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Guest Post by Nick Hill What exactly is an online brand community and why do you need one? First, let's start with some definitions. To begin, what's an online community? Put simply, it's a site where a group of people who have a common purpose interact with each other online to share knowledge, build solutions, and get help. There are countless familiar examples: Reddit, Yelp, Facebook Groups, or even threads on a company's Twitter. While many of these forums host vibrant communities, they can also be fragmented experiences, rife with information accuracy issues, data privacy challenges, toxicity, and abuse. And many rely on volunteer moderation. For a company, investing in its own online community — or an online community that is owned and managed as a brand’s own digital property — solves these issues for their customers and grants them unparalleled access to customer experience data that can unlock phenomenal growth. Outstanding examples include the Spotify Community, lululemon’s Sweat Collective, and Sephora’s Beauty INSIDER Community. By creating a brand-owned community, you bring together people from all walks of life (customers, partners, experts), who share a set of common goals but don’t know each other. Here, they can safely interact and build relationships around a shared hobby, profession, cause, or brand — like yours. Now you have a place where customers are more than just likes or followers, they are contributing members to your community and part of your brand. Starting an online branded community can sound like a daunting task. It certainly requires participation from many areas of a business — from the development work and strategy to employing the community moderators who will monitor it. However, when you take a deeper look into some of the many benefits of a branded community, the goal becomes obvious. Benefits of online branded communities Valuable customer insight Communities can be an excellent source of data for your company. Let’s say you have a huge product update, but on the day it rolls out, it comes to light that a certain aspect of it is causing extreme confusion for customers. This was the case for one of our customers who released a mobile device software update to tens of millions of customers globally. In East Asia's morning hours, several early users found a major bug in the update and posted it in the brand’s community. With engineers engaging in the community, they could quickly pause the rollout of the update before the rest of the world woke up. This resulted in only a few thousand people encountering a negative experience, instead of millions. You can also set up your community to help you avoid this altogether. If you have an established community, chances are you have a few users who are already active brand advocates. Use those people as a test group before you officially roll out your update, new product, or service. They are some of the best resources to understanding where the snags might be and what is important within the community. Not only do these interactions provide valuable insights, but they make sure your customers know how much you value them and their opinions. When your customers feel appreciated and heard they are more likely to stay loyal to your brand. Better customer service Another major benefit to having an active brand-owned community is that it can better your overall customer experience, including the ability to foster customer self-service and peer-to-peer connections. The demand for self-service is increasing among all audiences. When people ask and answer questions in a community, those conversations are recorded for everyone to find in the future. Furthermore, peer-led conversations offer a more positive experience than being on hold with a customer service agent, and it also helps people feel more connected. It's not just the people who ask questions that improve the experience. Answering questions also fulfills people's intrinsic motivation to help fellow humans. By fostering peer-to-peer collaboration, a branded community allows your customers to feel like they're more than a digital transaction. These interactions strengthen the connection within your community and allow you to build more human relationships with customers, leading to a positive customer experience. Financial benefits Communities can actually save you money. The more questions that get resolved in your community, the less time your customer service agents have to spend answering the same questions. This is usually called “call deflection” or “prevention,” and there is a helpful model to help you calculate the value easily. The self-service customer care model offered by a brand-owned community allows you to strike the balance between being helpful and not spending valuable human resources answering repetitive questions. In other words, when the answers to simple problems and questions are housed in your online community, customer service agents can focus on more complex queries. Not to mention, your employees will likely thank you for reducing the stress that comes with these types of redundant interactions. As an added benefit, the knowledge shared in an online brand community supports other customer service platforms, providing a resource for customers reaching out via social or a brand's contact center. The reusable, living knowledge base of the community improves other customer care initiatives to expand on its direct financial benefits. For example, SAS, a leader in business analytics software and services, utilizes its branded community for global customer care as well as engagement. In a 12-month period, 74 percent of customers using the SAS Community were able to find the answers they needed, powering an estimated $7 million in cost savings to their tech support team. In addition, the average brand community sees about 70 percent