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Good afternoon all,

I have seen lots of discussion lately about growing a community and wanted to share a post I wrote after a #Hootchat tweetchat - I hope you find it helpful.  #Hootchat happens every Thursday 3pm EST by the way - hope to see you there. 

 

Q1: What are the first steps to building a new online community

  • Know why you are building the community: customer service, engagement, marketing
  • Determine the best platform: Paid: @JiveSoftware or @LithiumTech Free: LinkedIn or G+

 

Q2: What are some strong brands with online communities

 

Q3: What are common mistakes when trying to grow your online community?

  • Trying to grow too big too fast & prioritizing member numbers over engagement
  • Not having a clear definition of success
  • Putting up a community without a Community Manager

 

Q4: What are ways you can engage your online community offline?

  • Engage via: private chat, email, or my old school method… the phone & have an actual conversation
  • WebEx conferences with community members – Google Hangouts or Skype work too
  • Some platforms allow private groups – create one and invite your MVP / power users

 

Q5: How does growing your online community help build brand credibility?

  • The more conversations you have, the more loyal your customer, the more loyal – the more they talk about you
  • Along with credibility, you have a great customer service and solutions place as peers trust each other
  • Support communities are AWESOME customer service centers: trusted, fast, and low-cost

 

Q6: How do you identify potential advocates and ambassadors from your online community?

  • Analytics: How often they come, how many answers they provide, answers marked correct by others
  • What is the “tone” of their conversations? How do they engage other members?
  • Get into your community and participate

 

Q7: What are some non-traditional ways to grow your online community?

  • Start with a tweetchat, build a list, slowly invite people from the list into the community
  • No matter how you find and invite – DO IT SLOWLY – set up the space, be ready for volume, have content
  • NEVER invite ppl to an empty room – have a team to greet & respond as well as content for them to consume

 

Q8: What is one thing you can do right now to start growing your online community?

  • Know WHY you are building it
  • Have customer-centric content
  • Participate & respond to questions

 

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

Best,

Toby

 

Good day everyone,

Not sure if you have encountered this, but I see confusion about the relation between these two and the misunderstanding that communities are not social media.  Not so.  Social Media is a form of electronic communication that consists of different platforms; communities are one of those platforms.  How do you want to engage?

Social Media defined by  Merriam Webster:

Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.

Online Communities defined by  CommonCraft.com:

An online community is a group of people with common interests who use the Internet (web sites, email, instant messaging, etc) to communicate, work together and pursue their interests over time.

Social networks like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook are fun and sexy: they are used for social listening, brand promotion, and limited customer engagement.  Communities are electronic Town Halls that enable conversations and deeper engagement: customers provide feedback, comments, and questions; brands have obligation to respond.

No matter brand promotion, customer service, or customer engagement, you must understand your audience: what networks are they using, and where you are comfortable engaging.  As with anything: you need the right tool for the right job.  For social media, you need the right network to reach customers and have the right conversations. Communities are social media.

Where do your conversations happen?

Cheers,

Toby

If you haven't already found this treasure trove, the Jive events team has posted the track session videos, presentations and blog links here: JiveWorld16 Video, Presentation, and Blog index.  (And if it helps to cross-reference those sessions that are generally more targeted to Jive-x and external communities, for reference see my earlier blog post External Community and Jive-x sessions at JiveWorld16 (we'll keep you busy!))

 

Thanks to all of you who attended, spoke, reached out to peers, provided input and feedback and helped make this a vibrant and valuable event.  I so enjoyed meeting and/or getting to know more of you better and only wish there had been more time!  Thanks again to Mark Hanna for coordinating external community lead meet ups and networking ahead of time (Do you support an external support forum and are coming to JiveWorld16?) - I hope those connections continue virtually and locally throughout the year.

 

As always, please share any highlights, follow ups or ideas for next time too!

 

Emilie Kopp Libby Taylor Wim Stoop Claire Flanagan Matt Laurenceau Deirdre Walsh Gordon Sorensen Frank Field Jarita Sirois Judi Cardinal Christina Zurcher Ben Song Rachel Happe Scott K Wilder Liz (Courter) Oseguera David Kastendick Jessica Sebold Harold Gross Michael Torok Madison Murphy Jeff Maaks Vinita Ananth Denise Brittin Matt Curry Olivia Garvelink Leah Fisher Chris Mandel Iustin Mitrica Melyssa Nelson julia quil Kay Rummel Deb VanGessel Leah Williams Christelle Flahaux Jive External Communities Shaun Slattery Christy Schoon Iain Goodridge Scott Dennis Renee Carney Ann Monroe Sam Creek Deanna Belle Keith Conley Keith Savageau Angella Liu Deepti Patibandla Anne Bluntschli

It is important to find the relevance sweet-spot: a message that highlights you or your brand AND peaks the interest of your target audience.  Too often time is wasted on catchy visuals, perfect language and grammar, and over-sharing on social networks rather than what is most important: understanding your audience’s needs and what they value.

