One thing that’s becoming abundantly clear for B2B companies is that customers and prospects are interacting with each other in ways we couldn’t imagine just a short time ago.  Technologies are enabling these interactions, and marketers are scrambling to understand how to become part of the conversation (or at least know that the conversation is happening).

One communication channel that’s growing in popularity is the online customer community.  Companies are dusting off their old customer portals and making more investments in the functions that support online communities.  Although companies sponsor these communities, they are also proving to be fertile ground for customers to exchange ideas and possible concerns with each other as well as a forum for technical support.

We view customer communities as an important element of a broader customer advocacy program.  Companies looking to create or re-invent an online customer community should consider the following questions:

  • What is the current state of your online customer community?  To what level are customers engaged?  How is the community adding value to the customer relationship with your company?  Who is the community champion within your company?  What supporting technologies exist?
  • How are customer communities supporting advocacy?  What strategies are you using to share learning from communities within your broader organization?  With a renewed emphasis on the need for customer stories to share along the buyer’s journey, many companies are trying different options, such as communities, to help source advocacy assets.
  • What level of investment in online customer communities is possible?  How does your company view the future of online customer communities? What additional functionality are customers asking for?  What technologies are available to enhance your communities?  Often, investments in infrastructure are required to take online customer communities to a new level of functionality.
  • Connecting with your customers in ways that matter to them remains essential, not just for customer retention, but also for long-term advocacy along the customer lifecycle. Facilitating ways for customers to engage with one another is also a powerful way to add value to your relationship with your customer base.