If you thought forums got stuck in the 00s think again. Fostering your onsite community still holds a great value for your brand.
Why are onsite communities still relevant?
Onsite communities are about belonging. They are extensions of your brand. Whether it take the shape of an internal network or forum, it is important that your members, users, clients, fans, etc., all have a space where they can share their own voice and experience. Others who are viewing your site will want to see what “real people” have to say about you.
You may be thinking, “but, I’m already on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc… Do I really need another platform to connect to my target?”
Community users become your ambassadors; they validate your relevance. When your product becomes the starting point or even backdrop for a debate where people gain knowledge and connect, it strengthens your brand. People come together around your brand because they have found something they value, not because it just happens to appear on their newsfeed. Of course, it is important to use the right social channels to engage and attract new users, but when the conversation is in your territory it gives you insights that you control.Much like vertical companies, there are many different kinds of vertical communities. The strategies you follow to maintain these groups must be aligned with your company’s goals.
What kind of community are you looking to become?
You may be thinking, “but, I’m already on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc… Do I really need another platform to connect to my target?” The real questions you should be asking yourself are:
- What type of community do I want to build?
- What kind of connection do you want to have with your users?
- What level of information do you want to be able to access?
The biggest downfall of relying on external social communities to connect with your users is that you give up the control of data and insights to third parties. Additionally, there is greater competition to get noticed, which often comes at a high price. Regardless, these offsite communities must reflect a strong editorial strategy focused on engagement – the baseline for building a strong community. Your onsite community must be part of a larger brand strategy to be effective.
If managed correctly, it will increase engagement, strengthen “share of heart”, ensure brand credibility, and establish a lasting bond with those who have helped build the brand.There are several types of onsite communities. They can be characterized by interest base and / or the purpose the serve for the community. What is the objective for your platform?
- Information Based: Are you looking to provide information and a place where people can seek answers to questions related to your value? WordReference.com is a good example of a forum that combines Q&A with co-creation, where its users help generate new content.
- Open Discussion Based: Do you want people to just have some laughs? Does it matter where the conversation leads? Many of these types of forums began around a specific interest and have since evolved to an anything-goes space.
- Special Interest Based: Are you looking to generate conversation among like-minded folk? Nomad Forum has inspired many to leave their comfort zone by providing advice to other adventurers.
- Creation Based: Innovative brands such as smartthings go beyond crowdfunding, to foster co-creation among its users.
After establishing your framework, it is important to give your members space to develop the conversation and implementing the right tools (i.e., platform) will allow the discussion to flow
Are forums dead?
NO. While many may appear dated in style, their functionality and purpose is much deeper than most social networks. Once seen as niche sites, forums are still the place to go to ask questions and develop a deeper knowledge of specific topics. People continue to engage in conversation and debate within them. Furthermore, they are yours to manage. Many brands take advantage of the collective power available in their communities both to come up with new products and to manage their customer relations, as Twitter does.
On the other hand, as many users turn first to their brand’s online community to resolve their concerns, it is logical that they have become the epicenter of social customer support. The good news is that technology has advanced so that forums can become truly vibrant communities. At Territorio creativo we are big fans of Discourse, an open source platform which has many functionalities and is prepared for content management as well as must-have’s for any community: gamification, dynamization, messaging… apparently Taylor Swift thinks so too, and is preparing to launch her community with this innovative tool this Spring!
Strategies for energizing your community
How do you keep your community interested, motivated and talking about you? Here are a few ideas:
- Fuse your onsite/offsite presence: Make sure that the onsite community is present in your offsite networks and vice-versa, the experience must be seamless. While your priority is to entice them to bring their most valuable conversation to your onsite community, you must also be present in their “favorite” (most used) networks (the most popular ones being Facebook and Twitter).
- Foster Community Leaders: Naturally, each community will have its own organic leaders. They are your brand ambassadors, and play an important role in encouraging engagement from the rest of your community members. Also referred to as “Superusers” these users should be identified, engaged and rewarded (not necessarily with money) for their interactions. These are the people you will turn to in order to create a dynamic environment within your community.
- Experiment with Gamification: The inclusion of gaming elements has become a common element of most communities and sites that require registration. It instills a sense of belonging and enhances motivation for participating.
- Provide Exclusivity: What can users find in your onsite community that they can’t elsewhere? Do you make your top members feel special? Establishing a private community helps people feel safe to share their experiences and provides an additional incentive for them to participate in a way they might not in offsite communities.
- Allow Personalization: Let your users personalize their profiles, searches, newsfeeds and how they interact within the community. Nothing increases loyalty like a sense of ownership.
At Territorio creativo, we believe strongly in the power of onsite communities. They present an opportunity for organizations to convert their fans into their brand’s protagonists. A forum or internal network allows you to quickly identify influencers from within your target and empower them to accompany new members throughout the customer journey. It is another strong way to implement a #PeopleFirst vision at the center of your brand’s strategy.
What do you want your community look like?
Forums and other internal networks are as alive as ever. They are a unique opportunity to bond with your biggest resource – your users, and put them at the center of your brand strategy. Think of managing your onsite community as you would if hosting an ongoing house party, you want your guests to feel comfortable, to mingle and to stay engaged.