Online Communities: Three Reasons You Might Want To Start One For Your Small Business

As human beings we thrive on interacting with each other. So it should come as no surprise that brands which tend to have a life-cycle of their own, also thrive on being talked off, recommended and, at times, critiqued. Large corporations spends huge amounts of their marketing budgets on engaging clients and trying to get them to talk about their products across various media; online communities being the most notable trend. So what can small businesses incorporate from all this?

Here are three reasons you may want to consider starting an online community for your business.

  1. Having a website is fair enough, but consumers today are looking to make a much more informed purchase decision. The Local Consumer Review Survey 2012, conducted across local consumers in U.S, Canada and U.K, revealed that 70 percent of consumers read online reviews and 58 percent trusted a business with positive online reviews. Local businesses have an edge over larger businesses in that they already enjoy a certain personal relationship with their customers. Giving an opportunity to existing and potential customers to interact and share on an online community portal could literally land new customers at the door step for smaller businesses.
  2. Remember, buyers of your product or service will talk about your business whether you like it or not.  But with a community portal, potential customers could downplay negative feedback with positive affirmations and relevant suggestions from some of the other customers.
  3. Having a business community portal is also a great way to engage existing customers, making them know that their opinion matters and for evaluating new business opportunities basis customer inputs.

Starting an online community for local businesses

To get started, set up Google alerts to know what is being said about your business across forums. Google analytics is another great, free solution for identifying websites through which your website has been accessed. If you feel confident of being able to manage a page for your business on Facebook or a community forum on Google Plus, then go ahead. However as your business online community grows, you may need to play the role of a professional ‘community manager’. A community manager is a brand ambassador and a brand monitor. S/he is typically entrusted with the responsibility of conveying all relevant information about your business as well as monitoring what is being said – the likes and dislikes, the needs and wants of your customer in the online world. A more effective way of doing this would be to acquire the services of online community management service companies.

Online Community Management Services

There are several community platforms available today but choosing which one is right for you can be confusing and as always we have done some ground work for you.

Get Satisfaction currently hosts more than 70,000 active online communities. Having been used successfully by brands such as Microsoft, Kiddicare.com and Men’s Health, in January this year the company launched a special package for small business owners with a single community management seat for as little as $49 a month and a 30 days free trial offer. A cool way in which it encourages discussion is via the Get Satisfaction widget. Place the widget against your product or service listings and let potential buyers evaluate the prospect of making the purchase basis feedback from existing users, without even leaving the page.

With clients such as HP, AT&T and Lenovo as part of their portfolio, Lithium is a leading provider of online community management. Instead of replying to individual posts and comments, Lithium lets you integrate the online community with social sites (Facebook and Twitter) and send replies from the most active community members.  Lithium also has a unique gamification feature that recognizes the top contributors in the online community.

Some analysts pip Jive to be the leading provider in social business. CISCO, Hitachi, McAfee and Nike are just some of the big brands netted by the company. Perhaps an ideal solution for much bigger organizations, Jive allows businesses to build both internal (for employee collaboration) and external communities (customer engagement) with a bridge between the two.

While neither Jive nor Lithum have indicated their pricing on their websites, basis information available Get Satisfaction appears to offer a simpler and much cheaper online community management solution that may be better suited for small and medium sized businesses.

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Rhea Gaur

Based in India, Rhea Gaur is a former banking professional having worked over 14 years with global organizations such as Standard Chartered Bank and ABN AMRO Bank N.V. She has extensive experience across various facets of business such as service quality, market research, process development and corporate communications. She is currently working as a freelance writer with special interest in topics related to business and economics.

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