October 11, 2016
Community: Value to Customers and the Business

Communities are a great way for companies to engage with and share information with their customers. These types of communities are owned and managed by the brand. They are about building relationships, not just sharing information.

Creating an online community for your organization is no small task. It takes planning, careful implementation, and ongoing management to ensure its success. 

With a community platform like Cartella, we see many organizations embracing the idea of owned communities. Everyone does it a little differently, but the result is the same: Stronger ties to the customer.  

Support Your Customers

One of our clients at Ingeniux saw the potential of community and hired a community manager to develop and manage a community portal for their customers. The community was used for brand awareness, relationship building and the sharing of content not available on their public website. 

This kind of support is critical to any organization, and even if you have a great support offering, a community can take it further. Functionality such as blogs, forums, special interest groups, gamification and social networking can all help customers as they look for answers to questions and share their knowledge with others in similar situations. 

With a community, although people join because they've bought a particular product from you, you don't have to be one hundred percent focused on the product and how it's used. The key is to understand your customers, the types of opportunities and challenges they face, and provide tools and resources to support them. 

Design and Develop on an Ongoing Basis

Sometimes you don't necessarily know what you need in your community until you launch it. You might have some idea, but when it's live and customers start using it, you get a better understanding of what they want the community for – the functionality they want to use, the content they want to find, the types of games they are interested in playing.

Most community platforms enable integrations with other systems, like your CRM and marketing automation system to share customer profile information and customer purchase information. This integration helps you build a richer understanding of your customers and allows you to customize and personalize experience better – both inside the community and outside.

Having a community manager who is able to easily community with community portal developers is critical. It allows your organization to customize the community after it's live. Community managers also need to have a consistent group of content creators and knowledge experts that can produce the necessary content and engage the community, directly answering questions and providing insights. 

Build a Better Search

Search is a common way for community members to find information, so you need to place just as much focus on building a better search experience in your community as you do on your website. 

A well-defined taxonomy is one way to ensure your search is usable. Regular monitoring of search queries will help you understand what community members are looking for. With this knowledge, you can customize search through weighted terms and rank the importance of certain keywords to draw the best results to the top of the list. Faceted or guided search is also a great way to surface information quickly. 

Also, don't be afraid to ask community members what they think of your community experience. Their feedback can help you improve not only search but the overall experience of the community. 

Don't Forget Mobile

Sometimes it's easy to think that communities are used on a desktop only, but that's not the case. Many customers will access your community via smartphone or tablet, so it's critical to ensure those users have an equally straight-forward and visually pleasing experience. 

In the Community Roundtable's 2016 State of Community Management, "communities that said more than 60% of members used mobile regularly had nearly 1.5x the active engagement of their peers." 

With this in mind, think about margins, the location of content, images, form fields and so on. Responsive design will help you build a better mobile experience, but you may also want to consider adaptive design to create an even sharper mobile experience. 

Be Innovative, But Don't Forget the Basics

In the 2016 State of Community Management, Rachel Happe says it's important to keep a focus on the fundaments while continuing to ensure your community's value and success. She offered three key ways to do that: 

  • Always keep the basics in sight.
  • Don't lose the connection with the people (customers) who benefits from the community.
  • Develop your ROI model – you have to prove the value of the community; it must align with business objectives and show that business value is generated. 

Communities take work and commitment. They can also be a stepping stone to delivering a completely digital support portal providing even more features and support for your customers. If you understand your customers' needs and can create a strong and vibrant online community, you have a large portion of the tools necessary to build a truly great support experience.

Interested in learning more? Download the educational executive blueprint, The Future of Customer Engagement

Posted by Dave Hillis
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