We live in a world that is getting more and more connected. A study published earlier this year reveals that there are 5.11 billion unique mobile users in the world, and that number has been growing by a million every day (We Are Social). This explosion has given brands different options to get in touch with customers and to build a community.
Businesses have seen the benefits of having a tight-knit community, with smaller businesses scaling through a robust online presence on social media, and larger businesses maintaining the core identity and values that translate across territories. However, companies should not assume that easy access and connectivity directly translates to successful community-building.
There are three challenges that small business communities have to contend with as they grow:
- When they expand beyond their initial territories into new markets
- When they attempt to translate the experience from online to offline or vice versa
- When there are multiple degrees of separation (e.g., from the main office to channel partners, leading down to individual sales reps) in the presentation of their products or services
Building a lasting community is a conscious decision that businesses make, that has to be presented to existing and potential clients for meaningful interactions. Effective community building needs directed time and continuous effort of both parties to flourish.
Behind that approach, there are three key areas to focus on for that growth.
Empower your community
Creating an ecosystem of content that makes it easy and intuitive for members of your community to find resources relevant to their needs is essential. There are two branches of content that companies should have for their community:
- Technical content: This branch of content answers questions about the products and services at hand, such as video tutorials, FAQs, guides, as well as news and updates relating to the products and services.
- Educational content: This branch of content gives insight that relates to the business. Content such as projections for the future of the industry, how external factors can affect the use, and perception of products or services can be considered. Gamification is a great way to get people involved and compels a strong follow-up from their learning experience and can be used within the company as well.
A study by Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of customer relationships with businesses will be online and without human interactions. Examining which online channels work best for your customer engagement is critical.
Non-real time communication channels such as email and forum and real-time communication channels such as IM and live-chat present different customer expectations and possibilities to be leveraged.
A Kayako report from 2017 showed that customers were more likely to make purchases from companies offering live chat support. Though quick initial responses from live chat is a significant factor, 95% of customers preferred high quality, thorough support over speed once the conversation has started. With 52% of customers citing quality, real-time communication as a reason for continued engagement, companies who provide speed, convenience, and quality of service in their real-time communications enjoy higher customer retention.
Forums are an excellent way for the different facets of your community to engage with one another. Despite being non-real time, it can grow to be an open knowledge base and gives you a direction regarding which topics and questions need your attention and can be placed in your content ecosystem.
Give privileges to members of your community who are active contributors or existing customers. This group will give you the answers you need through focused questionnaires that deep-dive into the workings of your product. Increase engagement through exclusive webinars for in-depth discussions, and give back by rewarding them with perks and benefits. Before you know it, you’ll have loyal brand ambassadors, a focus group, and think-tank rolled into one.
When you’ve solidified your online community, translate it to an offline presence. Emotional connections, and putting faces to names in person is powerful, no matter your industry. A 2015 study, “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” showed that brands that were able to make their customers “satisfied” and enjoyed “brand differentiation” from their competitors experienced a 13% increase in customer lifetime value across the board.
In the study, having the emotional valence and being “fully connected” bumped the numbers up to a 52% increase in customer lifetime value. Creating that bond doesn’t happen overnight and remember that, when it comes to customer interactions, consistency always beats intensity.
Members of a healthy, growing community want to be involved. Though some companies wish to keep their ideas and intellectual properties under wraps by being in stealth-mode, it often results in fragmented and non-transparent communication that alienates and divides the community.
Share your development roadmap, make it accessible for your community to take ownership, and ensure the features and add-ons are community-driven.
Relinquishing ownership of your creation can be a challenging undertaking for some brands, and there are three simple steps to loosen the reins comfortably:
- Always keep in mind who your product is for: Always be sure of what your team is creating and improving matches your customers wants and needs. Marketing expert Seth Godin has mentioned that a narrow focus on what is important and relevant is vital. At first glance, having many features can sound impressive, but not all of them translate to guaranteed value. What you might think sounds sexy and works as a feature could very well be a distraction and nuisance.
- Be truthful and realistic about your roadmap and milestones: When sharing your roadmaps and milestones, don’t plan too far ahead. Some features and changes can’t be done overnight or solidified in a single version. Brad Dunn from OHNO, who has had extensive experience across multiple product launches and roadmaps, has stated that his team works on a timeline of six weeks to implement practical and feasible improvements. Regular product improvements are far more useful to your customers and community than substantial but sporadic changes.
- Understand trends and pivot when you need to: Serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank, has written extensively about lean startup processes and has found listening to customers and being willing to adjust the business to match the trends and innovations in their space to be a common thread for continuous success. Commit but don’t be over-invested in your ideas and plans. What worked for the community in the past might not work as well with evolving user expectations. Listen and be open to change.
A good community helps you accurately envision the next iteration of your products and services, which will always be a work in progress. They will keep you grounded in reality and always relevant.
About the Author
Kamal is the founder and promoter of CitiXsys. He has been responsible for the company’s evolution to be a specialist provider of software products in the retail segment. Kamal’s responsibilities include Business Strategy, Global Sales, Product Innovation, and Growth. Under his leadership, CitiXsys grew to become the market leader in Retail Technology domain and known as an innovator in the retail sector. He has also guided the organization to receive several prestigious awards in the tech industry. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Kamal is well recognized in the industry and is on the board of various companies globally, including being a member of SAP Advisory Council for Business One in Germany.