Why Online Business Communities Matter for You
by Rachel Happe
Remember when someone first said, “your business needs to be on the Internet?” and you dismissed them because it didn’t seem to be critical? Now having a website is the equivalent to being listed in the yellow pages 30 years ago. More recently came the clamor of “you need to be on social media.” Each evolution engendered skeptics but a few took advantage of the new opportunity to gain a larger share of their market – whether that be customers for consumer companies, donors for non-profits or constituents for government agencies.
Today, most businesses connect with customers, employees, vendors and potential members of all these constituencies online somehow. But most are connecting with their market in a primarily transactional way (to solve a customer issue, make a sale, answer a question). This is a good start. But how do you harness people again and again to further the goals of your organization? You do what some of your competitors are already doing… building relationships with key constituents by interacting regularly and helping them solve their problems, whether directly related to your products and services or not. Why? Because inter-dependent relationships with individuals in your market can:
• Increase sales & shorten the sales cycle
• Lower cost of advertising and communications
• Lower customer support costs
• Speed the time in which information is disseminated
• Shorten innovation cycles by integrating real time data into core processes
And it is the real-time data that is really exciting for the future. Imagine:
• Extending marketing impact through advocacy/influencers
• Effectively supporting customers through peer sharing
• Quickly ramping-up new employees by giving them access to tacit expertise of peers
• Improving innovation cycles by connecting the market with internal experts
• Increasing efficiency by encouraging and enabling employees to easily share their expertise and avoid duplication
• More effectively recognizing and rewarding those customers, employees and partners who are most helpful
• Reacting more quickly and effectively to crisis
At The Community Roundtable, we are hearing from companies that have already dramatically improved their products, reduced employee turnover, and increased market share using small communities to provide real-time insights at every step in the process – it’s as simple and as complex as integrating community into your process.
In a world that is moving more quickly than ever, it is imperative that you integrate your market as closely as possible into your core organizational operations. Communities are the way to do that.