Ensure you understand:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What is important to them?
  3. How do they want to be reached?
  4. Is this for brand promotion or something my audience will value?

No matter a marketing piece, blog post, or knowledge base article, your goals should be:

  1. Quality over quantity
  2. Helping my audience

If you are writing with an internal focus or intent, you have not only wasted your time and resources, but your customers’ too.  Think before you content.

Thank you for your comments.

Best,

Toby

Avi Goldberg recently publish Ideas for Jive | You can't always get what you want...., which got me thinking about our own process (as well as going to the web to this check out ).


Screenshot 2016-03-04 14.29.10.png

 

Good products usually start with an idea that is simple but makes people’s lives better in some way.  Early on, one or a few people work to make that vision a reality.  In a software startupenvironment, early employees and clients talk frequently. It is relatively easy to chart a course and decide how much effort should go into potentially groundbreaking new functionality, incremental feature improvement, and fixing bugs.  If a project is good (and lucky) the number of new ideas and competing priorities both increase as the project gains critical mass. Individual sparks come from many sources and often take more than one strike to ignite. As time goes on, dedicated product people are needed to gather these sparks together and coax them into a blaze.

 

At Instructure, user input has always been an important part of how we determine our priorities.  Being open and listening to the people who use our products is a big part of our culture. Millions of people around the world now use Canvas, and the ideas that come from our customers are as important now as they ever have been.

 

These ideas come in from multiple channels but one major conduit is the feature idea forum in the Canvas Community. Every month around 750 ideas are submitted and evaluated by thousands of Canvas users from around the world. Without the forum and crowdsourcing help from community members we couldn’t possibly hope to thoroughly evaluate and prioritize all of the ideas that come in.

 

Screenshot 2016-03-04 14.22.01.pngThe process at its core is fairly simple. Anyone in the world with a Canvas account can suggest an idea.  All new ideas are put up for vote, with one new cohort opening each month. Anyone can add one vote up or down on each idea.  If an idea gains a net 100 votes within three months, it moves on in the process.  Any idea that doesn’t get 100 votes is archived (although users are free to re-submit an idea for another run).  As soon as an idea reaches the 100 vote threshold it is formally assigned to a product person who will research it, determine how much work it would require and how it fits with other goals.  About five percent of the ideas originally submitted make it through to this stage, allowing our product managers to focus on the ideas with the most community support.  Taken collectively, all the ideas submitted, along with the comments, questions and use cases added by other users constitutes a body of reference knowledge that helps us to understand the diverse needs of Canvas users when prioritizing upcoming work and future projects.

 

Getting 100 votes does not guarantee that an idea will be developed, but forum ideas are one of several key sources of input for our Product team (remember the sparks coming from many sources?).  No process is perfect. We’re constantly re-evaluating the model.  But this process is open to everyone, including you. We invite you to come help make Canvas better.

With JiveWorld less than a month away, I'm excited to preview the many awesome track sessions and networking opportunities we are offering related to External Communities and Jive-x deployments.  I'll be there and looking forward to meeting and catching up with many of you.  Please don't hesitate to reach out ahead of time if you have any questions, want assistance figuring out which sessions to attend, or want to coordinate some time to meet up.  (And as always, for attendees, you'll have access to the content and recordings after for anything you miss live.)

 

External Community Engagement Track (both days Tues & Weds, 15-16 March)

Hear from a wide range of Jive external customers regarding their Jive-x deployments, best practices, and industry trends. For individual session details, schedule and speaker info see: External Community Engagement | JiveWorld Track

 

Pre-conference workshops (Monday, 14 March)

Monday morning, Emilie Kopp and I will be conducting the half-day Advanced Engagement for External Communities workshop.  More information here Avoid FOMO. Register for Advanced Workshops on Monday's JW16 Pre-Conference Day and on our website Re-energize engagement in established communities (Advanced) | JiveWorld Session.   (There is also a counterpart workshop for Internal Communities running at the same time.)  Topics we'll cover will include developing content and promotion strategies, accelerating Q&A, bolstering internal stakeholder engagement.

