How To Get The Most Out Of Your Customer Community Platform

Customer community

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Once you set up your customer community platform, your customers will have an online home to share stories, ideas, and experiences. But you probably noticed that it’s going to take a whole lot more than simply setting up your platform and inviting users to make your community remarkable – both from a user experience and company return on investment perspective, right?

To truly get the most out of your customer community platform you’re going to need to:

  1. Understand what makes a bad vs good community platform,
  2. Identify your short, mid and long-term community objectives, and
  3. Identify the various features of your customer community platform that will allow you to achieve those objectives faster.

Related:How to Boost Your Customer Satisfaction with Community Platforms

Challenges with customer community platforms

Some of the challenges community builders within small and medium businesses often experience with using online community platforms include the platform:

  • Feeling big, massive, clunky, and lacks flexibility
  • Being limited in functionality and features
  • Not integrating well with other popular tools
  • Being unable to grow as the business grows
  • Having poor design and user interface – not intuitive enough for community members to feel comfortable and at ease
  • Not allowing for a mix of quantitative and qualitative market research methodology

Customer community platform benefits and features to look out for

As a community manager building an online community you’ll want to ensure that your online customer community platform provides the following benefits:

  • Saves you and your company time – it needs to be quick to set up and get going
  • Easy to use
  • Saves you money
  • Provides a return on your investment
  • Has enough functionality to grow as your company grows
  • Make growing a great customer community easier
  • Comes with an excellent and responsive customer support team

How do you know that a community platform can provide such benefits? One way to find out is to take a look at unsolicited customer reviews online. (In case you’re interested, here are some independent reviews of our CMNTY platform). Another way is to read through customer success stories and case studies to get an idea of how other businesses have benefited from using a particular platform.

Related: The CMX Guide Compares Community Software

How to build a greater customer community (and get the most out of your customer community platform)

Below there are 5 key strategies that we recommend you focus on in order to build a powerful online customer community, along with key community platform features you could use to implement them. Once you’ve read through all 5 strategies, your team will need to decide which to work on next based on where your community is right now. You should then adjust your community strategy for the next 12 months.

building a customer community platform

1. Grow your community to critical mass

The critical mass is the point at which the level of growth and activity in your community starts to take off with minimal direct input from you and your team. According to community consulting firm Feverbee’s online community lifecycle model“This point is numerically defined as when more than 50% of growth and activity is generated by the community (as opposed to the community manager).”

So how do you get your customer community to critical mass?

This can be achieved in several ways:

  • Personally invite customers to join and participate as members;
  • Stimulate activity in the community by starting discussions around key topics your members are interested in, encouraging members to respond; and
  • Invest time in building strong relationships with members through reaching out to each person individually.

Recommended customer community platform features to utilize to achieve this objective:

  • User invite and recruitment functions – Customize your invitations, see who has joined your community, and resend invites to those who haven’t with a single click.
  • User groups – Show different platform activities to different user groups, and filter results on the back-end easily.
  • Social login – Make it easier for members to sign up and sign on with their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ accounts.
  • Send push notifications to notify members of new and “hot topic” discussions and invite their participation
  • Forum discussions, create polls, run an idea contest

2. Help your customers kick major goals using your product (and talk about it publicly)

storytelling is the best marketing, old typing machine

Your customers are using and investing in your product in order to better themselves and/or their company in some way. A critical path to your success is understanding what it is that they’re trying to achieve, what roadblocks they’re facing, and how your team and your product can help them realize their goals faster. Consider this: when your customers win, and your product and business helped them achieve that win – who are they going to give credit to for their success? Your business of course!

There’s just one major issue…

A recent customer service study by Zendesk revealed that more people share their bad customer service experiences on social media than their good experiences (45% vs. 38%).

Customer impact zendesk

(Image credit: Zendesk)

Success Tip: Be proactive and take ownership of engaging with your customers and empower them to share their wins publicly. Don’t leave it to chance (or your busy customers). Now let’s discuss 3 ways that you could get your customers sharing their wins online, shall we?

  1. Encourage users to share their wins inside your customer community platform first
  2. Involve your members in product development. Through co-creating something special and customized for a segment of your customers you’ll make them feel part of something special.
  3. Encourage User-Generated Content (UGC) from your members. Several brands are using UGC to good effect including Buffer, BMW, and Starbucks.

Recommended customer community platform features to utilize to achieve this objective:

  • Journal – One-on-one discussions to gather insights that community members might not want to share in more public spaces.
  • Discussion board, questionnaire, newsletter system
  • News & Blog – highlight member wins with your community
  • Notifications – In-Platform notifications, push notifications, email notifications
  • Points & Badges – Reward member activity with points and badges. Show off top-performers with leaderboards
  • Social sharing

3. Incentivize community members to voluntarily participate in collaboration projects

A proven way to develop a sense of community and loyalty is to reward community members for demonstrating positive behaviors. We’re not talking about hanging out wads of cash here either. Science tells us that there are better rewards for driving deeper engagement than monetary compensation.  

Career analyst and author Dan Pink shares the research and surprising findings around what motivates us in his TED talk. Watch it here:

So here are a couple of questions for you and your team to answer…

  • How can you create participation rewards, that are tied to intrinsic motivators (recognition, giving back, and growth), for members of your community?
  • What are ways that members of your community can get involved in order to better themselves and others?
  • Could you benefit from a gamification strategy?
  • What challenges could you create to get members excited about participating in the community?

Additionally, you may want to engage and empower your brand advocates i.e. the most loyal and active members of your community, to come up with those answers.

Recommended customer community platform features to utilize to achieve this objective:

  • Gamification engine – With the help of gamification, you can increase community engagement. You can give out rewards to your community members in exchange for their active participation in the community.
  • Challenge – Create contests and competitions to ideate and co-create with your community. Leverage the power of community!
  • Best Ideas – Draw attention to your community challenges by showing an overview of the highest-rated ideas.
  • Points & Badges – Reward member activity with points and badges. Show off top-performers with leaderboards
  • Webshop – Allow members to spend their points for gift cards or other tangible rewards to encourage participation

4. Use customer data to gather insights, plus guide product and content development

Want to know…

  • What motivates your customers?
  • What drives their buying?
  • What keeps them coming back to your product or service?
  • What annoys them about your product and makes them request refunds?
  • Psychographic or demographic behaviors and patterns?

Your customer community platform is the ideal tool for building insight communities and conducting online qualitative research studies. Your customer community platform should allow you to analyze patterns & dig deeper, providing you with rich information to improve your business and community. Furthermore, your community platform should save you time by integrating your community with other key business processes automatically.

Recommended customer community platform features to utilize to achieve this objective:

  • Data gathering – Forum Discussions, Survey, Idea Contest, Poll, Personal Diary
  • Data Categorization – Tagging tool to categorize content for later retrieval
  • Communication tools – Newsletter, blog, custom HTML-based pages
  • Incentives and rewards, gamification
  • Task automation with Zapier

Related case study: How media company RTL built a customer community of millennials to help shape TV programs, online formats, campaigns, and branded content.

Now it’s over to you….

Building a great customer community can reap many benefits for you, your company and your community members. Once you’ve established what your key objectives are for your community over the next 12 months, you’ll need to ensure that your chosen customer community platform provides the functionality that will enable you to execute on those key objectives, and is flexible enough to grow with you as your community grows.

So which of the 4 strategies outlined will you focus on next? We’d love to support you in making it happen.