How-to Guide

What is an Online Community?

What is an Online Community?
One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction and retention is to develop and nurture an online customer community.

What is an online community? Also known as a social community, virtual community, or internet community, an online community is a group of people held together by a common interest or purpose who interact with each other online.1 It is both a technology platform and hub for peer-to-peer collaboration. It’s important to note that an online community is not the same as a social network. While the glue that holds community members together is a common interest such as a hobby, profession, or cause, a social network is held together by pre-established personal relationships.

Successful social networks must have some form of community for their members to interact and build their relationships. Without communities, social networks are merely glorified phonebooks and contact lists.

What are common elements of an online community? Online communities begin with forums or discussion boards. Other software features may include blogs, chat, Q&A, a search tool, knowledge articles, gamification and a reputation system.

What is an effective online community? One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction, increase retention, and sustain long-term engagement is to develop and nurture an online customer community. Keep these five building blocks in mind to ensure your online community has a strong foundation.


1. Shared Purpose

Community success in large part is predicated on the existence of a shared purpose. Shared purpose answers the question of why someone should invest time in a community. It’s the bridge between the brand promise and the brand purpose; ultimately, it’s what the brand and the customer aspire to create together. For telecommunications leader TELUS, it’s connecting customers more deeply with each other and with the brand through an exchange of ideas in support their “Customers First” initiative. For Sephora’s Beauty Insider Community, it’s is a place to get advice, recommendations and inspiration, and chat about beauty. To define your community’s shared purpose, ask yourself these five questions.


2. Utility

Great communities are useful. They are places where interaction is easy, where members become immediately engaged because they can quickly find what they need and collaborate to solve problems. Ensuring customers are always one click away from the information they need is a great place to start when mapping out a useful community.


3. Collaboration

Avoid building a ghost town. Work closely with customers and brand advocates to create compelling user-generated content (like how-to guides, tips, and tricks) before launching your community, not after.


4. Engagement

Customers expect more than just information and service online. They expect engaging experiences, motivations to interact, and opportunities to contribute and be rewarded for their efforts. An online community gamification system goes a long way towards engaging community members and making them feel valued.


5. Empowerment

Vibrant, healthy communities encourage and honor their most active users. This influential group will quickly become your brand advocates, those who actively assist other customers and develop valuable suggestions on how to improve your community and products.


Now that we’ve answered the question “What is an online community?”, how do you know it’s time for one? Here are five signs your company needs one now.

Already have an online community? Keep it successful by avoiding the Top 10 Practices that Could Cause Your Customer Community to Fail.


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