 

There are also other workshops that encompass both Internal and External Communities that may interest you - see r on our website here Pre-Conference Sessions & Workshops | JiveWorld for more detail.  These include:

  • All-day Bootcamp / "community 101" for net-new communities and new community managers
  • Integrations workshop - developers (half day, morning)
  • Gamification workshop (half day, afternoon)
  • Tips and Tricks for Designing in the Cloud (half day, afternoon)
  • Advanced measurement for mature communities (half day, afternoon) - with Claire Flanagan

 

Other relevant tracks & sessions (Tues & Weds)

 

In addition to formal track sessions and workshops there will be a Demo Theater, our solutions hall featuring partners and Jive experts, and don't forget the Support meet up Mark Hanna s organizing - Do you support an external support forum and are coming to JiveWorld16?

 

Did I miss anything?  Please call it out here as well as any questions.  See you there!

 

 

Iain Goodridge Wim Stoop Gili Guri-Mill Deepti Patibandla Brooks Jordan Todd Moran Tim Albright Kim Celestre Ryan Rutan Libby Taylor Carrie Gilbert Michelle Groff Burling

scottwdennis

New User Message

Posted by scottwdennis Feb 12, 2016

At the request of a field admin we wrote the following welcome/description message.  I thought the format or level of specificity might help others and so am posting it here.

 

I initially posted it on my blog at:

Scott Dennis's Blog: What is the Canvas Community? | Canvas Community

 

Perhaps you recently learned that your institution will be switching from your old learning management system to Canvas LMS.  Perhaps you have also heard people talking about Canvas Community.  If you are a teacher or professor you might be asking yourself, ‘What does this mean for me?”

 

In the Canvas Community, you can:

 

Find answers. Quickly find answers to questions you might have about Canvas and how people use it.  You’ll find 1000s of Guides articles and videos. We keep them up to date as Canvas changes.  You’ll also find thousands of your peers, including Canvas Coaches, ready and waiting to answer questions and share best practices. 

 

Join groups. There are dozens of user groups in the community that you can join.  You might join a group for people who teach the same subjects that you do, or a group for a specific user type such as Canvas Admins or Instructional Designers.  You might want to ask people in groups how they use Canvas and other technology in their own teaching.  What works especially well? What is challenging?

 

Share ideas. As you begin using Canvas, you might have an idea about how to make the software better.  You can submit these ideas in a special forum and read through ideas submitted by other Canvas users.  By voting ideas up or down, you can help shape the future of Canvas. Our Product team watches the Community closely and a majority of the new features can capabilities that we deliver begin as ideas submitted in the community.

 

Some people never visit the Canvas Community.  Others come once or twice for one specific fact or piece of information and then never come back.  Still others come to find that participating in the Community to be an integral part of their success with teaching and learning in Canvas.  No matter what your needed level of engagement is, the Community will be there for you.




We are communicating with you today to inform you of an action that you may need to take within your external community.

 

With the 2016.1 release, we launched Jive Daily, a mobile app for the Jive-n interactive intranet or employee community.  This mobile app is only applicable for Jive-n customers and does not support integration with Jive-x, external communities.  By default, your end-users will not be impacted, unless you have enabled the "Prompt web users on compatible mobile devices to launch the native Jive Mobile app" setting.  You can review this setting under Mobile/Mobile Apps/General, as shown below:

Mobile Apps image.png

If this setting in currently enabled, your users will see the prompt screen below to download Jive Daily when clicking on any community deep link.

Open jive daily.png

 

Removing Jive Daily Prompt Screen

To remove the Jive Daily prompt screen, simply uncheck the "Prompt web users on compatible mobile devices to launch the native Jive Mobile app" setting under Mobile/Mobile Apps/General.

We will reinstate the screen that prompts users to Download Jive Mobile, which does support Jive-x communities, on March 4th.  We ask that you keep the setting disabled until then.

 

If you have any questions, please share them below or use Jive Support. 

SOCM2016 Draft Cover Shadow.pngWhen The Community Roundtable launched in 2009, the idea of measuring the markers of community success was unheard of; community management was considered an art that couldn't be taught - or measured.

