Transform Marketing Through Customer Communities

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Wendy Lea, Get Satisfaction
Wendy Lea, Get Satisfaction

What use of online communities delivers maximum impact in terms of marketing, and why?

Companies that foster thriving, well-integrated customer communities see customer-sourced benefits ripple throughout their entire organization—across marketing, sales, support, and product teams. This positive wave touches virtually every area within a company, breaking down business silos as it facilitates collaboration around customer needs, priorities, and expectations. We call this wave of influence the Community Effect.

Considering how many ways online communities can positively impact marketing, it was hard to call out just one.

So, here are six:

1. Weave authentic customer conversations through multiple touchpoints. Online communities are the best destination for engaging people with relevant and trustworthy conversations around a company's products and services. Community experiences need to be exposed and seamlessly woven throughout all customer touchpoints—on a company's website, social channels, from search engines, and in customer communications—to connect customers with prospects and power continuous engagement.

2. Make your website more social. Today's social customers expect more engaging marketing experiences, but that doesn't mean they want their Facebook pages spammed with brand information. They want to connect with you and other customers in a real-time, authentic way when they're looking for more information on your website. Providing up-to-date social experiences on your site makes potential customers more likely to spend time there, find the answers to their questions, and ultimately make a purchase.

3. Leverage the value of customer-generated content. The right engagement at the right time builds relationships and gives rise to customer-generated content, which can be used strategically for everything from authentic marketing content to product innovation. Customer conversations are more trustworthy, interesting, and relevant to prospective customers than even your best-crafted marketing content. These conversations also provide brands an opportunity to showcase the way they listen, respond, and resolve customer questions and issues, which, in turn, earns trust more readily than just a single interaction. Additionally, you can integrate your community with marketing automation tools to identify quality sales leads by seeing what content most strongly resonates with customers.

4. Identify and incentivize brand champions. Create ownership by designating your company's outspoken advocates as champions who can help moderate the community. For instance, cloud-based presentation tool Prezi identified its most passionate customers within its communities and hired some of them as support staff. Aerohive, a provider of controller-less Wi-Fi and cloud-managed mobile networking, leveraged some of its champions who are seasoned IT professionals to help resolve technical problems that other customers had encountered. Champions have your back when things go wrong, and spread the love about your brand in a genuine way to other customers and prospects.

5. Optimize for search engines. Customers and prospects typically first turn to search engines for any of their queries related to your company or market. Community conversations rank extremely well in search because of the way the customer-generated content there is indexed. You'll see two things happen at once when a search-indexed online community is in place: Customers find out what they need to know quickly and easily; and the resulting conversations are SEO-friendly and optimized for the terminology other customers naturally use regarding a specific product or service. This perpetuates the cycle of new customers finding the helpful content in the community via search.

6. Build a scalable solution. Customers—people—prefer destinations for social conversations around products and services in a forum that is genuine and honest. In turn, value arises due to the high-quality content that's made discoverable through organic search. Online communities deliver mutual value to company and customers. And communities are a scalable solution that builds on itself—rich content invites participation that generates more relevant content that, in turn, invites more participation.

Building online communities isn't just about remaking marketing; it's about partnering with customers to move forward together instead of viewing them as passive buyers of a product. Keeping audiences engaged and sales pipelines filled is a tough job when marketers lack a source for generating compelling and engaging content. By fostering customer communities, companies can reap marketing rewards of customer content in truly transformative ways.

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Wendy Lea, Get Satisfaction

A native Mississippian, Lea's path to Silicon Valley had numerous twists and turns. One defining moment came when she moved to the UK to join a consultancy, which gave her a taste of global assignments and entrepreneurship. As CEO of customer community platform Get Satisfaction, Lea oversees its strategic growth, which includes continually looking for new ways the company can help its clients engage consumers in meaningful conversations about their products and services. Lea is also a strategic advisor, investor, and mentor—serving as an angel investor and board member for numerous start-ups. She is board chair emeritus of Watermark, a community whose mission is to increase the representation of women in leadership roles. In her spare time, Lea enjoys pilates and walking her dog Casey on the beach. She tweets at @wendyslea.

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