Updated · May 31, 2001
Provided they are correctly handled, online communities can draw customers, enhance a site’s profits and drive e-commerce.
Community services really do serve as an important retention device, increasing length of stay and frequency of visits, claims Steve Glenn, CEO of PeopleLink. Ultimately companies can use the information they glean from online communities to form better marketing and sales plans and engage in more effective product planning.
Acting like safe-havens on the Net, online communities encourage people to divulge their opinions through real-time chat facilities, e-mail, and discussion boards. Companies that supply such interactive services ultimately stand to benefit through increased brand-awareness, more site visits, and low-cost customer support.
Companies like Adobe, General Electric and Oracle are using community services to let customers answer each other’s questions and leverage best practices, notes Glen. In addition, he adds, companies gain use online forums to gain new insights into customer concerns and behaviour – information that can be effectively leveraged to provide a significant competitive edge.
Merely putting up chat rooms and message boards, however, isnt enough, warns Jeff Schultz, executive vice president of community software vendor OpinionWare. According to Schultz companies need to actively promote dialogue and create summaries of the ensuing dialogues so that these arent wasted.
Don’t think of this as a one-point-in-time ability to get some feedback, he cautions. Learn how to track demographics for every single message that comes in – not just age, sex and occupation, but any demographics statistically important to you and your business.
Schultz also warns that company representatives need to keep themselves in the background once a debate is launched. People are less likely to give you feedback than they are to talk to their peers, he advises.
Since 1996 when online communities were first launched there have been failures. The resounding success of initiatives by Dell, Amazon, and eBay has proven, however, that online communities can be successfully controlled to drive e-commerce.
Armed with these examples and equipped with the right strategies, companies are sure to benefit from their own brand of interactive Web services.