 

Seven years later, many platforms have developed sophisticated analytics capabilities for their communities, giving community managers dashboards and annual reports with which they can measure and benchmark the activity and output of their communities. Jive has invested a lot of effort to providing dashboards and other insights that make it more possible than ever for you to measure the value and ROI of your community.

 

So why do you need to spend 25 minutes taking the State of Community Management survey?

 

Because platform-driven data is powerful but it only tells you one important part of the story - the output. It doesn't tell you much about how you invest your resources to get that output - your community management approach.

 

For the last six years, we have been tracking the management behaviors that make for successful communities. How critical is strategy? Does executive engagement really matter - and from whom? How do content and programs fit together to drive engagement? Does the community management work you do outside the platform translate to community success? How do policies and governance affect the community? Do strong value statements derive strong engagement? What are the most effective times to be higher-touch with your members?

 

The list goes on and on. And the better the data and benchmarking you can get out of your platform, the more powerful this other information becomes - the data that is the lifeblood of the State of Community Management survey.

 

We’re taking a closer look at the data from the Jive customer segment of our 2015 survey population for a custom benchmark report to be presented next month at JiveWorld 2016 - and come chat with us about the research at our booth.

 

3 Reasons to Participate in TheCR’s State of Community Management 2016 survey

 

  1. Improve your strategic perspective: Upon completing the survey, you will automatically receive your maturity score by the eight competencies in the Community Maturity Model which will help you understand your program's biggest strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Gain stakeholder confidence: by involving stakeholders in completing the survey, it will help you and them understand the scope of community management responsibilities and start having the right conversations about what to prioritize and invest in.
  3. Be credible: By contributing to the most widely read research about communities, you are contributing to the broader understanding of the community opportunity, which gives you more credibility and career opportunities.

 

SOCM2016_GetStarted_Badge.png

 

So what are you waiting for?

 

Take the survey today!

 

We’ll even give you coffee or let you donate $5 to No Kid Hungry.

Response to2016 CMAD Love to Jive Community Managers

At Adam Mertz and Becky Leung

 

At Instructure, Jive is the medium for the relationship with our customers and them with each other.  Individual customer success managers, and to some extent sales and product people own relationships with individual customers but the relationship as a whole lives in Community.

 

Clients can find answers, share ideas and join groups:

Screenshot 2016-01-29 15.33.28.png

 

In 2015, as we implemented Jive, our community grew from about 3 - 500 active participants with about 75 contributors to have over 50k registered users with a peak during our busy season of about 13k active members and almost 1000 contributors:

Screenshot 2016-01-28 12.43.46.png

 

Our Community and Product teams (Prod-mmunity) get the best, most popular ideas, as crowd sourced by the community and put the best ones into development:

Screenshot 2016-01-29 15.12.17.png

 

Over the same time period the total number of page views hitting our site increased but the percentage of "non-guides page views" that is page views in parts of the community other than on our user documentation guides increased as a faster rate:

Screenshot 2016-01-29 15.40.10.png

 

Looking ahead to 2016 we plan to dig into the rich trove of data in Jive and data warehouse it with other sources of data to hopefully learn a lot more about our community members - how they use our product and what makes them tick and use that information to drive a better engagement strategy.

Skynet @ groupon (jive-n)

 

It is my belief that as more and more millennials climb the ranks of organizations, the concept of workingoutloud will become even more prevalent.  I’ve worked for several big tech companies, some were “startups” (the most famous of which were doubleclick and Groupon).  When I was at dclk (late 90s to early 2000s), it was such an open work environment.  There was a high level of trust within the organization, everyone just got along and I made a lot of lifelong friends.  We worked together on everything.  The modern tech and tools did not exist, but we made it work well with what we had.  While at groupon, I worked alongside Kenny Lum, Brian "Skip" Schipper and Andrew Mason to bring Enterprise Social Business technology to the organization.  Andrew embraced it almost immediately (not surprising being a millennial).  Over the next four years, the program flourished and became embedded into the fabric of groupon culture.  The overarching goals of my program there were to create a platform through which employees in 45+ countries could connect, communicate, share and collaborate.  There was no hiding, I broke down silos and helped many parts of the organization that were distanced from HQ actually feel a part of the Groupon family.  Through the tool, we encouraged people across the globe to work transparently.  It wasn’t until last April that I was finally introduced to the phrase “Working Out Loud” by John Stepper from Deutsche_Bank.  I’d embraced this way of working years before I met John but hearing it from someone who has written books on the subject and who is also a huge advocate of ESB software and jive in particular really struck a chord.