to 85 percent of traffic coming from public search queries. This means these people are coming to your site organically and getting questions answered there instead of submitting support tickets, sending emails, or getting frustrated with long response times or lack of information and going to a competitor’s site. How to establish a successful branded community Now that we’ve covered the major benefits of having an online branded community, let’s talk about what makes one successful. Measurement and value — Establish a shared value statement between your community members and the brand. Focus on the metrics that effectively tell that story, like traffic, content, members, liveliness, interaction, and responsiveness. Promotion — Communities require awareness on the part of your potential customers. Ultimately, SEO will drive a significant amount of traffic to the community but embedding community on your .com and promotion via email and social sets you off on the right foot. Structure — Your community needs to be structured in a way that invites participation. This extends to an architectural structure, like making sure your community is mobile-friendly, as well as to topical structure. You want people to discuss the topics that matter. Motivation — All successful communities bring into alignment their members' reasons for participation with a rewards and recognition program that highlights and amplifies their contribution. In fact, if you encourage and showcase your ‘superusers’ (significantly active community members), they can become one of your greatest assets — from testing opportunities to resourceful community content that helps other members and customer service reps be more successful. Take Microsoft, as an example, which has one of the world’s largest superuser programs. Because of their engaged MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals), 65 percent of forum questions are resolved through peer responses. What’s more, Microsoft’s community has also resulted in over $1 million in support costs savings each month. Many of these MVPs also leverage the community to grow their own businesses and networks, which helps further Microsoft's impact around the world. Moderation — Communities do require care and feeding. Part of that is ensuring all members have a safe and respectful environment to talk to one another in. While there are plenty of other important community features to consider, I highly recommend considering these five areas when strategizing how to build your community properly. Creating your community It might seem like a heavy lift at first, but ultimately, an online branded community brings a lot of benefits to a business. From creating peer-to-peer collaboration and valuable relationships to cost savings, a community improves customer experience on all fronts. If you are excited to get started on creating your online community, the first thing you should do is find an appropriate partner to help build it out. Then, I suggest perusing some well-established company communities for inspiration, so you can host your own successful community to help create customers for life. Nick Hill is General Manager of Khoros Communities where he focuses on helping companies leverage their community to grow their business. Nick started his career in Communities when he joined Jive Software as a Software Engineer. He developed the first version of the Jive Platform with a few engineers and helped grow the company from a startup to a publicly-traded company. Nick’s passion for creating quality products comes from working in leadership across Engineering, Design, and Product Management.
Guest Post by Vincent Sevilla Few anticipated this global pandemic to affect our modern world at such scale. No fewer than 212 countries have been affected. Now, thousands of people are stuck at home, fearing the virus, with almost all schools closed, and countless businesses halting their operations. COVID-19 has affected businesses in many ways. As entire cities and countries impose strict rules on quarantine and social distancing, many companies had to close down temporarily, while some operate with limited capacity and staff. Shipping and deliveries are paused or delayed and goods are stranded in warehouses or ports, resulting in order cancellations and loss of customer confidence. Travel, hospitality, and food service industries are also impacted in an unprecedented way. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits as most small businesses are left with no choice but to lay off some of their employees or even shut down. Not all businesses have enough cash reserves to withstand this crisis, after all. As a business owner, it’s understandable that you are worried. However, you should also know that it’s not a hopeless situation. There are a number of things that you can do to not only keep your business afloat during this pandemic, but to make it thrive even. 1. Care about self-care You may not be able to control what’s going on around the world but there are things that you have control over, like your physical and mental health. By taking care of yourself and working on having a clearer mind, you’ll be able to come up with creative solutions for what your business is going through right now. 2. Consider paid ads (they're really cheap right now!) There is a substantial decrease in the cost per click as there aren’t many small businesses placing ads. Because ad networks earn by using an auction system and there isn’t much competition right now, ads are cheaper. As a result, return on investment of paid ads increases during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t had any paid ads yet, now is the time to give it some thought. 