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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best Practices for Marketing in an Online Community

Support, feedback, and ratings are key.

Article by Megan Yunker, vice president of marketing at Zimbra. She oversees all strategic marketing initiatives, including content marketing, demand generation, analyst relations, public relations, and corporate marketing.

"If you build it, he will come." That famous quote might work for baseball stardom, but it probably isn't the best strategy for your online community. Like any business decision, you need a plan and a good framework for creating a healthy community to which people will keep coming back. It's all about the value your community creates and meeting the needs of your community members.
While there are some hard and fast "rules," most marketers know that the key to success is incorporating best practices and transforming them to fit within your objectives and specific community purpose. With that in mind, following are a few online community marketing ideas that you can apply to fit your content, brand, and audience.

Feedback is key

An online community can serve as a platform to gauge customer feedback. Companies can gather information on issues that customers are experiencing with their products or services, as well as ideas for research and development.
A great real-world example is Nextplora. Nextplora is a full-service market research firm that is paving the way for others in social market research. It engages more than 50,000 consumers online to distill brand strategies, produce product ideas, and measure customer satisfaction for leading brands, such as Kraft, L'Oreal, and McDonald's.

Nextplora's approach to market research focuses on getting product ideas and customer feedback via new and innovative social means. It uses an innovation and ideation management solution to gather new ideas, and groups those ideas into "stages of an ordinary day" rather than marketing categories. Categories include work, dress, study, fun, food, and learning. Participants can earn small incentives when they comment and give feedback on different ideas, motivating them to post new product ideas in the community. This process even created a new customer acquisition tool and has resulted in more than 8,000 valid ideas within one year.

Provide support

Before, during, and after the sale, customers are searching for support. In this day and age, customers want support options 24/7, and they want to find the information they need without having to pick up a phone every time. Online communities can provide that support to both current and prospective customers. They house a lot of information, including informative blogs and videos that prospective customers can review. Experts and employees are also members of these communities and can help answer questions and provide information to current and prospective customers.
Texas Instruments' (TI) E2E (engineer-to-engineer) community for peer support and customer engagement is an excellent example of a community that has mastered the art of support (both presale and postsale). TI's skilled engineers have supported current and prospective customers in the community by answering more than 900,000 questions to date. This system enhances its support process by getting customers the information they need when they need it.

Collect ratings and reviews

Consumers research products and companies before purchase by checking out, among other things, ratings and reviews. Ratings and reviews have become a part of our everyday decision-making process, and we look to them to help inform our decisions in online communities too.
The Game Informer community is an example of a community that has mastered incorporating ratings and reviews. By providing a tab solely dedicated to ratings and reviews in its community, Game Informer makes it easy for community members to find the information they need quickly. The ratings in the community are very detailed and broken down into six scoring components, ranging from graphics to playability, to help members make informed decisions.
The ideas above are meant to get you thinking about how to use an online community to help increase awareness, build brand loyalty, and deepen customer engagement. So what about your community? How many of the social marketing ideas mentioned above are you utilizing?

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