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by David Mennie
A friend of mine recently celebrated a birthday at Morton’s Steakhouse.
How do I know?
I saw pictures of her personalized birthday Morton’s menu on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Turns out she didn’t even request it. The Morton’s staffer who took the reservation a few days earlier routinely asked her husband if they were celebrating a special occasion.
Morton’s took it from there. And when the personalized menu arrived, my friend captured it with her smartphone and broadcast it across her social networks.
That’s tapping the power of community to amplify a message, which in this case was: Morton’s is a great place for a celebration.
We’ve all experienced similar ripples from the impact of social media -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. But you should also be leveraging this energy to expand all the digital experiences you are shaping.
Varieties of Community
Consider the wide variety of community experiences you can build and host: customer support forums, developer communities, partner extranets, fan forums.
Don’t forget communities for employee collaboration and communication.
And why not host a community space for brand advocates: make a space for customers who love your company and your products. Let’s face it: no one believes you’re awesome if you have to say it yourself. But when others say it...
Of course you should also connect your community to the popular social networks. That will extend your reach.
And set up “social listening” software to monitor customer complaints and satisfaction across these social media sites. This will allow you to respond to negative, and positive, comments -- conveying a very personal level of customer service .
Robyn Tippins, of Mariposa Interactive, who literally wrote the book on online community management (Community 101), has seen many online communities work. She’s created some of the best out there. But she cautions clients that it’s not easy.
“You have to think deeply about the purpose you want a community to serve,” she told me. “You have to be able to state why you want a community, why you need it.”
Community Return on Investment
Think about the ROI you’re looking for: Do you want new business leads? Direct sales? Savings in customer support? Brand advocacy?
It’s important that your community strategy is well thought out, because to build a strong community it takes ongoing support staff, tracking key performance indicators, continued content support, and community management.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone from your new community will do this work. For a brand new community, that is just not going to happen. It can take months or years to get to that point.
One community feature to consider up front: moderation. Will your community be open to dissenting, even critical, voices?
I’m not talking about comments and reviews that are profane, or in extreme poor taste. Those have to go.
But how do you feel about reviews that are critical? It can be uncomfortable, but including negative reviews adds authenticity to a community. That’s why Amazon tolerates them.
I ran this quandary by Jeanne Bliss, who has created customer experiences at companies like Lands’ End, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, Microsoft, and Mazda. Her most recent book, Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, is used as a customer experience roadmap in many corporations.
Jeanne said she advocates a very light touch with the customer’s comments, believing that allowing negative comments adds credibility to the reviews that celebrate your products and services.
“It does take some daring, and trust in your customers’ words,” she said. “But it is a powerful way to engage your company in customer feedback, and to drive accountability in resolving the issues that customers bring up.”
Zhecho Dobrev, the customer experience consultant at Beyond Philosophy, pointed me to two effective, very different, digital communities.
Johnson & Johnson's “Mom to Mom” community is a wide ranging discussion board with a layout that resembles a Pinterest board. And can you guess what image accompanies each post? Of course: a cute picture of the poster’s adorable bundle of joy.
Giffgaff, a raffish, no-contract, pay-as-you-go, online-only British telecom company, hosts a community with a completely different “stick it to the man” vibe. Its community pages are stocked with tips and advice. The company also hosts a “Members Ideas” network, with hundreds of suggestions. They even track which ones they’ve implemented, and which they are working on.
The Giffgaff digital experience proclaims, “We are all members, not customers.”
The community they host makes you believe it.