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Engaging Online Communities


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Engaging Online Communities

  2. 2. Your customers are already talking about you online - whetheryou are aware of it or not. Somebody on Twitter could betalking about your product with a friend right now. How areyou connecting with this person and with their friends?On Facebook, somebody could be sharing a link to yoursite and on Foursquare, one of your best customers couldbe checking in. Each of these people have varying types ofrelationships in thousands of micro-communities that may beone, two, or tens of thousands of people. The people talkingabout you have considerable primary value. But the secondaryrelationships these people have can be just as valuable if notmore so than the person who discovers you.Those kinds of connections create a context for an enterprise to understand the relationships thatpeople have in extended communities. They have a like-mindedness in how they use the Web; onlineinteractions have become the ordinary way for them to communicate. Understanding the full scopeof a community’s interactions is the largest requirement for any enterprise developing a deepercommitment to a social enterprise.Consumers expect you to be present in social media channels and interact with them. Recent studieshave shown that consumers want to interact with businesses. Close to 40% of consumers on Facebookhave “liked” a brand there already and 25% of Twitter users are following a brand.1No matter the size of your company, your customers — whether current or potential — genuinelyappreciate it when you interact with them and treat them as human beings.2 But doing that effectivelymeans going beyond direct interactions. More opportunities to connect will come when you can usethe content you create to engage in conversations with people. That means planning how to both useand connect social technologies.1 ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities | 1
  3. 3. Of course, there are branding reasons for developing deeper online relationships. Recent research has shown that consumers are more likely to buy and recommend a brand’s products after engaging with the brand on services like Twitter and Facebook.3 But the monetary reasons for extending the social community are rooted in using smart, social technologies that extend deep into communities at a granular level. In this short report, we will focus on how you can find your customers online and identify the most important influencers among your customers, and how you can engage with them on the sites they are already on. We will show you how a Web-oriented network creates opportunities for building a community, and how you can build your own online community from the ground up on Twitter, Facebook and your own company blog. With that as a base, we will provide ways that you can program this network to create deeper extensions into online communities. By the Numbers: Why Engaging Your Community Matters • Community users remain customers 50% longer than non-community users. (AT&T, 2002) • 43% of support forums visits are in lieu of opening up a support case. (Cisco, 2004). • Community users spend 54% more than non-community users (EBay, 2006) • In customer support, live interaction costs 87% more per transaction on average than forums and other web self-service options. (ASP, 2002) • Cost per interaction in customers support averages $12 via the contact center versus $0.25 via self-service options. (Forrester, 2006) • Community users visit nine times more often than non-community users (McKinsey, 2000). • Customers report good experiences in forums more than twice as often as they do via calls or mail. (Jupiter, 2006) Source 3 | ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities
  4. 4. How to Find Your Customers OnlineIf your user community is already online and talking about you, how can you find them? Thanks to ahost of tools, searching these services is actually quite easy. Setting up these tools will also allow youto step up your efforts to foster and influence this community later.FINDING YOUR CUSTOMERS ON TWITTER AND TOOLS FOR MANAGINGYOUR COMMUNITYDue to the public nature of Twitter, it’s relatively easy to find users that talk about your product — andmaybe even products and brand names related to your competitors. Twitter itself offers a good, easy-to-use search feature online4, but there are better tools you can use that will save you time in the longrun. Consider using online social media dashboards like Hootsuite5, for example, or even lightweightdesktop Twitter clients like TweetDeck6 or Seesmic Desktop7. These tools allow you to set up persistentsearches and can alert you every time somebody refers to you and your products.Twitter also allows you to create lists of users. Once you identify usersyou want to engage with, you can create and track these lists easilyin the tools we mentioned above. There are also some tools that can Tipautomate this process and auto-create lists based on certain criteria, Use Boolean searches to combinesay users who mentioned one of your products and also live in a all your keywords into one termcertain city.8 (MyBrand OR MyProduct1 ORTools like HootSuite and CoTweet9 allow you to collaboratively use a MyProduct2). Also consider addingsingle Twitter account with other members of your