 

EngagementOptimization @ callminer (jive-x)

 

CallMiner's new Jive-x community is born - 12/07/15.  Building eo for callminer will have a dramatic impact on helping us/our partners/our customers achieve faster results, will give our customers a voice and empower them to become part of our success, will allow us to develop shared ownership, will help us better understand our clients' needs, will enable us to build an army of brand advocates, will simplify the buying cycle through easier product research, will enable us to provide better support, etc.  It is OUR customer engagement strategy.  I am looking forward to creating the poster child for jive-x communities.

 

CC Adam Mertz Becky Leung

 

Jive Internal Communities

Social media is a funny thing: brands covet its reach, but often forget about engaging with those who provide valuable feedback.  Finding the right channel(s), social listening, and crafting the right outgoing messages are important, but without engagement, you will not be trusted; without trust, you will not succeed.  Let’s discuss keys to engagement and resolution.

Problem:

The customer reaches out via Tweet, Facebook, or a post within your community with a constructive, objective issue they have with your product or service.

Process:

  • The customer should receive a response within the hour
  • Apologize and show empathy
  • Research the customer’s history:
    • Products utilized
    • Their past issues
    • Is there already an open case for this issue?
  • If possible, answer the question at the initial contact; if an off-line chat is needed, offer the customer communication options:
    • Instant message
    • A link to a related discussion within your community
    • A private chat room within your community
    • A one on one phone call that may include a WebEx session
  • Engage, listen, understand:
    • Problem scope
    • Business impact
    • Pain points
    • Customer expectations
  • Offer solutions that are a win-win
  • Get customer buy-in to your solution and its timeline
  • Deliver results
  • Confirm customer satisfaction

Reminders:

  • Never take things personally or argue publicly with the customer
  • This may be an opportunity to improve your product or service
  • If this is a recurring issue, eliminating issue eliminates future cases
  • The customer may not be as familiar with the product line as you; he is frustrated and deserves your attention and help.
  • All companies and services encounter problems, the very best acknowledge them and respond creating brand advocates and loyal customers.

Does your external community include a product development component?  How do you include developers?

 

Our external community is a place for users of our cloud based learning management system; Canvas.  We have places in the community designed for a variety of users but if we had to narrow the focus to just one role our target demographic would be someone we refer to as the "Field Admin."  Some of the institutions that employ Canvas are large enough to have dedicated and diverse eLearning support staff organizations with differentiated roles.  Others have one person acting as both head cook and bottle washer, often as an additional duty, to perform all administrative functions and support for their LMS instance. These field admins, then, may be working in isolation or part of a local team.  Our goal is to create spaces and groups that cater to all, regardless of how deeply they have the time to engage.

 

The role of developer can also have a fair amount of variation.  We have product and engineering folks working inside our company to develop and improve Canvas.  We have developers who download the code base of Canvas, which is licensed open source, so that they can run it locally and in some cases contribute back improvements to the core product.  And we have people, working outside the company who develop integrations and works with Canvas APIs.

 

Our company provides or supports different opportunities for different developer and admin sub-groups. We have a general admin group and a group specifically for external developers, many of whom are creating integrations or doing cool things with the APIs.  There is also an open source developer community on github that exists for a sometimes different crowd. There has been mention in this thread about engaging internal engineers and product folks with customers via community.  There are exceptions but in general our employees also do not have the time or bandwidth to hangout in the community in general.  Instead we have a more formal ideation process where ideas are suggested and crowd-source prioritized by the community at large and then our community and product folks (Prod-mmunity) engage with those ideas with a formalized interaction plan.

 

Do you use Jive as the main hub of your developer community?  Or are there good reasons to have a separate developer.company.com website with Jive focused on just the discussion board / collaboration features?

~Yes and no.  Our developer group in Jive is picking up steam but there are also good reasons for us to use Github as our software is OS and we have an active group of OS developers

 

How do you use spaces versus groups for organizing your content when you have a large number of products / APIs?

~We use more than one instance of Jive to support multiple products/platforms.  We have internal and external facing spaces in our main community.  We have many groups in several spaces.  In general we use spaces to control settings and permissions and different groups for people who have differing interests, and needs - spaces are the landscape and groups are for the people in the landscape.

 

Do you also have an internal developer community?  If so, how do you keep from overwhelming your internal developers by giving them too many places to go?

