Benefits of a 365 Online Community Relationship

Benefits of a 365 Online Community Relationship

Nearly every business or organization can benefit from organizing an online community that’s available 365 days a year. The most popular form of online communities have been text-based forums, but increasingly, high-speed Internet and cheap video hosting are allowing them to evolve into multimedia-based communities.

For a non-profit, business, sporting association, or religious group, creating a venue where supporters can grow and share their passion is critical. The benefits of an online community relationship between your customer base cannot be overstated. If your business or organization has yet to cultivate a solid online community, then this blog will set you down the right path!

Why Online Communities Are So Important

Effective business is all about relationships. Your customers need a solid, trusting relationship with your product or service. Your sales people also need a similar relationship with customers and dealers. Most importantly, everyone inside the company needs a good understanding of how the product and service is used, and how it could be improved.

Online communities provide a venue for people to discuss things with one another, share ideas, and exchange valuable information. This can be a huge factor in building up excitement and loyalty for any organization.

The best online communities exist around services and products that are extraordinary. For example, look at the Raspberry Pi. This tiny, programmable computer helps people learn coding skills and build cool gadgets all on their own. The passion that users of Raspberry Pi possess is massive, in large part due to an online community that encourages the sharing of ideas, tips, designs and troubleshooting methods. This thriving online community has created an environment and subculture around the Raspberry Pi, turning it into a truly special product with a ravenous customer base.

Use Social Media Platforms

benefits 365 Online Community RelationshipOne quick, easy way to begin a 365 online community is to use an existing social media platform like Facebook. These social media platforms are already used by hundreds of millions of people, meaning there’s a huge base already available to tap into for developing an online community. Social media also encourages dialogue and exchange, making these platforms ideal hosts for a community relationship.

However, these platforms do have some major drawbacks. Functionality is generally limited based on the platform (i.e. Twitter’s 140-character limit), and content often can’t be easily searched. It’s less about long-term community building and learning, and more about short snippets of content.

Many companies and organizations use social media as an outreach tool, responding to comments and discussions on their pages while maintaining a separate online community as their primary space. Before you jump into using social media, it’s a good idea to look into these options.

Using Dedicated Forum Software

Online discussion forums served as one of the Internet’s first main draws, expanding the commercial applications of the Internet by allowing people to communicate with one another from anywhere in the world. Forums still maintain a popular presence online, and today there are dozens of forum software packages out there for people to choose from.

One common and free example is Simple Machines Forum, or SMF. SMF is familiar, simple, extensible, and easy to set up, but its interface and features are dated due to the fact that it’s maintained by volunteers who work at a rather prolonged pace.

More modern examples include Flarum and NodeBB, which aren’t free, but possess more features and much faster development. These software packages usually include touchscreen optimization, integrated SEO management, the ability to link with common web tools and services, and sleek, modern designs.

Dedicated forum software can also be skinned to match the theme of your business or organization, providing a seamless experience from your homepage to your forums. The software is built with community building and long-term use in mind, and has some major advantages over social media: posts are more easily searchable, and content is organized in discrete threads.

Building and Maintaining a Passionate, Functional Community

benefits 365 Online Community RelationshipEvery community is built around respect, support, and sharing. Good online communities are no different. The key to building an engaged community is being a good virtual citizen and engaging with your customers and members. This means responding to questions and requests in a timely and courteous manner.

More specifically, it means talking with people on your forum as if they are individuals. Treat every commenter as special. This approach to customer service will be repaid 1000 times over in brand loyalty. Engaging in random acts of kindness will also go a long way in establishing a vibrant online relationship. Try to go above and beyond what would be expected in terms of customer service to show that you truly care about them.

Christel Quek, a content lead at Twitter, has a nine-part manifesto for building a community online, and it uses the word community as a handy mnemonic device:

  • C – Collaborate, don’t control.
  • O – Openness and transparency.
  • M – Mediation to solve conflict.
  • M – Magnetic and charismatic leadership inspires the community.
  • U – Utilitarian content is helpful to your people.
  • N – Nice goes a long way!
  • I – Integrity is important at every step.
  • T – Tact is crucial to building a community. Be respectful.
  • Y – Yield (or value) for the community is more important to long-term success than yield for the company.

As Francisco Rosales of SocialMouths has said, “community is not built, it is earned.” Applying the lessons that Quek laid out here will go a long way toward earning the trust of your community and building something meaningful.

How Video Helps Build Communities Online

Emotion is critical in marketing and communication. Through any written medium, miscommunication is much more common because it’s so hard to convey emotion. That’s why emoticons are so popular; they add nuance to our words.

Video has a huge added value in online communities precisely because it captures the human face, which is the heart of emotional communication. Because of this, video carries a much more personal touch than any other form of online communication.

When building an online community, consider how video can help get things started and continue building value. Video can be used to share product demos, release new information, share financial details, provide technical support, give feedback on customer experiences, and so much more.

Video adds so much personality to a system that can otherwise be impersonal and boring. If you’re going to build an online community and incorporate video, you shouldn’t pull any punches. Anyone setting up an online community should look into business video hosting services to be sure they can build a functional, healthy, and inviting online space.