3. Let your metrics guide you Entrepreneurs are often sp busy taking care of what’s currently going on in their small businesses that they hardly find time to check their metrics. Even if checking your metrics is part of your daily routine, you might not have been able to take a really good look at the whole picture. But now that things have slowed down, you have the opportunity to make monthly comparisons to see what the trends are and how you can improve conversion rates, click-through rates, customer retention rates, and ultimately, your sales revenue. 4. Transform yourself into a project manager Before the pandemic changed the way you needed to run your business, you were probably used to addressing tasks at work as they come. While this may work for you, you might also want to reassess the way you do things and approach tasks in a more organized way. You can make a task list based on level of importance and come up with detailed plans that include time frames for each task that you aim to accomplish while working from home. Don’t forget to keep track of your progress so you’ll always know where you are. 5. Provide educational resources Depending on your industry, you might want to consider offering some educational training courses. You can approach this in two ways. You can sell your own courses at a discounted price to people who are looking for ways to improve specific skills or to prepare for a new job. With workers losing jobs everywhere, people are seeking new opportunities. You can help them with that. You might also want to provide your employees with relevant educational-based training so their work performance could be improved. This could help improve their chances at getting promoted in the future. 6. Provide special promos and offers You want to get more sales but at the same time you want to help your customers who are also affected by this pandemic. By offering your products at discounted prices, or perks like free shipping, free access to otherwise premium services, not only will you be making sure that your customers will continue to support your business but that you are also showing them that you care about them. 7. Master search engine optimization (SEO) Professionals who offer SEO services for small businesses can really help your brand become more visible online. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn what you need to know about SEO. It wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself on SEO strategies, know where most of your traffic comes from, what platforms perform well for you, and what you can do to make sure you are ahead in the game. 8. Up your social media game Given the situation right now, you can expect that more people are spending hours of their time on social media. Therefore, that’s where you should be, too! Reach as many potential customers as you can via the most popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but don’t miss out on what platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube can bring. Stay tuned to what your target market is paying attention to right now and what their needs are. Then aim to meet those needs. Don’t just focus on posting more frequently but also on posting what’s relevant to your audience. Stay true to your brand and take the opportunity to show everyone what your company is really about. While making purchases might not be at the top of their priority list right now, by being visible and by reaching out to your audience, you can be sure that you will be on their mind when they do decide to make a purchase. 9. Take your productivity to a new level You might not be used to working from home and having your team working remotely, too. It could be challenging to adapt to this new work environment but thankfully you are living in a time when there is an abundance of helpful tools that you can use to make sure you and your staff stay productive. Some of these tools include Slack, Trello, Timeclick, Evernote, and Google Drive, among others. Look at your current process and identify areas that can be improved by using these tools. Of course, you also need to condition yourself and have a positive mindset. Be disciplined. If you need to work certain hours, focus on just work during that period and don’t be distracted. Commit to your goals and don’t forget to reward yourself when you finish your tasks. 10. Try artisanal marketing Artisanal marketing means adding that personal touch to your marketing approach. You might wonder how you can do that with digital marketing, right? For one, stop using stock photos for your blogs. Find that voice that really represents your brand and use it consistently. Don’t rely on bots when it comes to communicating with your customers and make sure contact is made personal. By doing these things, your customers will see how invested you are in your brand and how much you value your customers, too. 11. Strengthen your content marketing plan Many businesses still take content marketing lightly — just writing and posting articles on topics that they deem interesting or what they believe their audience would like. But should that be the extent of your content marketing? Your answer should be “no.” You should have a solid content marketing campaign plan in place. Have specific goals for the next three to six months. Know your audience and what keywords they search for so you’ll know what information you need to provide them. Design your content wisely as design elements play a big role in a content’s readability and shareability. Lastly, implement a strict schedule for your content creation and stick to it. When you strengthen your content marketing, you’ll be able to establish yourself as an authority in your industry, reach more people, and get more leads. 