Why Online Communities are the Next Big Thing 

August 17, 2015 in Social Media

Which platform is right, what is the next twitter…..what is the next big thing that will help companies connect with their customers? It seems every business is asking themselves these questions when it comes to connecting with customers. However, the problem is the question they are asking. They should be focused on what the customer wants and not so much on the next platform they can use to sell to you. There are many ways in which companies try to communicate with customers or potential customers. I will go over a few in this post and then tell you why I think the next big communication platform is something you probably already have.



When someone mentions social media, twitter is often in the top 3 tools they think of. Don’t get me wrong, I love twitter, have met some really cool people, and have developed lasting relationships with many of them. It’s a great way to stay up to date on what’s going on at a specific time and have conversation around live events. The problem is twitter is huge (over 500M tweets per day). How can you possibly see what your customers are asking or expect them to see what you are sharing? Lists are great, but there is still a lot of noise.


This another platform that people immediately think of when they hear social media. Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family and can be a good way to follow companies. Many companies use Facebook to push content out to fans and may even use it to communicate with them. The problems, what companies want is to drive you somewhere else. They are measuring click-through to their sites and worse, just measuring likes. It’s not a great way to have a deep discussion with your customers or a way for potential customers to find why your product/solution is right for them.


LinkedIn is great for people looking for a career for your company or even throwing out a blog on current trends and how your business can help customers via Pulse. But is it really a good way to engage and have a conversation with customers? Lately it seems that my LinkedIn feed has been math questions or riddles 🙂 . Now you can create groups and have customers join those in hopes they talk to each other or even ask you questions, but I haven’t seen anyone really do a good job of this. For the most part I use LinkedIn when updating the resume or to read what a few CEO’s are writing about.


Hmm, ok let’s face it Google+ was a good idea however it wasn’t used correctly and offered nothing over Facebook or Twitter so no one is really there. People do use hangouts, but it’s limited to 10 participants and the rest just watch. It has its uses but still not a great way to communicate.


These appear to be the new fad. Everytime you turn around it seems someone is starting a new podcast. This is a great way to listen to a person’s or group of people’s thoughts on a particular subject. While this does have the added plus of being able to hear a person’s voice and be able to listen when/where you want it has its drawbacks as far as audience participation goes. Don’t get me wrong, I love podcasts and regularly listen to them while at the gym or while driving, but they are just a way to talk to people and not with them.


Ahh blogs, still a great way to get your thoughts down and have people read and start discussions in the comment section. A lot of people have given up on blogs for a number of reasons. Anything from “I don’t know if I should blog on my own or on my company’s site” to “It’s not generating the income I thought it would”. Which brings up an interesting point, it seems that while blogs are a good way of sharing your thoughts it seems that some of those thoughts get persuaded by your blog sponsors. Not always, but sometimes it seems as if a persons blogs point of view is always “in favor” of the sponsor and there is no way to know if it is the true feelings of the author. Still a great way to share your view points, but getting hard to tell what’s genuine and interact with readers.


Slack is a new player in this, but it is absolutely great for team interactions. It makes email for work seem pointless, but however when you try to bring it outside of work and interact with those people you may talk to on twitter it gets kind of hard simply because you must be invited to the group. As I understand it, once you are invited to join a channel you can then see any public sub-channels created. This makes it hard to find and interact with new people. If I am mistaken, please let me the know the best way to take advantage of slack :).

Online Communities


Now with all of that said, I still think a community is still the best way for companies to interact with its customers. This is the perfect place for companies and customers to interact with others that share the same interests or questions. Not to say they shouldn’t invest in the others, but community should be a focal point. These communities give customer a place to go to ask specific product/solution related questions and get answers not only from the company but from other customers. My support team can answer break/fix questions, my product managers can explain use cases and benefits of certain products, my engineering team can show you exactly how to use the product via demo’s/articles, my marketing team can try to identify potential customers through community webinars/chats, sales teams can utilize the community to gain insights into the pain points of the customers, HR could even identify potential employees through community engagement, my executive team could even identify potential strategic changes they need to make just by listening to the conversations in the community. Online communities are also perfect for collecting feedback from existing customers on how to improve. This gives me a direct channel to customer and potential customers to show them how to use my product/solution and why it will benefit their business.

These are just few reasons why I believe companies shouldn’t be asking what’s next, but rather how can they can improve the most valuable platform they have…their community. I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well.