~Our internal developers don't use Jive.  They have other platforms and ways of communicating that pre-date our external community platform.

 

How do you incent your internal developers to spend time in your external community?  Especially when their managers have set aggressive coding deadlines...and they just don't have time.  What about your professional services teams?  These folks are the practitioners that likely have very strong experiences to share, but due to billable utilization targets they often don't have the luxury of time to answer questions or write blogs.

~ We don't directly.  Community Managers and Product Managers and marketers have externally facing roles.  Developers do occasionally participate in promotions (Part I and Part II) and claim rewards for completing development projects identified as high priority by the community

 

What type of 3rd-party integrations (such as GitHub4Jive ) are useful to consider?

~We use our LMS as the idp for SSO with our community.  The Zendesk integration is about to get a lot more important to us.  We have an integration for our documentation software, Screensteps by Blue Mango, to push content into JiveX

 

To summarize we have found that it makes sense for us to encourage different kinds of developers to participate in different ways and spaces in our community as opposed to shooting for a one size fits all approach.

As we settle properly into 2016 and focus on the year ahead, I'm excited to call attention to a modest but important refresh of our Jive External Communities practice group, along with its close cousin, Jive Internal Communities.  In my nearly 6 years at Jive, along with JiveWorld these vibrant peer-to-peer communities have helped catalyze and nurture numerous fruitful connections, shared ideas and insights, thoughtful discourse, and resolved questions. 

 

If you're a veteran of the External Communities group, you'll likely notice some recent, subtle changes.  (And if you're new here, welcome, please stick around and join in the conversation!)  We want to tell you a bit more about these changes and also ask for your input and assistance as we continue to evolve and improve this area dedicated to our Jive-x community managers, strategists and admins. 

 

photo-1444703686981-a3abbc4d4fe3_sm.jpg

 

First off, a little more about what's changing and why...

 

A "face lift" for the External Communities home page with two goals in mind:

  • Make these pages responsive and easy to browse on a mobile device
  • Elevate the Q&A and peer-to-peer conversations that are the lifeblood of this community of practice

 

Behind the scenes, expanded commitment by Jive to facilitating vibrant and valuable interactions among our customers and end users:

  • We want to help provide community management and expert input on a more regular and sustained basis, to help assure timely answers to your questions and high-quality engagement.  (Don't worry we're not here to take over or get in the way, just to help keep things moving and help connect people and info where we can!)
  • Gather feedback and insights around what's top of mind for our key practitioners - please start by casting your vote in our current poll, What would you like more of in External Communities?
  • Help build knowledge and reusable resources that will help you achieve greater success with your Jive-x community

 

So what happens next?  It's simple...

  1. Provide your feedback on the types of content and interactions that are most valued What would you like more of in External Communities? (If you prefer, feel free to message me privately - Jennifer Kelley)
  2. Participate!  (or continue participating!)  Ask a question that is top of mind.. Share some community management tips or approaches that may help your peers... Or just find a question to answer here: https://community.jivesoftware.com/groups/external-community-managers/pages/external-home.  And don't forget the Follow the group to get updates!

 

Thanks and Happy 2016!

Libby Taylor Billy Volpone Claire Flanagan Todd Moran Tim Albright Christy Schoon

Customer-journey2.png

Every marketer from Boston to Bejing seems to be focused on something called the “customer journey.” A Google search on this two-word phrase returns over 627,000 results. It’s one of those “Eureka!” moments – organizations realize buyers start researching a firm’s products and services long before they reach the point of purchase. These firms are now scrambling to find and engage with those customers while they are still on the move and before they arrive at a sales destination decision. But I gotta tell you, this is not news to those of us in the online community world.

 

In fact, the customer journey has long been an integral part of the online community experience. Many – dare I say most? – online communities make “the journey” a key part of their mission, aiding the customer before, during and after the point of purchase or other key decision. Communities are dedicated to helping customers and other stakeholders understand, explore, question and learn about products and services.

 

This “Ah-Ha!” moment for the customer journey highlights two different but parallel approaches – let’s call them tracks – for understanding this process: one is mapping the customer experience; the other is building customer engagement. In our ever-more-connected world, these two tracks are now merging to become one.

Making the Connection: Online communities and the Customer Journey

In our new world of customer-focused and customer-driven interactions, many firms struggle to engage and communicate with prospective and existing customers at appropriate times and places along the customer’s journey.

