• June 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

15 Essential Tips for an Active Social Community

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Before creating the community, it’s imperative to establish some ground rules. The obvious rules of engagement (social etiquette, adherence to rules and regulations, etc.) must be communicated, but beyond that, you want to build an active and valuable Web support community. So this is your opportunity to quickly communicate the purpose of the group and make sure the benefits to members are clear. It’s also a good place to explain how members can participate and how they can be rewarded for certain behaviors.


To get conversations started, the company might need to initiate many of them early on. As for turning casual readers into active participants, “the first rule of thumb is making sure that the content in the community meets the needs of customers,” according to Omer Minkara, research director for contact center and customer experience management at Aberdeen Group. “Customers are unlikely to visit the community portal regularly if they find that the content within the portal doesn’t align with their needs.”

DiMauro agrees. “Customers tend to love [online communities] if they are well designed and responsive because they enable them to solve their issues and gather the info they need, at their time of need,” she says. “The real superstar support communities strategically grow customer relationships through conversation and meaningful interactions. These are the ones that bring personality and personalization to the customer support experience.”


The next step is to attract new members, which is no small feat. Leader Networks found that some of the ways that companies attract new members are social media marketing (58 percent), events (37 percent), email invitations (37 percent), personalized outreach (32 percent), “on-boarding” all customers and employees (29 percent), offering incentives and giveaways (20 percent), and refer-a-friend programs (19 percent).

Minkara notes that other organizations use search marketing to display their community URLs to current and future customers, who enter certain keywords into search bars. “A wide variety of approaches are used to gather new members, and many communities prudently use more than one method,” DiMauro points out. “Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”


Gamification is one of the technologies and processes used by an increasing number of companies to motivate subject matter experts and other customers to get involved in digital conversations.

“When executed well, gamification plays an important role, one that helps companies ensure that the community remains vibrant,” Minkara says.

And the numbers bear this out: When GetSatisfaction added a gamification module to its online community platform last year, companies using it quickly saw measurable increases in community contributions by their members, community managers, and employees. Some early customers reported that community participation levels increased as much as 78 percent in just a matter of weeks.

With gamification, companies can create community leaderboards to showcase their most helpful members, provide reputation data to increase the credibility and trustworthiness of individual contributors, and even reward members for behavior that benefits the entire community.


T-Mobile offers members of its online community a mix of targeted missions, badges, and rewards to incentivize desired actions and outcomes. The company also has a select group of members that it has dubbed “Pillars of the Community,” a title reserved only for its most knowledgeable and helpful contributors.

Such a designation, though, shouldn’t be given to just anyone, according to DiMauro. “A lot should depend on the level of knowledge that is required to provide an expert or validated response,” she says, noting that rigorous standards have to be applied to qualify experts to offer advice on financial or medical issues, as opposed to, say, writing a hotel review.


Rewards don’t necessarily have to be financial, and it’s actually better if they’re not, most experts contend. “A monetary reward is profit-eroding and definitely not the biggest lever a company can pull to get people involved,” Wollan argues.

According to Wollan, companies are more likely to have success providing their best contributors with special recognition and early access to products. Both the select members and the larger community will benefit when those members get to preview products first because “it makes them more knowledgeable,” he says.

And in those cases, the company can benefit as well. Leary cites online shaving supplies retailer WetShaveClub.com as an example. The company started a Facebook private group called the Wet Shave Lounge for its customers. It works as a VIP focus group where the company can post new products before they’re released. “They’d get feedback to get to know their members, which allowed them to build deeper relationships and have folks stay subscribed longer,” he says.

Another reward might be free access to the company’s user conference or other events where leading community members can further increase their company and product knowledge.

For that reason, DiMauro warns that gamification needs to be used sparingly, purposefully, and only with select membership types. “Certain audience profiles tend to be more responsive to the competitive elements that gamification introduces,” she says. “I caution any company to do research with the members to find out if they would like [gamification]. Then [if they do], the awards structure needs to be carefully crafted. Choose the wrong incentive plan and the community culture can take an ugly turn.”

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