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Mistakes not to make in online community

Social Media

May 2010

20100501

Don't Make These Mistakes with Your Online Brand Community

May 17, 2010 by Debi Kleiman and Anat Keinan

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If you've got a brand, chances are you've got an online brand community or you're considering launching one. When these work well, they deliver tremendous insights about customers and can help you improve marketing and advertising strategies and develop more relevant new products and services.

Here are six mistakes to avoid if you want to make the most of your community.

  • Don't think you can just plug in and go. Managing communities requires more than technological skills and software; technology is just an enabler. If you don't have people who understand your business and have the skills to facilitate vibrant discussions without dominating the conversation you won't generate good insights.
  • Don't believe bigger is better. Companies often believe that the bigger the online community, the better the insights, and so they build communities with thousands of members. In fact, large communities are less effective than smaller ones at nurturing relationships among members, and between members and the brand. They are more transient, less "sticky," and less satisfying all around. When the goal is deep customer insights, smaller, private communities (up to 400 members) are best for developing trust. What you're after is participation, not reach.
  • Don't expect people to stick around for nothing. Community members need to benefit from their participation. To sustain their interest, design engaging activities (online or off) that allow them to talk about the brand in the context of their lives and build personal or professional relationships. Give them ways to talk with each other, and with you.
  • Don't "sell". You'd be amazed at how many companies get customer communities up and running only to sabotage them by trying to turn them into another sales channel. Customers want to feel like you mean it, and they know when they're being suckered. They'll clam up as soon as they get a slick sales vibe. Build trust and your community members will tell you more - and buy more from you.
  • Don't drop the ball. Show members that you are actively listening and you value them: contribute to the conversation, building on their comments, and tell them what you're doing with their input. The worst thing you can do is stop engaging when you think you've got your "answer." Develop a long-term relationship with your community. Deep insight takes time to emerge.
  • Don't hoard the data. Don't expect lasting benefit from the community unless you have a plan for how to mine its lessons and tailor them for the people who can use them. Create reports and communication plans that fit different stakeholders' needs within the company — everyone from market research, to product management, to C-suite executives. Some people should hear unfiltered customers voices; some need deep dives with detail; others need quick and dirty top-lines. The more that people throughout the company engage with community feedback, the more value they'll find and the higher your ROI will be.

Listening online shouldn't be a campaign or a project; it should be woven into the company culture. Do it right and you'll get better customer insight and do a better job of discovering and satisfying your customers' needs.

Debi Kleiman is vice president of product marketing at Communispace.

Anat Keinan is an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

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