Getting closer to customers with private online communities
Brands are realising the potential of public social networking communities, such as Twitter and Facebook, for closer interaction with customers but private communities can take this one step further, directly involving customers in the creative process.
The continued evolution of the social web has had a significant impact on the way that brands can interact with their customers. While the use of public communities like Twitter and Facebook is widely reported, private online communities can also empower customers to give direct input into the strategic planning, marketing and product development strategies of the companies that they care about.
In order to create the communal dialogue inherent to the success of community engagement, brands must give up their anonymity and, to a degree, their privacy. Instead of approaching customers in a top down, one-to-many fashion of traditional media, or in the one-to-one model of traditional customer service, brands are speaking to a crowd of peers. The brand is speaking as a group of individuals who are endeavoring to serve their customers. They are visible as humans and their dialogue is visible to the peer group. The playing field is thus levelled.
In turn, it can help increase customers’ brand empathy, which has a direct impact on brand loyalty. Customers feel more connection and ownership in the brand and are more likely to spread positive sentiment about the brand’s products and services.
- A sense of trust between customer and company is likely to be engendered through the promise-delivery cycles experienced process. Customers participating in the community experience consistent engagement with the brand and this sense will reverberate through word of mouth to the larger community of customers.
- Word of mouth becomes a more central part of a company’s marketing strategy as it learns to integrate loyal customers into the brand strategy. The company will have the impulse to take a positive conversation and 'write it large'. The familiarity created in the context of ongoing conversation can be a powerful model for offline customer connection and learning how to engender customer loyalty.
- The online community enables various divisions within the company to join the conversation directly with the customer, increasing the relevance of company departments to one another. Where departments are typically operating in silos, they begin to collaborate because of the customer voice that is in the room, encouraging this behaviour.