12. Breathe new life into your landing pages Your landing pages play a big role in turning web traffic into leads and even loyal customers. So if you haven’t been paying attention to your website’s landing pages, it’s time to breathe new life into them. How do you do that? Check if your landing pages are still enticing and relevant. Chances are, the content and design need an update. Make sure that your landing page’s voice and mood is consistent with the ad that redirected them to that page, the entire website, and the brand itself. Don’t try to add too much to your landing page or try to incorporate multiple conversion points that will appear too pushy or confusing to your audience. You can get through this The world is experiencing not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. While it’s true that the need for social distancing can affect your business greatly, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Take this opportunity to clear your mind, take creative steps, and make use of all the resources available to you, and build up your online marketing strategy to ensure that you and your business will get through this pandemic even stronger than before. Vincent Sevilla is a professional web designer and inbound strategist for HostingFacts. His goal? To innovate ideas, create good art, and to travel to all the best places in the Philippines. You can follow him on Twitter.
Guest Post by Gabby Miele Problems in business can happen to the best of us. Even when you have thoughtfully executed your ideas, you’re still going to come across hurdles that will lead you to fail. And sometimes you may fail big. However, this doesn’t mean the end of your business. If anything, it’s a test for how well you can bounce back. It’s your choice whether to fight back or just sit there feeling defeated. If you have encountered a failure in your business recently, make sure to keep reading because we’ll share with you the best ways that you can bounce back. 1. Identify the problem When we are struck with failure, it can be hard to look at the reality of the situation. The last thing we want to do is to investigate what really happened. But, this is absolutely the most important step in bouncing back. Go back to the issue and list the factors that could have affected it. Then, rank them by which had the most impact. By knowing what caused the problem, you can then take the right steps to fix it so it doesn’t happen again. 2. Ask for support So you’ve identified the problem but you are lost on how to solve it. This is the right time to ask for support. Approach your mentor or someone in your industry that you respect. They can give you advice on what step to take next and also some perspective. You’ll find yourself feeling better knowing that setbacks happen to everyone and the best ones grow even stronger from it. 3. Communicate with your customers If customers are affected by your recent complications, make sure to let them know. No one likes to hear bad news from the wrong party. It’s always better to hear from you. This builds your reputation and keeps your customers’ trust. 4. Get some feedback This time you want to hear from your employees. They might just have a unique perspective on the situation and give you insights that you never would have thought of yourself. These are the people working in your everyday operations so it’s essential that you get their thoughts. 5. Take care of your financials Your finances often get the most impact during a company setback. Keep its health in check by ensuring you are not losing even more money than you should be. This may mean cutting back on unnecessary business expenses and fast tracking your other sources of revenue. You may also want to keep direct deposits easier with money transfers. Do this both for your employees and suppliers. This ensures that the money in your business keeps flowing while you are recovering from the setback. 6. Shift your focus When you’re faced with a setback, it’s easy to get stuck because you’re afraid that you’ll make an even bigger mistake. You cannot dwell on your failure long. As we said, how you react to this problem will determine how successful your business will be. If you respond with self-defeat, you will sink even further. More than anything, attitude is important for bouncing back from a business complication. After you have taken the first essential steps above, it is now time to shift your focus to the solution. This means making a plan for how you’re going to solve a problem. Share with the team what their responsibilities are for this plan and create timelines for when the action steps will be executed. The goal is not to succeed necessarily but to simply move away from the setback so things are running normally again. Business complications can either make or break you. Which one are you going to be? Gabby Miele is an Outreach Analyst and Content Manager in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Guest Post by Megan Mosley Customers are the life of any business. Therefore, achieving a healthy customer base is key. Along with retaining current customers, many businesses find that generating new business is one of their biggest concerns.Before we talk about tips for increasing your customer base, let’s quickly expand on what we’re talking about. We’re simply talking about lead generation.In its simplest form, lead generation quite literally means the process for obtaining new leads (or a person/business you want to convert to a customer). Inbound and outbound marketing are typically used to create interest in the business or product. Recently, it seems that lead generation depends more on inbound marketing practices that help convert leads into customers in their own time than outbound methods which can seem more gimmicky. So, how can you expand your customer base to ensure a steady stream of customers? 