product or service already, consider joining it, sponsoring it, or forming some other relationship so you can help your customers support themselves” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 174).

 

Now, if this sounds super delightful to you, Li & Bernoff offer some key suggestions with proceeding:

  1. Start small, but plan for a larger presence. As with so many of the groundswell activities I have spoken about, starting small is simply the best way to succeed. This gives you time to ease in, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then to slowly expand your presence.
  2. Reach out to your most active customers. Your customers know exactly how your community works, therefore, finding your most active enthusiasts and asking them how they prefer to participate is very important. This will give you a ‘leader’ in your community, and will help in maintaining the support and enthusiasm. For example, using celebrities that may be a customer (whether they offer free participation or paid) can help in securing participation and maintaining an active presence.
  3. Plan to drive traffic to your community. Make sure you are advertising on your web site, on sites where your customers shop, or anywhere that will garner their attention. This will ensure that your community will start buzzing with activity and that it will inevitably drive MORE traffic.
  4. Build in a reputation system. “Allowing participants to build up a reputation is crucial. Users will spend hours a day building their reputations in a community. A well-built reputation system encourages users to participate and behave in the right manner” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 175).
  5. Let your customers lead you. “Communities have opinions on everything. They’ll not only tell you what product features to add; they’ll also tell you how the community should run and what you are doing right – and wrong” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 176). By taking this into consideration, you’re letting your customers support you to support them.

 

Be prepared for the changes ahead, because once you dive in, you will guaranteed be changing the way you do business. As Li & Bernoff said, “A funny thing happens when you participate in community forums. People expect you to listen and respond to them…Look at this as an opportunity. By owning or participating in a community, you get a front-row seat” (2011, p. 176).

 

Cheers, and I hope everyone has a great week,

 

Crystal Willette

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Reference

Li, C. & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell expanded and revised: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

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