 

For example, when a sales person reaches out to a prospective customer, often the sales person has no way of knowing where this prospect is in their purchase cycle. Another example: anyone who has worked in customer service knows that customers typically wait to reach out to a company for assistance only after they have reached a high degree of frustration with their purchase.

 

Now imagine if a firm were able to build a relationship with a prospect during their research phase, or engage with a customer before their purchase problem reaches the breaking point? This is what online communities offer: a way to break the cycle of mis-timed outreach and catch-up customer care. Community offers a powerful way to move the buyer’s experience from episodic chaos to a more consistent, confidence-inspiring and customer satisfaction-building trip.

As the two tracks of customer experience mapping and engagement come together, let’s identify the four phases of the customer’s journey: Awareness, Evaluation, Purchase and Retention.

 

Awareness

This is the initial phase, when the prospective customer hasn’t fully defined what she is looking for. She may not have a clear understanding of problem she is trying to solve, so identifying a possible solution is difficult. A community is especially well suited to supporting customers in this awareness phase. A vibrant and engaged community signals there is strong customer support for prospective buyers. User-contributed content – questions asked and answered – plus sponsor-contributed content speeds up the problem and solutions identification process, which might include specific product and service recommendations. All this occurs while the prospective customer is building relationships with community members.

 

Evaluation

During the evaluation phase the prospective buyer winnows the options and examines product and service offerings in detail. It is comparison shopping. One advantage a community can offer is creating a single point of reference and collaboration for a buyer’s team. Online communities bring together a wide range of content and conversations within a single environment. It becomes the place for a single buyer or a team to share information and compare options. The community supports information-gathering from many sources but places all this content in a collaborative framework which supports comparisons and discussions about needs, preferences and decision factors.

 

Consider this situation: our buyer posts a question directly into an online forum and receives a range of responses from other community members. Some of those members will have been through the evaluation phase and made a decision. Some will be in the same state of uncertainty as our buyer. Still others will have long-term experience with the outcomes of a purchase decision. Many voices, many shared opinions. Where is the voice of the firm?

Some advanced-thinking organizations have created specific discussion areas to talk with prospective buyers — dedicated forums staffed with knowledgeable sales people who can respond open way to a buyer’s questions. These skilled sales people must have incentives to participate and training in the techniques of consultative selling to interact successfully with customers in a community environment.

 

First Purchase

At last! The buyer makes a decision and becomes a first-time customer. The psychology is similar to other kinds of journeys; by turns exhilarating, exhausting and complicated. And once the traveler gets to the destination, the party can begin.

 

But this is also a delicate time for the company, because – as with a first-time traveler – the new buyer’s expectations are exceedingly high. Every new customer’s interaction with the firm is memorable. With a complex services purchase, for example, once the papers are signed and the buyer’s team dives into the project, the selling firm had better be ready. The new customers will begin making connections inside the company and with other customers outside. They become voracious learners. They are eager to prove this was the perfect decision — no pressure on the seller there!

 

An online community strategy can really pay off here. There are so many ways community interactions can accelerate projects and delight the new customer’s team. If there is a formal account management team in place, their presence in the community can help speed the pace of information sharing, support and relationship-building.

 

Another way to look at this is to consider the alternative: what if new customers were unable (no place to go) or unwilling (who are the people who sold us this?) to interact with your firm? They will take their questions and concerns to other online venues, such as: a community operated by enthusiasts or experts with no connection to your firm; an outside standards organization; a competing firm.

If your firm is not part of the conversation, it can’t answer questions; verify the accuracy of information shared or follow-up with customers. A community is your company’s opportunity to respond with accurate and authentic information.

 

Customer retention

Customer retention is the outcome of the three prior phases. It’s the desired end state for customer relationships — Gartner Group states 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers. What firm doesn’t want to create customers for life as part of their overall strategy?

But how many companies make building and sustaining that “customer for life” a goal? In a world of fickle buyers, loyalty is hard to come by. Switching costs are at record lows. The choice to remain a customer is critical for both the customer and the company. How does the customer feel? How did the interactions and support go? Were they listened to? Did they feel whole in the end? An online community attuned to these concerns is very powerful instrument for keeping customers.

 

Online communities don’t always replace traditional support models, especially with complex purchases. But well-executed communities can help the customer when they experience “The Middle Of the Night Problem,” when there is no one to call. And feeling heard and experiencing ultimate responsiveness goes a really long way with customer retention and how they feel about your firm.

 

This post originally appeared on Leader Networks

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