Social customer communities have quickly become a necessary component in any self-service stack. As more companies prioritize this essential functionality, it’s important to remember that customer experience and customer-experience software are not one and the same. When it comes to community building, community dynamics are as equally crucial as software functionality.
As you set out on your journey to build a world-class community for your customers, start with a keen focus on these four elements that are core to the formation of any successful digital community.
One: Define the Purpose
People gravitate toward other people who share similar interests and values. In a widely discussed 2016 study, researchers found that people in a relationship don’t change each other much, if at all. They did, however, find that similarities were quite evident at the moment partners first connected.
While every community should welcome new perspectives and ideas, the community’s core purpose should be established as a means to both attract new members and unite them in shared activity, value or purpose. This is the key to ongoing engagement in the community. When members care about the purpose, they visit regularly, participate, and contribute more freely—and share the word about this community more broadly.
Two: Lay a Foundation for Trust
Nobody wants to be a hall monitor, but we all appreciate some ground rules. You need to define the rules for engagement early and often, and you need to plan out the process by which you will enforce them. But trust doesn’t stop there.
Members of the community need to know that their privacy is protected, and it needs to be clear from the start. When an issue arises, your handling of that issue is being watched closely, for good reason.
Study after study has demonstrated that trust is a function of predictability and reliability in behavior and action. This holds true in personal relationships as well as corporate environments. In short, if you’re managing the community in a manner consistent with community expectations, you’re building trust.
Set the expectations, and follow through on them every time.
Three: Prioritize Co-creation
Communities are collaborations. No one participant can dominate the space entirely. When constructing a community, it’s essential that you find ways to engage your most enthusiastic customers, and give them some leeway to shape what it looks like.
One simple technique is to make a few faithful customers “community ambassadors” at launch. Ask them to engage and welcome new members, and return the favor by bolstering their community status.
You might consider a community advisory board or badges for top contributors. Another option is to regularly survey customers and key stakeholders about the dynamics in the community. Simply asking for someone’s opinion goes a long way in a community.
Four: Make Members Feel Wanted
We saved the most obvious one for last, but it’s perhaps the one that’s most often overlooked.
You need to explicitly invite customers to join your community. You need to invite them over and over again, across every channel you communicate with customers.
You need to introduce customers to the existence of the community as quickly in the lifecycle as possible. Even before they make their first purchase. At this stage, the customer identifies the community as a value-add to their purchase, something they can turn to if they need support—but also if they just want to learn more about the product they’re buying.
As the lifecycle continues, the customer needs to be reminded that there’s a welcome place for them to get support and engage with people like them. Without the proactive invitations, the community is perceived purely as a place to go when things go wrong. In this case, the omission of an invitation conditions the customer to have a negative association with the community.
On the other hand, if they’re repeatedly invited to join in the fun and to meet other interesting people, you can expect a strong positive association with the community.
In other words—don’t fall into the age-old trap of un-managed customer communities. Communities of all types absolutely support each other when things go wrong, but they also create space for entertainment, fun, surprise, and delight.
If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to download and read this complimentary report, Driving Company Strategy Through Support Communities, for additional insights and tips on building successful digital communities.