The Benefits of Building an Online Community
Guess what theres an online global conversation happening right now about your brand, product or service. Any company willing to engage in the dialogue can gain both insight and opportunities about themselves and their competitors. Like any good conversation its part listening, participating, understanding and learning. Building an online community is one of the easiest and most effective ways to engage in this global conversation.
The Internet today contains unlimited forums for customers to express themselves. At any given moment someone somewhere is talking about your brand, product or service. Isnt it better to be part of that conversation where you can listen, learn, participate and help shape the direction? Expect to hear things that unpleasant, uncomfortable and maybe not true. Ignoring these opinions doesnt make them go away.
Here is my list of the top ten ways that a company can effectively benefit from building an online community Website.
1. Increase Customer Loyalty
Even a simple community Website designed to provide basic support and entertainment for your customers creates a positive brand experience and increases your differentiation from competitors. Just as people identify themselves with their offline community, the same effect happens in the virtual world. People naturally feel part of your brand. The result is a special kind of loyalty that is hard to obtain by any other means. Community members invest in your brand every time they return to the site and build an identity in your community culture with relationships, comments and input. Once a customer becomes a part of your community they are harder to lure away.
2. Increasing Website Traffic
Community members naturally come back and human nature will compel them to include their friends and family. What is said in the community never stays in the community. Community members will email links to their favorite content, profiles or content they find interesting. They will talk about their community experience, naturally creating a buzz. Links will naturally start showing up on other Websites and indexed by search engines and bring in new visitors. By default everyone learns something about your brand and message. A percentage of your new visitors will stay and join the community themselves, continuing to increase your traffic.
3. Better Understand Your Customer Messages
A community Website strongly ascribes certain qualities and values to your brand, product or service. Whatever your key messages are, a well engaged community is willing to listen, and provide feedback. An online community is also an excellent forum for educating yourself and your customers about your brand, product or service. Community members are connected by a related interest and they are willing to talk, so discussion is the natural byproduct.
4. Create Real Customer Testimonials
Community member naturally recommend and share positive and negative experiences about your brand and services. Additionally many customers do research on the internet before making a purchase decision. Your community is an army of evangelists that can convince these customers to purchase your products. Internet users trust other internet users more than they trust a company. So a happy and engaged online community is an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
5. Build a Customer Led Help Desk
Community members love to advise other members. Giving advice is a way for them to make online friends and gain status in the community. It further enforces that they are experts. You would be amazed to find that many of your community know more about your product or service than you do. Letting them share advice and opinions is a win-win situation!
6. Generate Highly Engaged Content
One of the key elements of Web 2.0 is user generated content. Of course any company can and should create great content. Dynamic engaged content gives users a reason to return repeatedly and even habitually to your site. With each visit your product, brand or service becomes a regular part of their daily life. The bigger more active your community the more content the members will create. Never forget Internet users today are more interested in what others have to say then they are in what the company has to say. Why not give the people what they want? Besides if your users create content then you dont have to.
7. Naturally Optimize for Search Engines (SEO)
SEO depends on a number of factors; one of the most fundamental is the volume of Website traffic. An engaged online community multiplies the number of visits, boosting your search engine rankings even higher. For example, user generated content grows organically, once again improving your SEO rankings. There are many companies that focus on SEO services but why not let your community members do it the honest and natural way.
8. Enhanced Product Testing and Development
Imagine an army of brand aware users and enthusiasts ready and willing to give product feedback and test new versions. Online communities provide a unique window into your customer minds. The possibilities are limitless in how you can put a willing and engaged community to work for you.
9. Enhanced Customer Information
An online community is a huge repository of raw data about your customer base. Encouraging customers to fill out their profiles and watching their habits and practices is a limitless and changing body of information. You can observe how the customer base is evolving and shifting. If you give people room to express themselves freely, being respectful of their privacy you get level of insight into the mind of your customers not offered by traditional market research techniques.
10. Create Real Press Opportunities
An online community offers an opportunity to convert trend watching into press releases and news events. Community themes, comments, and even content your members post can be shaped into stories that will interest the media and gain additional exposure.