User communities

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5 Essential Elements of a Great Customer Community

The inSided platform hosts successful customer communities on both sides of the Atlantic. The KPN telecom community, for example, deflects hundreds of thousands of support calls each year. On the Sonos community, 40 percent of customer questions are answered by other customers.

Looking to build a world-class branded community of your own? Here are five must-haves for a successful community.

5 Essential Elements of a Great Customer Community

Front-and-center search functionality

Most inSided communities get a large majority of their traffic from search sites like Google and Bing. Why is this? Think like a consumer: Most people who are having a product or service issue will visit a search engine to look up their problem.

Because communities feature recent content written by real people, community content tends to show up high on search engine results pages (SERPs). That means a lot of support searches will result in a community visit.

This is an important consideration with community design, as well. The best communities display a search bar prominently on their homepage, so visitors can surface exactly what they’re looking for without having to spend time hunting for it.

A ‘welcome’ category

Research that inSided did with VU University in Amsterdam showed that one of the key drivers for engaging community members is to make sure that they get to know each other.

You can assist by creating a thread in which new members can introduce themselves. Having a unique new-member thread helps super users and moderators keep track of who has joined, while also generating a lot more activity—in terms of views and comments—than having multiple “welcome” or “what’s happening” topics.

New members who introduce themselves will feel more engaged, as well, since they will be welcomed by the moderators and other active members.

It goes without saying that the welcome thread should be prominently displayed on your community’s homepage, as well.

Design in line with company goals

What do you hope to accomplish with your community? Do you expect to use it as a marketing channel? Are you building a community as part of a digital-first support program?

Setting an overarching goal is the foundation of community success—and this goal should guide the design of your community, too.

For example, a support-focused community might prominently show different product categories, or a widget that highlights newly posted solutions. A marketing community could feature compelling images, like supermarket chain Albert Heijn’s.

Ultimately, all of the elements in the community should contribute to both the user experience and the goals of your business.

Lots of recent activity

In a vibrant community, users expect that their contributions will get responses and turn into a lively discussion. In addition, activity shows new visitors that the community is worth returning to. When there is a steady stream of new content being created, visitors always have engaging material to read—and the community will become more visible, because fresh content and activity boosts the community’s search engine ranking.

Multiple approaches can increase activity within a community. Gamification, in which users are awarded badges, ranks, and likes for activities like posting content or answering questions, is an effective method of building engagement. Moderators can do their part by periodically sharing product updates or even posting off-topic discussions.

Small tweaks, like editing topic titles to be relevant to user queries, can help streamline the user experience, as well.

A super user program

Mature communities typically have between 20 and 30 “super users”—dedicated community members who answer a disproportionate number of questions and post a lot of content.

Use analytics to identify the most engaged members of your community, and consider inviting them to become super users. Some companies create hidden super-user forums, while others will invite their super users to corporate headquarters for special training sessions. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure that your most valuable customers feel rewarded for their efforts.

However you approach it, creating a super user program can pay major dividends: In some communities, 25 percent or more of the total content is posted by a couple dozen super users.

If you need more information on community management, or help selecting the right platform, make sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Community Management.