How to build an online customer community in 2023 (+benefits)
January 20, 20237 min read
Over 76% of internet users participate in online communities and engage with online forums, blogs, and vlogs. Customer communities are emerging as important spaces for businesses to track changing customer expectations, get feedback, and strengthen their relationship with your brand.
With over 1.6 million members, AT&T leverages the community forum to reflect how much they care about customers. AT&T encourages customers to voice their opinions on the community and engage with others customers, tech experts, and enthusiasts.
Building a customer community from scratch may seem daunting, but with the right technology and approach, it is easier than ever. Let's explore the benefits of engaging customer communities and how to create one for your brand.
What is a customer community?
A customer community is a place or platform for customers, experts, and partners to connect for product discussions, post reviews, and brainstorm ideas.
Customers prefer online communities as they offer real-time information and quick resolution to their problems compared to traditional communication channels. At times, customers also prefer anonymity to share their unpleasant experiences with a brand.
How does an online community create value for your brand?
Building a customer community reflects the customer-first mindset of a brand. Around 80% of startup founders feel customer communities are critical to their businesses. Research also suggests that 49% of brands leveraging online communities have incurred 25% of cost savings.
Here are the additional benefits of building a customer community:
1. Increased brand awareness
84% of customers are more likely to trust a brand if their friends or family recommend it. Word of mouth is a powerful tool. The consumer community can help you get customer referrals and increase brand awareness. For example, theSkimm, a popular media company, rewards its users with exciting goodies and swag for their help in increasing sign-ups.
2. Higher customer lifetime value
Brand loyalty directly translates to higher purchase rates, retention rates, and lifetime value. Engaging your customers via an online community will encourage loyalty as investing more time and effort increases the value of products and services for customers. For example, IKEA customers overvalue the brand as they invest time and effort to assemble the products.
3. Customer insights
The consumer community platform empowers customers by providing first-hand information from backend systems, apps, and other records. These platforms allow your customers to voice their opinion, and you can incorporate the given customer feedback into your product roadmap for greater market acceptance.
4. Improved customer experience
Customer communities allow brands to connect deeply with their customers as they can ask questions or seek advice in the community. By identifying frequently asked questions, brands can foster a self-help culture and offer multi-format content for a quick resolution. You can also leverage these communities to personalize customer journeys across touchpoints.
5. Reduced customer acquisition costs
Without a customer community strategy, you might lose out on opportunities to turn your customers into brand advocates. Creating a community-powered support platform is time-consuming. It requires investment in customer experience technology, but once your customers become an extension of your support team, it will reduce your service costs and acquisition costs in the long run.
7 Key steps to building a customer community
Focussing your efforts on the following seven elements will help you create a customer community that thrives.
1. Business objectives
Building and maintaining a customer community requires time and money, so it is critical to define the business goals before you begin the process. These business objectives will differ for different industries.
Consumer-focused companies like airlines and mobile providers manage high-volume customer interactions while maintaining a personal touch. So their objectives must focus on improving customer satisfaction and reducing contact center costs. They must also consider collecting customer feedback to develop new product ideas or process improvements.
Business-oriented or technology companies are often more interested in using customer communities to streamline their sales process and enable quicker resolutions. Post-sales customer communities often provide helpful tips and tricks for solving implementation issues.
2. Performance metrics
Once you've identified the business goals, link them to relevant metrics to understand the impact of building an online customer community.
Essential metrics include monthly pageviews, unique visitors, and customer engagement. These metrics will help you track how many people are asking and answering questions, creating blog posts, or contributing to user-generated content (UGC). You may also want to measure satisfaction via exit surveys or use metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) to understand whether or not your customers will promote your brand and product.
Experienced community managers combine data from multiple sources to create a holistic view of the site health, community platform, third-party tools like Google Analytics, and data from important referral sites such as your corporate website.
Many organizations have found that an established community can contribute a significant portion of the referral traffic to their main website, thus providing an excellent conduit for new customers who have arrived via organic search.
This one is harder than it looks. Customer communities are organized into forums or categories to make it easier for people to find relevant content, comment on it, and contribute their text and visuals. But for someone to contribute to a forum, they must be able to see that it is already active and contains fresh, pertinent material.
So, during an initial phase of a community, it is crucial to structure the content architecture around the frequently searched topics and then expand as volume permits. You can bifurcate the content by product, vertical market, use case, or other factors based on your audience and their concerns.
Some best practices in this area include:
Using tags to aggregate related content
Creating customized landing pages for each main topic
Using widgets to highlight hot topics and promoted posts
Modifying the content structure as the community evolves
Due to increased customer expectations, design standards for business interactions are high. Your community should be visually compelling and facilitate easy content discovery and engagement. Be sure to involve your branding team early in the design process to ensure consistency with your brand identity while distinguishing it from a public community and the corporate website.
Although the tools and protocols for web design are constantly in flux, one essential is responsive web design — using fluid grids, flexible images, and different style rules based on the display characteristics of the used device. For innovative design ideas, do a web search for “customer community” plus major brand names that are doing exemplary work (e.g., Apple, Nike, Intel).
While building a customer community, you need to seed it with representative content that will attract and engage your first users.
Initiate a discussion with your customer care and technical support leaders, product managers, developers, and engineers about their existing and planned content assets.
Successful community managers enable the subject matter experts to share their unique knowledge to nurture the community. They help these experts to structure their thoughts and communicate effectively.
Here are a few tips for creating impactful content in the community:
Use relevant keywords in the title and introductory paragraphs wherever possible, especially in support cases, blog posts, or other contributions from people in your company.
Think about the terms prospects and customers might use to find your products and services, then organically integrate them into the text.
Your community and website work best when connected at all relevant touchpoints. The corporate blog is a space for publishing your thought leadership content. However, the community is the right place for debating product details with customers or competitors.
Do not indulge in direct brand wars. The community should showcase your company’s strengths, not disparage competitors. Establish rules of service that prohibit posts attacking other vendors or products and set up alerts to notify the community manager of transgressions.
Moderate submissions manually to keep a check on spam attacks. The major online community platforms provide good controls in this area.
You need a set budget to build a reasonable-sized audience for a new community, not to mention additional resources if you want to sustain and build that audience.
Even if you have developed an active base of brand ambassadors contributing free content that amplifies your message, it takes resources to find, nurture, and reward these super-users. You need to know your customer, and monitor community metrics, especially for registered members, to get a better sense of your audience and their concerns.
Along with the business objectives that drive the deployment of a customer community, the choice of the platform becomes crucial. You should weigh your options and consider strategic platforms that help you know your customers better.
While choosing a platform consider these three parameters:
The community platform should offer configurable workflows to help you escalate community posts to other teams for standard case management and resolution.
Optimize the community platform for Google and other search engines to facilitate easy content discovery for your customers.
To feed insights and data from the community to the rest of your organization and vice versa, your community platform should integrate with your existing tech stack for publishing, media monitoring, social listening, analytics, and more.
Learn more about Sprinklr’s online community management platform.