1. Keep your business profiles and website current This sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many businesses fail to update their business profiles online. It may not seem like a big deal, but this can hinder your business, significantly. When people look up your business or use keywords to locate a product like the one you offer, they expect to find current information. If your business hours, location, phone number, etc. have changed, this should be updated immediately. If potential leads can’t contact you or have to do more than just a quick search, they will move on without hesitation. Up to date and accurate profile information makes it easy for leads to do business with you. 2. Be available Along with accurate information, people expect you to be available. This doesn’t mean you have to be present 24 hours a day, but rather give people options for reaching out to you. Fortunately, chatbots, social media, email, phone all make it possible for people to contact you even when you’re off duty. Making yourself accessible leaves communication channels open so people can contact you on their time and via their preferred method. 3. Provide exceptional customer service This is the root of all good. You may be thinking, customer service is great for keeping existing customers satisfied, but how can that get leads through the door? Your customer service is what will land you reviews, referrals, and good word of mouth, all of which help gain the attention of prospects. It’s up to you to find the right team to deliver. You have to be nice, attentive, and provide a good overall experience. Even in niche markets, you will have competitors; it’s not just your product that is going to get people to choose you. According to Gartner, 64 percent of people find customer experience more important than price. Numerous customer service statistics prove its importance. So if you want to expand your customer base, you may want to set a good customer service strategy in place. 4. Use email marketing Sharing insightful information can increase your customer base. You can share your knowledge with others via email marketing. In fact, there are a ton of ways to use email to get leads. You may offer a newsletter of all your latest content, or even an ecourse.By getting people to sign up for your email campaigns, even if they have never purchased your product, you have the ability to convert them down the line. Why? Because you’re establishing yourself within your niche, and building your relationship with them. 5. Ask for customer feedback and reviews One of the important things you should do is get customer feedback. This is often neglected or overlooked, but it is really one of the best ways to get more customers. A review can be the deciding factor in whether a customer chooses you or not. People rely on review sites, and if your business has reviews and your competitor doesn’t, you’ll likely find that more people will trust you and therefore choose you. A Zendesk survey found the influence of positive reviews to be quite significant for business. Of the respondents, 90 percent mentioned that positive reviews had an influence in their buying decision. interestingly, 86 percent of the respondents said the same for negative reviews.If you’re not getting reviews, take some time to reflect on why. 6. Market your content No matter what kind of business you have, content can draw people in. Whether you’re a lawn service giving tips and tricks for caring for a lawn, or an eCommerce clothing store providing style ideas. People may find you by first getting a hold of your content. Blogs, whitepapers, webinars, infographics, etc make you shareable too. Why? You’re able to share real advice which can be great for stepping up your social media profiles. Plus, a customer might be more willing to share content of yours when referring you to others. Content marketing can help you increase your brand awareness. You will have the potential to bring in new leads and ultimately increase your customer base. 7. Automate your marketing Most businesses are turning to automation to eliminate tedious tasks and to streamline their processes. Plus, they have seen an increase in lead quantity quality, so it’s a win all around. In fact, as mentioned by Hubspot, those who use marketing automation tools have experienced a 451 percent increase in nurturing qualified leads. With that increase, it’s pretty clear to see why automation has been an essential tool in building a customer base. Besides making life easier on the business, it also improves efficiency, whether that means outreach, data management, or even product delivery. 8. Consider using referral marketing A referral is a huge compliment, and a great way for you to increase your customer base. Many businesses use referral marketing because it helps them produce quality leads, meaning ones that are likely to convert. But why is that? Well, it’s simple. Referral programs work because they rely on a level of trust. Information, businesses, and products shared by a friend are trusted more than any ad you can put out yourself, which is why you need a referral program. Nielsen has found that around 92 percent of people from various markets are more inclined to believe people from their own social circles. This is because people do not want to mislead friends, as that can affect their reputation. Referral marketing taps into the world of word of mouth marketing. As a business you are using your customers to reach new circles of people that you may not have been able to reach otherwise. The bottom line As you can see, there are a variety of ways you can increase your customer base. You may want to test out a few, or maybe even all of them. We will say that having updated business profiles, making yourself available, and providing good customer service are a few that you should implement no matter where you are in your business journey. Those are just good practices to have that will naturally result in increased customers.Megan Mosley is a Marketing Specialist at Referral Rock, a referral marketing software, who believes every business has the potential to increase its word of mouth. When she’s not working, she enjoys sipping on coffee and hanging out with her dog, Mollie.