Form an Online Community—and Build Engagement with New Customers

According to Forrester’s “Customer Lifecycle Journey,” there has been an 81 percent increase in customer use of online forums and communities for self-help, which corroborates the Edelman Trust Barometer’s findings that 63 percent of global consumers say they trust “a person like yourself” more than a company employee (52 percent) or company CEO (49 percent). With all this strong support from customers for online communities, it’s important that organizations get their customer engagement right from day one.

One of the biggest dangers in building a successful customer community is not engaging new customers within the first days, weeks, and early months. The risk is that once a customer becomes inactive or never engages in the first place, it is almost impossible to get them re-engaged. It can be a pressure-filled task—we spend so much time planning how to win new customers, but do we spend enough time thinking about how to keep them once they arrive? This is where an online community can be a critical component for any new customer on-boarding program.


New customers are joining your online community, and they need to get engaged right away. You should encourage interactions immediately in order to ensure customers stay interested, connected, and engaged long-term. But also make sure your interactions with new customers are balanced—too much outreach can scare or overwhelm someone new, while not enough fails to capture their interest or help them see the value in your customer community.

First create a new customer campaign that includes personalized calls to action (CTAs) to engage customers. According to a HubSpot study of 93,000 CTAs, personalized CTAs convert 42 percent better. So you’re halfway there with personalization. But let’s be honest: You want to be personal without infringing on your customers’ privacy or time. You need to keep them engaged without crossing the lineEncourage engagement with the very first CTAs—when a new customer joins, send a personalized note with details on an interesting community discussion they should join, based off of their interests. If they join a discussion early on, they will become more invested in what the community has to offer. You can also reach out and share a list of people they may know who are already participating in the community, with links to connect. These outreach tactics focus on interaction, not just static content or signing up for something. It’s easy to cross the line with repetitive requests to download a new article, or successive emails asking to sign up for a newsletter over and over.

Balance Is Key

Now that you’ve personalized your message, let’s keep balance in mind. It’s pivotal to carefully adjust parameters for your audience segments, making sure they’re as specific as possible. It boils down to gathering the right information in advance. Go beyond, “Do you want to receive emails? If so, check this box.” Asking them for detailed feedback on how they want to interact with you will signal to them that you are a thoughtful contact.

So be sure you’re gathering the right data through your automated campaigns, and present multiple ways for your customers to interact with you, based on their own desires. You’ve heard it before but it resonates here: It’s about getting the right message to the right person at the right time.

Implementing automated campaigns early can have two-pronged success: You gather data about what your customers want and need, and your customers have timely opportunities to engage and see what interests them. Integrating this type of automation with an online community means you can put that useful data to work and offer an authentic engagement space for your customers.

Why is it worth the effort? Because engaged customers refer new customers, provide you with ongoing valuable feedback, and spend more! A large professional association found that its most engaged community members were 30 percent more likely to refer a friend or colleague and spent five times the amount of money as disengaged members. Most of the organization’s new customer campaigns had conversion rates between 25 and 45 percent. Those are numbers any marketing professional would love.

These campaigns included simple calls to action (log in, update your profile, post a discussion in the community, etc.) that helped customers over barriers to entry and made them much more likely to participate more in that community, and move through what we call a Customer Lifecycle Curve.

A colleague recently shared a frustrating story about her experience after purchasing a business intelligence (BI) tool for their business analyst. Business intelligence is a key part of her daily job, and it’s complex, as it integrates with their CRM and accounting platform. The on-boarding process was a day of free training, PDF training documents, and contact information for an account manager if she had issues. That was a great start but it ended there. She spent the next three months trying to figure it all out herself until the company ended up hiring a consultant. Having access to a network of similar customers also integrating it with Salesforce and NetSuite would have been a great resource. And providing ways to have her engage directly with this group would have been invaluable to everyone involved. Opportunity lost.

Moving On Up

Now think about the long-term picture: the life of your relationship with your customer. Engagement early on is key to a good long-term relationship, but there are also ways to expect and plan for activity going forward, if you’re paying attention. This is where the concept of a Customer Lifecycle Curve is helpful. It offers a complete customer experience, as well as direction for how any organization can optimize those individual experiences every step of the way.

Rob Wenger is CEO of Higher Logic. Wenger is a successful entrepreneur and business executive with a 19-year track record in building, growing, and leading high-tech companies. He has been developing social networking applications for associations and nonprofits for nearly 10 years. 

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