team. Enterprise- common misspellings to this list.class social media dashboards and analytics products like Radian6and Sysomos’ MAP and Hearbeat offer even more features formanaging and analyzing large communities.To get the most out of these tools, it’s important to consider your goals. Think through whatconnections may be discovered and how you want to use the information you find. The quest is forinformation that you can analyze and visualize in a way that provides deeper insights. This is whereit becomes essential to understand the different tool sets for every step in the process. It may meancreating your own apps on platforms such services as Heroku, Apigee, Google App Engine or http://search.twitter.com5 (free)6 (free)7 (free)8 http://www.formulists.com9 ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities | 3
  5. 5. For example, Heroku is a Ruby-on-Rails platform that connects with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Through AWS, a company may use cloud-based technologies like Hadoop to do analysis that flows back to the end user. Heroku connects to Apigee, which builds consoles to explore the API from services such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. It’s a gateway to billions of rows of social data. That data becomes the insights that provide deeper, contextual relationships with customers that can be used in real-time. FACEBOOK Compared to Twitter, Facebook is a relatively closed system. While you can search public Facebook status updates, the personal nature of Facebook makes it harder — and not advisable — to find and then friend your customers. It’s a better idea to set up a Facebook page for your business10 and then promote this site on other properties so that users can find you. This will give you access to detailed statistics about your Facebook friends (age, gender, etc.). Also consider adding a “like” button to your regular website. This allows your customers to easily share their passion for your products with their friends, allowing you to reach an exponentially larger audience than just your own Facebook fans. But it’s the API that makes Facebook most interesting for enterprise teams investing in social infrastructures. and RightNow provide customer service integrations with Facebook fan pages. For example, RightNow offers the capability to integrate voice technology that can be used by Facebook fans to answer customer support questions. That’s one layer in the interaction between customers and the business that helps create that all-important personal feel that people want. It’s part of the experience of a socially dynamic business environment. It also represents only a fraction of what’s possible. A new breed of curation analytics systems allow for data to be prioritized so it can surface the most relevant information for people. DON’T IGNORE THE REST While Twitter and Facebook are the most important places to look for your customers today, it’s worth casting a wider net, too. Have you claimed your business on Google Maps, for example? Google now allows small businesses to post short status updates to their Place Pages, and the company is also giving its users more options to review your business there. Being active allows you to engage with a part of your community that may not be aware of your Twitter and Facebook presence.11 The automated features of the social tools the users interact with on a daily basis can reveal a lot of information about their physical presence. The Android and iOS operating systems, for example, provide people with an almost unknowing capability for their movements to be tracked. By using that data, the enterprise can make real-time discoveries and predictions based on behavior patterns in the aggregated data being analyzed. That’s a fair use of geodata. But it’s a tricky game. Privacy must be as important to the enterprise as safety is in a factory. 10 11 | ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities
  6. 6. For example, Twitter, Google and Facebook all give users the ability to show their location. Can thatdata be extracted and then combined with other data to pinpoint information about a user? Yes.For example, customers may mash that data with other sources, from their website for example. Butthat’s just a small portion of the data that can be analyzed. IBM estimates that the amount of datafrom mobile devices will be 7,000 times the size of Twitter’s data stream, which contains an estimated1,000 tweets per second. That kind of data could identify the device location of the individual. Is that aprivacy violation? Both Google and IBM believe that it’s not. They believe it’s more about finding newdata based on the relevance of existing data.Depending on your business, it’s also worth looking for and being active on existing forums that dealwith your business’ product. Whether you are a coffee roaster or auto-parts vendor, chances are thereis an online forum where those who are the most passionate about these products discuss them withtheir friends. Engaging on these forums while being genuine, helpful and not overly commercial canhelp you establish goodwill with the influencers in these established communities. A keyword searchon a specialized search engine like Omgili can help you find relevant forums.Other sites worth looking at (depending on your business) are the product-focused, where consumers can open product-related forums that business owners can then claim at alater time, and the more service-oriented Yelp, where your customers can review your business.There are some alternatives emerging to the static forums and sedentary FAQs that are predominanton customer support sites. A new generation of services is making customer support a more Web-oriented experience. Autodesk uses a service from Mindtouch to create sites that are powered bycommunities. Content authors produce documentation that’s powered by an engine that makes thedocumentation easy to rank and annotate with comments and feedback. The result is a marketing toolfor cultivating feedback and better search engine results. ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities | 5
