How to Create Customer Loyalty With Customer-Centric Communities
More people are actively participating in social communities, representing a terrific opportunity for e-marketers. However, many e-marketers find these social networking sites difficult to penetrate and monetize.
Yet there’s a great deal about social communities that can benefit marketers. One study, by Howard Rheingold Associates, noted four distinct assets:
1. create an early warning system, since social networking sites are often the first places problems with products or services appear;
2. connect people and build relationships;
3. create ongoing shared social space for geographically dispersed individuals; and
4. amplify innovation, since groups that are excited about something generally want to help it improve.
One model that provides all of these identified assets is the customer-centric community — a private, branded social network that uses a social networking portal to enable community members (such as customers, prospects or subscribers) to set up personal social networks akin to private discussion groups, but with clear branding and easy access back to the e-marketer’s Web site.
What happens inside these social communities?
- Members share content, photos and files;
- members give the e-marketer feedback on products and services via forums;
- members click on links at the community homepage that generate revenue for the e-marketer; and
- as they become more involved with and committed to the network, members invite their friends and families to join their discussion groups, providing viral growth and content development that enhances search engine optimization mileage as they link back to the e-marketer’s site.
Companies allow customers to create their own personal social networks or discussion groups related to the companies' products and/or services, and communicate directly with their customers for the purpose of research and feedback. This creates both the social aspects of community that consumers are looking for within a theme they can and want to relate to. Consider the following examples:
- A fashion company could enable customers to build personal networks relating to fashion shows, fashion dos and don’ts, what’s hot and what’s not, great deals on the latest clothes, and so on.
- A pet supply company might encourage networks that include members sharing pet photos and stories, grooming and health tips for pets, an “ask the veterinarian” forum, member contests, etc.
- A company providing content and supplies to diabetics could enable members to share diabetic recipes with one another and provide another “ask the doctor” forum option.
As people in these discussion groups share information and chat, they do so within the branded portal of the sponsoring company. In addition, they participate in forums posted by the sponsoring company and interact with the company through feedback and other links tied directly to the company’s Web site.
Customer-centric communities build brand awareness, improve search engine rankings, keep customers engaged for long periods of time and add a powerful acquisition program to any company’s overall marketing strategy.