Special Report: E-Commerce & Catalog Technology: Take a Page From Facebook
With a little luck and perseverance, these discussion boards will take on a life of their own. Your community visitors will come up with their own follow-up topics. Others may volunteer to moderate special interest groups they’re passionate about. Some will even volunteer to guard your forums from the occasional visitor who just shows up to cause mischief.
Some of the most mature online communities bring in professional moderators, experts in fields such as law, accounting and technology. These sponsors assume responsibility for moderating and managing their own forums.
These “expert” forums are a win-win. Sponsoring companies harvest the prestige of having industry-recognized authorities contributing to their Web sites. The experts get valuable exposure to an audience of potential customers.
Within these discussion threads, you’ll begin to glean valuable insights on how customers truly view your business — what’s working and what’s not.
In addition, you’ll have the chance to hire members who post messages on your discussion board, since these people are obviously passionate about your industry and demonstrate the critical personal skills you want in a worker. You’ll be able to learn a lot about potential employees by what they’ve posted on your discussion board and how they react to what’s posted.
“When a few hundred members are participating on a regular basis, the quantity and quality of the content is deeper and richer than from large public sites,” says Katrina Lerman, co-author of the Communispace whitepaper, The Fifth ‘P’ of Marketing: Participation. Thus, some companies prefer small, private, invitation-only communities. Communispace is a service provider that specializes in designing and helping companies run these meeting places. According to Lerman, “For companies that truly want to connect with their customers, smaller may in fact be better.”
Under the Communispace model, most private customer communities are branded, password-protected sites where an intimate group of members spend months, sometimes years, brainstorming ideas for a company, sharing conversations with other customers and essentially playing a pivotal role in shaping the company’s future.