Engaged Communities Drive Business Growth - Six Success Factors

Consumers who are passionate about a product, service or brand are online and looking for information to support their needs and interests. With so many places available for consumers to come together and interact, communities play an essential role in collecting that information. According to Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction (or as we like to call her the Queen of Community), communities should not be overlooked by marketer's today. A list of top 7 online marketing trends that will dominate 2014 led with content marketing as priority-one. Communities will guide companies as to what content matters to the market, adding the level of contextual intelligence that marketers need to successfully drive sales.

Get Satisfaction can be thought of as a customer engagement platform; it's an application that allows companies of all sizes and sectors to embrace customers wherever they are online by bringing conversations together so customers can talk to each another. Those conversations are brought back into the organization to aid the product, marketing and service and support teams in building products faster, developing new ways to communicate with customers and providing better customer service.

Do not confuse community with social CRM or a customer forum. According to Esteban Kolsky, leveraging communities as a live knowledge base to capture information is the way of the future - meaning, communities will replace the knowledgebase . The proper implementation and use of communities can significantly improve the sales and lead nurturing process and allow organizations to market to consumers in a much more meaningful way.

Here are 6 things organizations should consider as they think about implementing communities:

Build an organization that differentiates itself through the eyes of the customer - Lea thinks it's time for all of us in the CRM industry to embrace what customer experience really means in this new world. With customers having so much influence and places where they can express their thoughts and feelings about a product or service to each other, we have a responsibility to build organizations from the outside-in and to make sure that the culture allows this transparency to happen so that customer interactions flow naturally. She sees community as the layer that is central to that customer experience and feeds all the internal marketing automation systems.

Organizations need to ask, "Is the culture of the company one that has the fabric of collaboration?" With the essence of collaboration being sharing, customer engagement can be a big challenge if the culture is not one that is open, collaborative and transparent.

Hire a Community Manager - Lea's advice to companies investing in community platforms is to employ a Community Manager who will act as the organizational centerpiece for this new outside-in consumer motion. Without that strategic person you won't be able to make sense of all the conversations happening and won't be able to scale it. The role of the Community Manager is two-fold. In the front-end role they are responsible for directing the customer journey from the social web to the company website. To do this they must take a step back and understand all the different dimensions of the social web and all the places where consumers come together and take those interactions and convert them into the website experience. In the back-end role they need to take this unstructured data and make sure it gets distributed appropriately to all the other systems. Lea says, "It is essential to have everything integrated otherwise you will have no idea what is going on and will not be able to build a culture that stays open."

Lea firmly believes that you need to "eat your own dog food" and she gives big kudos to her community manager, Caty Kobe for working hard to make sure they use their own product for internal communication. Get Satisfaction is living proof that this process works and that these community conversations can turn into new customer commitments. Their community platform is a completely open asset that allows for conversation to be pulled into the community and then there is a path from that post that goes into Marketo to be nurtured properly, scored and put straight through Salesforce and to their sales team.

Customer Service Is the New Marketing - This was the mantra for the company as expressed by the Get Satisfaction founders when they launched the company in 2008. The idea behind it was that in this outside-in world, when consumers had a positive experience they would be highly likely to express that to others. In this regard a customer service experience could be the kind of experience that a marketer could run with and amplify. Today, this amplification has become easier because of the tools we have. Lea says that the customer service and marketing continuum is a beautiful thing and asks, "When a company choses to delight a customer, don't we want them to express that excitement to others and invite others to join them?" It's a cycle. As a former CCO, I couldn't agree more; I feel that the strongest asset for marketing is a great services organization.

As we look at the link between community and marketing, we know that sales success comes from having a broad relationship with customers. CRM is about operational data and that is not the stuff of relationships. Transparency and sharing of common interests is the stuff of relationships. Therefore, community intersects or is the continuum with customer service. It is no wonder that I am seeing a market trend where CRM vendors are placing a lot of investment centered around community. Remember that you heard it here first, but I think the "C" in CRM will eventually become "Community".

Community is not "Social" CRM - When CRM tools where designed, launched, purchased and installed there was no social web. CRM technologies were not designed to be relationship oriented; CRM is a management tool - always has been, still is. But this is a new day and this day has changed the nature of a customer's expectation, which centers on an experience that is multi-touch. Recognizing that companies have invested millions of dollars in CRM systems that hold business-critical operational data, Lea points to the role that community can play to help optimize these traditional assets into more customer experience oriented assets. Community, that is by design open and completely supports transparency, can bring a whole new life to these portal-based tools to allow doors to open, so that all of these customer experiences are more natural and the conversations are free flowing and integrated back into these systems of record to help achieve business results inside and outside.

Lea believes that social CRM is oxymoronic - it's smashing two systems together. Lea views the community as that natural and open layer that can pull these two systems together through the implementation of a customer experience strategy that would allow these systems to open up to each other.

Expand beyond customer service to include marketing - While many traditional use cases for community involve service and support to reduce cost, there are also lots of customers using community in a unique way. Take Kiddiecare, a division of Morrisons, who uses an entry point into Get Satisfaction right on their product pages. If a mom is looking at a car seat and has questions she can go right into a community and ask another mom. According to Lea, "Using community at the top of the funnel proved that we could reduce abandonment rate and increase conversion."

"Our opportunity is to help marketers to understand the value of community in the marketing mix," says Lea. "Of all the assets they are working with, a CMO has to recognize the role that community plays at the top of the funnel and recognize that we can take social interactions and extend their shelf life." Many marketers equate community with customer service forums, but communities are not a forum, they are a living, breathing asset that connects customers to each other and then brings them to the website of a brand.

Community creates the content to fuel social - In recognizing that marketers are obsessed with content, Lea says that content is the gasoline and social is the fire. You need to have some content to start the fire with and then you need that interaction to put into your marketing automation systems. If that is the case, then what better content is there than that which is from your customers? We heard from Hubspot's CEO Brian Halligan that consumers don't want to listen to companies anymore. Peer influence is more important to customers and communities are able to scale the voice of your brand in a way that you can't. And while content is important, it needs to be content at the right time and on the right platform so the contextual element comes into play. One of the powerful elements of communities is that if you are off base they will let you know it.

Lea reminds us that for most customers, the number one digital entry point is Google. So her question is, "What are you doing as a CMO to ensure the right content is discoverable when a consumer types in something around your genre or product or service?" Having a community platform naturally drives discover-ability to relevant content. She advises CMOs to make sure that at each stage in a customer's journey the doors are open to the community.

Lea who currently serves as an angel investor, strategic advisor, and board member for a number of startups imparts this closing advice to entrepreneurs: the thing that matters most are customers. At the end of the day the reason you created a product or service is because you believe you have created a solution that will solve a unique problem for a certain set of consumers. "Your customers are financing the journey, and if they're not happy, you are not taking the journey. The centerpiece of your world should always be your customers," said Lea.

You can watch the full interview with Wendy Lea here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman of Asuret every Friday at 3PM as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.