Customer Communities: Don’t Miss the Party

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

Marketers have become increasingly knowledgeable and skilled in social media strategy and tactics. We’ve dedicated resources to creating content for social media, and spent hours culling through page views, shares, comments, and unique visitor data. But the problem is that we don’t “own” those interactions. And, frankly, our customers are less likely to read and react to content on those channels. They’re going to trust others like themselves before they trust marketing speak.

Terms like “content marketing” and “real-time marketing,” cause us to rethink what and how quickly we share with the world, but we’re still trapped in our “push” mind-set. It’s time to reevaluate how we interact with our customers, not just create content that we feel is more compelling for them. It’s not about consumption, it’s about co-creation.

The way to create customer loyalty is to facilitate conversations in a vibrant community for your customers. Consumers go to Facebook to interact with friends, not to read the latest on products. However, if you provide a stimulating community wherein they can interact with other customers to find information or learn best practices from their peers, they’re more inclined to come back to this value-added engagement.

How many channels are too many?

At this point you may ask, “OK, there are social networks, my website, and now you’re adding another community? How do I keep track of all of these? Who’s going to do that in my marketing org?” These are fair questions and what we’ve seen in the market is a convergence of these channels with a community as the anchor. A community is a branded house that welcomes guests and existing customers alike. Ideally, that community integrates with social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Similarly, if guests want more official information on your products, it’s easy for them to navigate to the brand’s site. However, most likely, your prospect or customer just wants to find someone else that’s successfully used your products in a particular way. By having all of these interactions under one roof, you can monitor and co-create a more tailored experience with prospects, customers, and champions.

But you still need content…

No one likes going to a party without drinks, snacks, and music. You need to seed your community with some official content, but your most important task is enticing people to mingle, have meaningful conversations and share their expertise. Take, for example, the Eloqua Topliners community. It’s clearly branded Oracle | Eloqua, but also carries the moniker Topliners to differentiate it from other properties. It feels familiar, yet unique. To entice members to contribute to the community, Eloqua integrates game mechanics (gamification) and leader boards recognizing and rewarding interactions that drive the vitality of the community. Ultimately, Eloqua curates, but not dictates, what happens there—like the ultimate host of a party.

If you build it, they will come?

Building an online community, just like building loyalty offline, takes time, care, and good community management. If we’ve learned anything about our first forays into social channels, letting difficult conversations linger without a response inevitably leads to a #fail. However, on Facebook or on Twitter most answers will come from official or company sources (of which many customers may not trust); whereas, the community gives you greater flexibility to crowdsource responses.

Although crowdsourcing responses may make some marketing brethren anxious, the true measure of the strength of a community is how often people who aren’t on your payroll answer questions correctly for you. It’s table stakes for communities to moderate member-generated content and allow others to report inappropriate content.

Through game mechanics and good community management you can easily determine who your customer champions are and who’s proven they have deep knowledge about a product. Why not recognize and cultivate that expertise? In the event where an official answer is necessary, someone from the company can step in. But, ultimately, your community will thrive with you on the sidelines.

Becoming customer-obsessed starts with doing a 180 in marketing. We shouldn’t talk about content marketing or real time; we shouldn’t focus on singular channels or media. It’s not about your audience receiving a message; it’s about developing fellow actors who will become as fiercely passionate about your products as you are to deliver the best performance anyone has ever seen.


Elizabeth Brigham, Jive Software

As senior product manager at Jive Software, Brigham oversees the vendor’s marketing, customer service, and mobile solutions. Her passion lies in providing fellow marketers and sales practitioners a better way to get work done, beat the competition to market, and close sales faster. Prior to Jive, Elizabeth was a senior product manager at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online, where she oversaw content and commerce strategies for Disney’s parks and resorts. Brigham began her career at McMaster-Carr Supply Company managing call center teams, domestic and international sales operations, supply chain logistics, and sales software development. She earned her BA in English Literature from Davidson College and an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. In her spare time Brigham enjoys writing fi ction, tennis, hiking, and running.

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