Let the community work for you instead. The most undervalued and ignored part of most companies is the community. At this point in time every CMO “gets” that we need a community but aren’t really sure where it fits, what resources it should have, and what purpose it serves. It’s like companies are launching communities just because other companies launch communities. When you do this you are just setting it up for failure and wasting your staff’s time as well as the customers that may come in to offer help or post content.
For a community to be truly successful you MUST have executive sponsorship, without that no one in the organization is going to take your requests seriously. You must understand that will you not be able do this on your own, no matter how awesome of a community manager you hire. You are going to need help from tech support to answer support questions, help from product marketing to help give you the high level information, engineering to give the deep technical information/articles that customers using the solutions crave, and it goes on and on. Then comes the community manager, this is the person that is going to be responsible for developing your strategy and vision around the community and more importantly developing relationships with your members.
Building a community is not easy or fast, but once you have a vision, company buy-in, and content plan in place it is time to let the community start working for you. By being an engaged company you will start to see more and more customers and potential customers flocking to your community to consume content and help others with their problems. This is where you start to see the brand advocates come out and shine. These are the customers that are not only helping in your community but evangelizing your brand in other social channels. Now your community has become a trusted destination for your solutions and you can leverage that by using demand gen content and customers will download/fill out forms not because your marketing tactics are great, but because they honestly want to learn more about your solutions. At this point you will be able to start answering some of those business ROI question you are being asked every week. You can show how many times a customer has viewed your content, how many answers on your support forums have helped customers and deflected calls from your call center, show them that your community is directly influencing the bottom line.
With all that being said, I’d like to hear from you. Does your company invest in a community, are you part of a community, and which companies do you see doing a great job at developing relationships via community?