  7. 7. Building Your Own Community from the Ground Up While you should obviously be present on the sites your customers already are on, like Twitter and Facebook, a company blog — if regularly updated with relevant content — is a good place to jumpstart a vibrant community on your own site. But for the modern enterprise, blogs are still not being used to their full extent. It’s Twitter and Facebook that serve as best examples for using social technologies in the enterprise. That may be due to the time required to update a blog. Plus, it’s hard to write. But there are ways to ease the process so that can you make a blog that’s a resource for communities with an interest in your products and services and that’s also a platform for what you have to say. BEST PRACTICES Listen first, then engage: Every online community has its own unwritten rules. Before you engage with this community, try to listen first and understand the ground rules. Recent research has shown that consumers want companies to behave more like friends and dislike brands that just talk at them instead of listening to them.12 Keep your content fresh and relevant: Connect your blog to Twitter and Facebook pages. Create an editorial calendar that takes into account these secondary communities that relate your blog. In the editorial calendar, define what your blog is about, who will read it and why. Set quarterly goals for the number of posts you plan to write. Of those posts, consider what media will be used. Interviews, data visualization and how-to posts are all types of blog items that provide value to your community. Connecting a blog to other services can create a flow of content that will continue to build trust with your customers. While this happens, you also need to interact with your customers directly and continue doing so regularly. Few things will stop your community from engaging with you and other users as quickly as a blog or Facebook page that has not been updated for weeks. Even if you don’t have company news to announce, write about topics relevant to your business to establish your expertise, and link to interesting articles that can spark a debate in your community. Your customers will first come to your site because they like your product. They will stay because they trust you and can learn something from you and the other members of the community. Blog posts serve as an anchor for other networks. A blog post can feed automatically to a Facebook page. On that Facebook page, the post may be used to ask people for comments on a new feature or product announcement. 12 | ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities
  8. 8. Be genuine and transparent: Blatant marketing is genuinely frowned upon in most onlinecommunities. To get the most out of engaging with your community, be as human as possible anddon’t just behave like a corporate entity. Admitting mistakes is fine (as long as you fix them) and beingaccessible and personable is expected. This means that no matter which platform you pick, you haveto walk a fine line as you don’t want to come off as obnoxiously friendly either. On the other hand, oneof the most common complaints we hear about company blogs and social media accounts is that theycan quickly become impersonal and boring.That’s why it is important to focus on topics that give you flexibility to explain more than proclaim.People need resources. They want to be helped by their peers but the company, too. These types ofposts also make it simpler to engage in dialogue with people in extended communities. Again, think ofthe ways the blog can serve as way to stretch conversations.Reward your community: Many people will want to be part of your community and interact with yousimply because you have a great product. However, to grow your community it is also worth exploringhow to reward its members. These rewards can come in the form of exclusive coupons, sweepstakesand other offers, but can also come in the form of intangibles. You could offer exclusive informationto your Facebook fans, for example, or you could offer your most active community members theopportunity to become moderators on your forums or contributors to your blog.Make space for your customers: Your customers are often your best advocates. Allow them the spaceto help each other and communicate with each other.Take your time and don’t turn on the autopilot: Building your community takes time.13 While thereare lots of tools out there that promise to help you put your tweets on “autopilot,” this can quicklycome off as anything but genuine engagement. Real engagement takes time and can’t be automated.13 ReadWriteWeb | Engaging Online Communities | 7