Throughout the last year we’ve spoken to many healthcare and B2B professionals about engaging with customers through online customer communities. While we are typically met with enthusiasm for what is an innovative, contemporary approach to customer relationship-building, we also hear about many misconceptions about online communities – what they are, how they are used, and who should (or should not) participate. Here is our list of the top three myths about online communities:
Myth #1: Online communities are synonymous with social networking sites.
Reality: Actually, online communities are not another social networking channel. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are great for people to connect, share stories and photos, and make funny commentaries. LinkedIn, a professional networking site, is often used as a platform for community-building, but as Leader Networks CEO Vanessa DiMauro describes, communities on LinkedIn are often ineffective and “overrun with inappropriate and sales-driven content.”
While these social networking platforms are hugely popular spaces for connecting people of similar interests and sharing information, they do not allow organizations to own and manage the overall customer experience. In contrast, online communities are often referred to as “owner” communities, as they enable organizations to control the branding, manage and organize the content and discussions, and own and mine the resulting voluminous customer feedback data.
Unlike social networking sites, online communities are owned, controlled, and branded by you.
Myth #2: Online communities are just forums for people to complain.
Reality: Online communities are far more than complaint departments. Customers love to share their opinions; sometimes it’s useful feedback, and sometimes it's not. Perception is reality, though, so if a customer has an opinion – good or bad— you should want to know about it. In an online community, all of the activity is treated as customer feedback that can be used by your organization to make meaningful improvements that are most important to your customers and will yield the best return. Encouraging customer feedback is one way of making customers feel valued by your company and can lead to improved relationships and increased loyalty.
Experienced community managers attend to any complaints that arise in an online community, and often these responses to complaints, when handled with care and genuine courtesy, can result in positive attitude changes and build trust among your customers.
Myth #3: Competitors will have access to trade secrets and other proprietary information available in an online community.
Reality: We often hear this concern, but online communities can be implemented as “closed” or “private” communities that securely operate behind your organization's firewall. (This is another way in which they are vastly different from open social networking sites, as described above.) As the owner of a private community:
- You hand-select which customers, prospects, or other industry leaders can participate in your online community. You send a private invitation and require a secure password for entry into your community.
- You determine the most appropriate use cases for the community, based on your overall business strategy. Is the community’s main purpose for industry-specific or "community of interest" specific information sharing? Building a knowledge base for a disease specific audience? Customer and prospect insights and new product and/or services innovation? Market insights and research? Generating referrals?
- Based on the use cases identified by you and your team, you develop the initial content that encourages active participation from the members of your community. The content needs be engaging, insightful, and valuable to your customers, and needs to be well-aligned with the goals of your community.
Customers who actively participate in private online communities do so to learn, share, connect, and contribute, and typically not to complain or badmouth your organization. You build their trust by providing valuable, useful content.
Increasingly, organizations are recognizing the value of “social business.” Online customer communities are effective in meeting complex needs for faster, more cost-effective, and better solutions, but there are many misconceptions about how they can be leveraged. We’ve identified the three most common misconceptions. Stay tuned for more to come.