Customers typically want two things when they seek out your company online:
- fast answers to their questions
- someone to listen to them
If you’ve delegated your customer engagement to a “free” social network, you’ve automatically made it more difficult to accomplish either of those goals.
Have you ever tried to search for something that was posted a while ago in a Facebook Group? You know, that amazing answer you wrote to that customer who wanted to know if you offer discounts to dog owners? Go ahead and try it…I’ll wait…
No bueno, right?
Now try digging up a Tweet or a Twitter DM in your corporate account from a month ago where you solved that nagging login question.
See what I mean?
What if you had a space that you controlled, where you and your customers could easily find answers? A forum gives you a central hub, connected to your website, where PDFs, images, tutorial videos, Q&A, ideas, and more can be found.
The bonus? If you’re using your own domain, all of that useful information is also helping your SEO.
Some customers who have incorporated your brand into their identity (how awesome is that) may want to reinforce that by helping other customers. Research shows that customers who participate in an online community stick around longer than those who don’t.
This article will show, using Convolio forums as an example, how you can engage with your customers like a boss (even if you’re an army of one). These same tips apply, regardless of your community platform; the bottom line is to provide value to your customers.
Make Your Customers Insiders by Sharing Useful Resources
Set aside one of your forums for resources. You can attach files, embed media, and include pull quotes in your forum topics, which makes it easy to share all sorts of information in one place. It’s all searchable (including the attached files)!
Your customers will appreciate being able to comment or ask questions inline too. For example, if you post the menu for your upcoming event, they can ask whether there are gluten-free options (that’s always the first question, isn’t it?).
Collaborate with Your Customers by Getting Feedback and Suggestions
The only bad feedback is no feedback at all. Whether you’re building a product or providing a service, you should always be listening when your customers tell you things. You can give them space to offer constructive criticism, ideas, and real use-case responses. Because it’s a forum, you can actually have a back-and-forth conversation about the idea, gathering more details to flesh it out, and getting input from multiple different customers in the same thread. Best practice is to go back and let them know once you’ve implemented their idea. Customers who have contributed their own ideas to your business, and seen them come to life, become your most loyal fans.
Communicate Proactively and Specifically
You should be sorting and segmenting your members so that you can send customized emails based on their interests, or introduce them to other customers who have similar interests. When they join the forums, give them a quick dropdown menu to tell you something about themselves. That information then gets you closer to knowing them as people, and then being able to give them what they actually want, rather than just guessing at personas.
Create a New Revenue Stream with Premium Memberships
Use paid memberships to monetize your forums. Offer enhanced features or content to paid members of your forum community. You get to decide the rate, the frequency, and what is included in the membership. When you are offering so much value through your forums that members are willing to pay, you’re doing it right.
See How it’s going, At a Glance
You don’t have to be a Google Analytics junkie to see how your forums are doing. Use built-in Advanced Reports to see your member leaderboard, top topics, and more. In Convolio, it’s all downloadable if you want to go all spreadsheet on it.
How does this serve your customers? Double down on the topics that are seeing the most traction. If forum content that offers how-to information is getting the most page views and comments, make more of it!
Clone Yourself with Automation Tools
The secret recipe is….Recipes! In Convolio, you can automatically screen out posts that include specific words, take a look at posts that include images before they go live, reply to someone who’s made their first post, and ban spammers who get in the way of real customer engagement. Use your community’s moderation tools to create a fun, interactive space for your customers.
Subscribe to administrative email notifications and get alerted when new members join, when someone mentions you, or when there’s new content that needs review. That means you can spend more time working on your real job, which is making cool things for your customers, not dealing with forum technology.
It’s time to stop blurting out marketing messages all over the web, and hoping your customers will bump into them. Time to provide real value for them, in a place where you can give customers the experience that fits your business promise, without algorithms dictating your reach.
Convolio is the new low-cost hosted forum from Social Strata, the pioneers of engagement software. Some other forum options include Discourse (open-source software) and Vanilla Forums (priced for the Enterprise).
How are you engaging with your customers?
Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is Co-Founder of Social Strata, makers of Convolio forums and the Hoop.la community platform, and Narrative, a new social content platform for consumers. You can find Rosemary on Twitter as @rhogroupee.