Successful Online Communities

Today I attended a webinar put on by Ben McConnell and Rob Howard called “Online Communities Create Customer Evangelists and Citizen Marketers”. Ben is the co-author of the book “Citizen Marketers” and Rob is the CEO of Telligent. I thought it was going to be a conference call type webinar where you called in a 800 number, but instead it was an online PowerPoint presentation with the two presenters discussing content presented on slides. I can’t say I preferred one over the other, but I thought I’d be able to ask questions. Which was not the case.

Aside from this misunderstanding on my part, I learned a lot from their presentation. I know that social media and online communities are great platforms for reaching the customer. However, not many marketing executives understand the value of such communities. So, the webinar began with a brief discussion on the value of online communities.  They identified four benefits a business could expect by creating an online community for its products and services.

  • Transparency (openly discussing your products and services: whether good or bad)
  • Feedback Loop (gaining quick insights about your products and services through member discussions)
  • Satisfaction (for members who get a chance to interact with like minded people)
  • Participation (an opportunity for customers to express their feelings and thoughts on your products and services)

What was also interesting was learning about the different applications of online communities in various industries. The examples presented were outstanding. I want to highlight two of which I thought were just really outstanding.

Intuit’s QuickBook Community: This community grew out of a desire to offset rising technical support costs for the company. Instead of adding more staff to answer the phones, Intuit implemented a user community to enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. This community became a wild success for many reasons, reaping benefits for both the company and its customers.

The user community allowed Intuit to tap into the talents of enthusiastic customers who oftentimes knew more about the product than the support staff. These power users became community leaders by helping others with their qustions and problems on using QuickBooks. Since these interactions were occurring through written messages, over a period of time the entire community became a repository of valuable information. As such it was crawled by search engines and served on SERP’s. Which in turn became a great resource for customers searching for answers for their particular problem. The implementation was just brilliant in my mind and Intuit reaped financial benefits through cost savings and stronger customer support.

iLougne: I liked this example for many reasons. Primarily because this example highlighted how an enthusiastic customer, in this case a iPod user, went out of his way to create a site dedicated to the product. This site then grew to become an Internet “hang out” for iPod enthusiasts the world over. I’m sure many companies are frightened about the prospect of a group of its customers getting together to discuss and disseminate information about their brand. However, as this case highlights there is no reason to fear such efforts. In fact customers are talking about your brand as it relates to them, and if you’re delivering a good product there is no reason not to help your customers express their relationship to the product on an online community.

There were other examples which were very good too, but these two stood out in my mind. As a side note I received an e-mail message from the organizers before the presentation saying that I had won a free copy of Benn’s book. I responded with my address. So, I’m looking forward to reading it and possibly writing a review.

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