Building Online Customer Communities

“The most successful online communities provide something that your prospects and customers want.” –

 The internet and social media came about because of the concept of community. For a business, it is imperative to build online customer communities, especially for those customers who are emotionally and deeply connected with the company. The most effective and potent form of advertising and promotion for a company would be its customers, who double up as brand advocates. They are ones who would help a brand to establish its credibility and be known as a trustworthy partner. By building online customer communities, a company would provide customers with a forum through which they can share, discuss, express their opinions, and provide feedback. Such online customer communities reflect well on a brand – they display confidence and willingness on the part of the brand to remain transparent and accept feedback. This in turn makes a brand more likeable and popular, drawing people closer to it.

The fact is that almost everyone has an online presence on some platform or the other. Most of a company’s customers too would conduct their business online – the culture of social media and internet is all-pervasive. By building online customer communities, a business reflects its flexible and adaptive spirit to this culture and allows customers a ‘field’ in which, they can express themselves freely. As a result of this empowerment, customers are more amenable to build and sustain deep and strong bonds with a company and its brand. These bonds, then usually translate to customer loyalty and brand advocacy, leading to enhanced revenue and growth for the company. As customers begin to identify with a brand, they would ensure that it becomes successful and would use the online customer communities to let others know about their happy experiences and the benefits of being associated with the brand.

By building online customer communities, a company is able to enhance its reputation. How a brand is viewed and known by existing customers, will pave the way for how others would view it. Statistics prove that before buying, prospective customers would first read the testimonials and reviews of current customers. As such, online customer communities are active platforms with consistently updated information about the brand and the discussions can potentially raise the interest for your brand. Online customer communities, in a way, put the power in the hands of the customer – making them feel more responsible for the brand image and the success of the company. Considering that online customer communities, puts customer views for all to see, they would want the brand they use to become successful and a household name. These online communities therefore, address an extremely critical emotional need of the customers.

Online interactions usually come across as robotic and do add a feel of personalization. By building online customer communities, companies provide customers with a platform that enhances the human feel. People ‘talk’ and share with others who could have the same problems, interests, and needs. It is always more encouraging interacting with people who understand and can feel the same things – online customer communities encourage and support these feelings and emotional needs. Irrespective of the many differences, people actually are more comfortable when they can share with like-minded people and online customer communities are platforms that allow them to engage with people who possibly ‘think’ and ‘believe’ the same things. A company that forms these ‘communities’ then becomes the preferred partner and is able to build relationships not just with existing customers, but other ‘contributors’ as well.

When a company decides to build online customer communities, the goals are usually to forge relationships and create a strong network of trusting customers and visitors. These communities bring people with common interests, professions, and lifestyles together and allow them to highlight their strengths and help others with problems or issues. A company must however, understand the responsibility and dedication required to make these online customer communities successful. It should be willing to set aside resources and time to keep these ‘communities’ live and active. A company must have clear, realistic, and measurable goals in mind before developing and launching these online customer communities and to ensure their success.

Online customer communities address a common mind-set – that of engagement and fruitful interactions. No company can exist in a vacuum – online customer communities are a great way to enhance business through interdependence and social interactions. With the surge of social media platforms – whether for personal sharing or remaining professionally connected, the phenomenon of online sharing is on the rise. By building online customer communities, a company would essentially be taking part in a popular ‘movement’. Online customer communities make it easier for people with shared interests and goals to exhibit their knowledge, help people through their experiences, and learn from the insights of others.

Through such online sharing, people are able to connect with businesses, opportunities and other people, which they were earlier unaware. Online customer communities therefore, raise awareness of a much larger audience, products, and services that exist – the knowledge of which can prove beneficial to the people interacting via these communities. They are tools to learn, participate, and gain visibility even for new and small ventures. These online customer communities are ‘vehicles’ to communicate with and market to a much larger cross-section of people and gain positive attention for the company and its offerings. The value such online communities create for a company and its customers, is phenomenal – the visibility and reach for both sets increases manifold. Interesting conversations come about, relationships can be forged, and new business alliances happen when people with common goals have a place to interact. By building online customer communities, a company would be assisting its customers to build their business and become successful – which in turn would gain loyalty from these customers and garner interest from other business communities as well.

Online customer communities have an element of personal attention, a sense of belonging, being part of something exclusive – all factors that forge emotional connections. The more emotionally connected customers feel towards a company and brand, the more likely they would be to spread the word-of-mouth and act as marketers for the brand. With so much positive talk from existing customers, it would be hard for competitors to match up and the chances of ‘converting’ casual visitors to actual buying customers, increase exponentially. Even the more wary and sceptical kind of ‘observers’, could move over to the side of learning more about the company through the discussions and insights via the online customer communities.

Online customer communities help different businesses to get along and work together. This makes for mutually beneficial associations rather than self-defeating tactics – which in turn open up new avenues of business for more people. As customers perceive the benefits, they become more involved in these online communities. For the growth and spread of these online customer communities, it is vital they cut across boundaries of industry, business type or any other differences that would exclude a large audience base. By exposing one’s business across industries, the chances of finding ways to collaborate and increase profits become much higher. It would be beneficial for a company to solicit feedback from a few trusted customers and associates, on the kind of online customer community it should build. With such information, a company would be better equipped to build a community that would prove sustainable and beneficial for all its ‘members’ and contributors. Is your company part of online customer communities or has it built such a community for the benefit of its customers?

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