Establishing your own website community may seem like a big undertaking, but following a few simple steps will make this a success.
1. Be objective – decide why you want your own online support community (OSC). Typically there are two goals associated with this
a. Reach a new audience – people who would be reluctant to contact you through traditional channels, or savvy users who have no need to contact your company themselves but will share their knowledge to help others
b. Cut support costs – by leveraging the altruism of community members, the majority of questions asked are answered for free
Unlike social network communities, OSC are designed to help customers rather than promote products or influence consumer decisions. But the positive impact on your brand through the relationships built with fans or followers is clear.
2. Plan for success – ensure the following elements are in place
a. Time – establishing a healthy community can take as much as 12 to 18 months, so relying on a pilot to gauge success is inadvisable. Start small and simple, and build out from a single forum or category to cover your entire product range at a pace that feels right, and as milestones in community participation are reached
b. Platform – the choice of software available to host your own community is immense, ranging from free open source applications to SaaS available for monthly subscription. When choosing, plan ahead to take account of future capacity and capability needs.
c. Performance – people ask questions because they want answers. Unanswered questions either disappoint users or drive a call to your company, or both. So decide how long to give the community to provide an answer, and how long the enquirer needs to wait. Twenty-four hours is a good guide.
d. Resources – your community manager will ensure that day to day issues are addressed and that the plan is adhered to. Your community, like a garden, needs to be tended. A team, starting small, of moderators, responders and analysts will do this (see #3 below).
e. Promotion – search engines love regularly changing content so healthy community participation will increase visitor traffic and enhance the value of your web presence. Positioning your community in an easily found place on your website will achieve the best results. If it is key for your customers to find your online resources before they contact your company by phone or email, then make it easy to do this.
3. Community team – a popular misconception is that no community maintenance is needed, that it will be self sufficient. This is not so. In a well kept garden, the flowerbeds need to be weeded, the lawn cut, and fertiliser applied to everything. Having paid a landscaper to create a beautiful garden, no conscientious owner would stand back and admire the view as nature takes its course and it becomes a jungle. Your community is like a garden and needs regular attention to be at its best.
The great thing about your own OSC is that it is what you make it. Most community members contribute to the environment through their participation, however, like a garden where weeds get in bad contributions need to be founded and removed to maintain beauty and value.
Similarly, really good content is provided by community members for the good of all. This can be gathered and repurposed, For the benefit of all and as a compliment to the provider.
4. Patient approach – communities rely on people, and in the right environment people will give. There comes a tipping point where the community has sufficient mass and participation to accelerate and deliver the value planned. Watch your garden grow.
Customers value the convenience of online resources to answer simple “how do I?” questions. OSC provides a new kind of interaction, satisfying these and perhaps more complex questions and being an outlet for contributors who want to help others. As part of a multichannel support model, OSC adds immense value for both businesses and their customers.