• August 22, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Best Practices: 10 Tips to Online Community Success

NEW YORK--An increasing number of companies are cozying up to concept of supporting their customers by using Web-based collaborative initiatives such as blogs, forums, and chat sessions. These types of customer-content-driven environments allow users to divulge firsthand insight into how well products and services are meeting their needs. A session at the destinationCRM2007 conference here yesterday revealed 10 strategies to help companies create thriving support communities. During the session, "Power to the People! Radically Improving Customer Service and Support Through Online Customer Communities (Web 2.0)," Joe Cothrel, vice president of community management services at online-community builder Lithium Technologies, outlined the following best practices:
  • Select a business owner in charge of overseeing budget and setting direction. Zero in on business ownership to ensure the company mission and user mission are well defined, and the direction of the community remains up-to-date and pertinent.
  • Appoint a community manager who conducts planning and day-to-day decision-making. "Like everything in business, you have to plan," Cothrel told the audience. "You have to know what 30 days out, 90 days out, looks like." Focusing on community management ensures that the configuration of the online community evolves.
  • Choose a moderator who sets the tone, enforces rules, and helps users. This ensures that discussions are focused and productive, Cothrel said; that problems are either (a) quickly detected and resolved or (b) escalated; and that reports on community activity are regularly produced.
  • Define roles for staff and users, and configure software that supports those roles. Cultivating customer confusion is a surefire way to derail any online community. Ensure that the distinct responsibilities of administrators, moderators, support specialists, and subject-matter experts are clearly communicated to users. In addition, by focusing on role-based access, appropriate ranks are defined to reward active users, and special roles and permissions can be provided to a small number of active customers as an incentive and recognition, Cothrel added. "Figure out who is going to touch this community and what they're going to do," he said.
  • Craft a set of comprehensive user guidelines, terms, and conditions. The community's mission must be clearly imparted onto users; consider tapping internal resources such as the company's legal and communications units for recommendations when creating guidelines.
  • Implement rules for action. "We have to know what happens when a violation occurs," Cothrel said. Some of Cothrel's rules-for-action suggestions include establishing separate courses of action depending on the severity of the violation, which may entail removing posts, notifying users, and action documentation; drafting standard warning messages for the 80 percent of problems that are repetitive in nature; and specifying internal notifications.
  • Make the community environment highly visible to potential users. The launch of an online community may seem to promote better understanding of your customers' wants and experiences, but by not making that touch point easily available, the usefulness of the support environment severely diminishes. Cothrel suggested that companies make sure the community can be easily accessed from the home page and include links on the main support page and main navigation bar.
  • Create proper structure and atmosphere to engage users. Supply users with mechanisms that spur them to actively participate in the community--allow users to provide feedback, ensure they have some avenue for off-topic discussions, and deliver support when needed. In addition, target the number of forums and features to the size of the user base, according to Cothrel. "When you're launching, you don't want to start with 179 forums," he said.
  • Manage superusers effectively. Every community has a minimum of at least two groups, according to Cothrel: a segment of average users and another comprising what he refers to as superusers. "They're a small group, they show up early, they [are very active]--but they require a special kind of management," Cothrel said. He recommends sending superusers regular communication from the company and community manager, developing special programs and activities for superusers only, and providing rewards when appropriate.
  • Concentrate on measuring business value. Put metrics in place to determine if the online community is meeting and surpassing expectation levels. Cothrel suggests linking community IDs to customer database IDs to track the value of community users; surveying the customer satisfaction of the user community, including quantitative and qualitative information in weekly reports; and making weekly reports available within the company on an opt-in basis.
The destinationCRM2007 conference concludes Wednesday evening; the co-located sister conference, SpeechTEK 2007, continues through Thursday. Related articles: Social Studies: It's the Interface, Stupid! A report reveals numerous flaws in popular social networking sites' design for user experience--but also some good processes. CRM at the Tipping Point The renowned author of The Tipping Point and Blink speaks at destinationCRM2007 about how CRM can break the barrier and make its way to success. The 2.0 Effect At destinationCRM2007, author and futurist Stan Davis outlines the influence that Web 2.0 is having on the ability to service and sell to the next generation of consumers. Social Studies: It's the Interface, Stupid! A report reveals numerous flaws in popular social networking sites' design for user experience--but also some good processes. Web 2.0: Secure Now, Succeed Later A new Gartner report says Web 2.0 technologies will force businesses to reconsider their approaches to security. Mercurial Marketing Social networking sites have bloomed in the past year or so, but just how valuable are they to marketers and how can that value be leveraged? A New Marketing Medium Blogging allows marketers to start conversations with prospects and customers through a powerful new avenue of communication.
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