My favorite reads of 2015 have been around the technological advances depicted in Back to the Future II. I firmly believed that when I walked out of that movie theater in 1989 I would be riding a hoverboard today. Even though we are not ready for flying cars, there are some interesting trends to note.

Last fall Get Satisfaction released a market industry report on online community trends. The report has some compelling stats and facts about the current state of online communities from their primary research and other credible third-parties they cited. The study is worth a read.


Some highlights:

  • 54% of the brands surveyed will use community to prevent customer churn and to increase upsell opportunities
  • 50% will use community to engage prospects earlier in the sales cycle
  • 63% views community as a great way to glean ongoing customer insight

If you think about it, compared to social networks, online communities have had a slow evolution over the last decade. Brands signed up for Twitter and Facebook en masse because it was cheaper and easier and communities seemingly took a back seat. Today, Get Satisfaction reports that 60% of the brands they surveyed maintain an online community with 25% planning their first deployment this year. IDC predicts that communities will increase in adoption by 30% over last year. It seems rather than the hoverboard, 2015 is the year of the online community. Good and bad news right? I really wanted one.

When asked about barriers to adoption Get Satisfaction reported that the two biggest reasons cited were lack of resources/staffing (48%) and unsure how to get started (42%). The good news is that thanks to early adopters–specifically B2B Tech companies–those that get community, do it well and are rewarded with results. These brands can serve as successful models to the skeptics; the ROI numbers help build the business case.

The other great thing to see is the broader application of online communities in addition to support:

Get Satisfacton

Image Source: Get Satisfaction

What’s puzzling is the notion that “unsure how to get started” is so high. Here are some basic rules of thumb to think about before starting a community initiative. Planning upfront is key.

  • Make a commitment. If your customer isn’t at the heart of this, then don’t do it. And, you’ll have to have adequate staffing. Community is not a part-time job and you need more than just a moderator. Invest up front and then see great savings and increased revenue later. Also, do what you can to break down a few siloes. Communities are most successful when the organization is aligned internally with an integrated team. Externally too. The more employees that engage with your members, the better.
  • Set goals. What is your need? You can have multiple (like in the image above), but maybe start with one. This will drive your engagement plan. Engaging around support, feedback and generating VOC has some important nuances. How you want them to engage will drive your platform requirements and not the other way around. Community for the sake of community will not work.
  • Tap into your advocates. Pilot your community with a private group of loyal customers you already have. They will give you early feedback and will help pre-seed content before a bigger launch. They will become your heavy lifters and community leaders and are the secret ingredient to success.
  • Measure. Know what works, what doesn’t. You need to constantly be plugged in to the members’ needs and preferences. Then share your success – your team should have a stake in the results. Put together a measurement strategy that looks at growth and engagement against your goals.
  • Recruit smart. This should happen in waves. Again, start with your owned channels. They could be social followers, or in a customer database, timed with an event or consumers of your digital content. Later, when it is time to widen the net, have your members take an active role. Keep in mind that big box car numbers are nice, but it is okay to grow over time.
  • Establish governance. Maybe the least sexy but most important task, onboard your legal and senior management teams to set and/or bless all compliance and policy content and processes (and in some cases, customer outreach). Develop an escalation plan for multiple use case and crisis scenarios with an SLA. Having policies in advance to guide ongoing community management goes a long way in mitigating risk and ensuring success.

For more tips on community management and strategy, another resource to check out is the on demand training series that ComBlu produced in conjunction with WOMMA and the Community Roundtable. You can access them here.  WOMMA members get a discount and you have the opportunity to bundle the sessions.

And just for fun, Buzzfeed rounds up all of the technology predictions from Back to the Future that we don’t have– although we are getting closer with wearables!

Jennifer Voisard

Jennifer Voisard

Senior Consultant

Jenny is a digital content strategist, who leads customer-centric engagements that focus on understanding B2B buying behaviors and developing custom roadmaps.

Her expertise is creating buyer personas and mapping digital content journeys to assess the multi-channel user experience. She helps clients operationalize plans across workstreams and identifies processes to create efficiencies in marketing operations. Jenny also has extensive time under her belt developing and managing customer advocacy programs and community building.

She has helped a diverse group of organizations including Cisco, VMware, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, BMO Harris, Capital One and many others become more customer-centric.