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How CMOs Can Benefit from an Online Customer Community

By June 7, 2016Article

Data-driven decision making has dominated marketing for over 10 years. The emergence of MarTech and, more specifically, cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation platforms (MAP) have put the power of automating, personalizing outreach and understanding business metrics into the hands of marketing leaders.  

But along the way, personal interactions have been lost – an important part of the sales and marketing process. Numbers will always rank high for planning and reporting, but customer insights play a top role in day-to-day marketing operations. The growth of online customer communities and compelling participation rates have filled this void. The State of Community Management 2016 report found that instead of the traditional 90-9-1 (90 percent lurker, 9 percent contributor, 1 percent creator) participation model seen on social networks, communities follow something closer to a 65-15-20 model, with more than a third of the overall audience contributing on a regular basis and about one in five creating and collaborating on content. 

Our online customer community, HUG (Higher Logic Users Group), has over 4,100 active members. These are community managers and administrators that engage with over 25 million members in more than 200,000 communities worldwide. Every single day, I read discussions and updates on the community, whether it’s on my desktop before a meeting, on my phone while traveling or through the daily digests I receive every morning. 

As a fellow marketing expert, let me share with you how this community impacts my organization. 

1. Organic insights

A community helps you listen in on your customers’ conversations and interactions with each other. Data can tell you how your customers use specific functionality, but a community paints the picture of customers’ business needs and how they use your product. Even the best product marketing team can’t come up with every possible use case for your products and services. 

During a recent discussion in HUG, a customer asked how people were leveraging their communities to market conferences. Customers’ advice ranged from tips and links to their event sites to full marketing plans they shared for download. The Microsoft Dynamics User Group shared how their community generates 10 times more registrants for the annual conference than from any other source. Session topics, events and even entertainment ideas are sourced from the community members. Not only are they able to create an experience based on the needs of their members, but they also build buy-in early on for the event. 

Insights don’t always need to be at the strategic level. It can be about how an organization uses a feature in a unique way. A large franchise organization described how they use the community blog tool as a job board. They have found success in hiring the right person when they reach out to people already part of the business. 

Another discussion centered on ways to overcome the challenge of executive buy-in for funding and supporting a community. Again, customers shared a slew of experiences and ways they addressed this issue. Advice ranged from selling the community as a competitive advantage in the marketplace to creating a large amount of high-quality SEO content. Google loves rich and deep content around specific topics. The American Institute of Architects created an open member community that now has 90,000 indexed pages just from the community. These are discussions, documents, blogs, events – all generated by their members. 

Sometimes executives want to see the hard ROI numbers attributed to community engagement. Recently, a large healthcare organization shared a pilot program with the community. The program converts prospects who participate in the public open forum (which is part of the larger member community) into paying clients.  

2. Training 

A community is a great way for you and your entire marketing team to stay up-to-date on your products and services. Constant product updates and enhancements are important in competitive markets and, as the marketers, we need more than release notes and announcements from product management. It is hard enough to stay current on competitors and the market, let alone remain knowledgeable on newly introduced functionality. Product training is time-consuming, and it requires others in the organization to spend time and resources to educate the staff. 

Each morning, I take 5 to 10 minutes to read the daily digests for my subscribed communities. Through these daily digests, a financial services organization explained how to set the time of day for automated emails, as well as how to segment community members based on demographics and activity. I also learned from a professional services organization in the IT space how to track “lurkers” (people who visit the community but don’t contribute) to demonstrate how this group used and benefited from the community. Now I use this report to track lurker trends on HUG, which has given my company huge insight into a large group of our customers. 

Some of the advice I find is more straightforward; recently a community manager at a medical organization explained how to allow users to edit and use nicknames in their profiles.  

3. Customer discussions add to the development process 

Our developers are two or three levels removed from our end users, and this is for good reason. Developers should not make changes based on the whims of individual customers. The product team creates a list of requirements based on multiple input sources and then assesses needs and priorities to build the final roadmap. 

However, the product team will use the community as one of their sources and will link directly from the development specifications document to a customer discussion thread in our user group to provide additional explanation. What better way to capture the real-life application of our product enhancements than straight from the end users?  

A customer community brings many benefits to an organization – improved retention rates, decreased support costs, customer upsell, SEO juice, brand evangelists – but as a marketing leader, it is an invaluable tool to you and your team.  It helps you know your customers better, know your own product better and make sure you’re building the right product. 

Hunter Montgomery is CMO of Higher Logic. Hunter has more than 20 years of experience in the management and leadership of marketing and business operations. Currently, he is responsible for overall marketing strategy for Higher Logic’s intuitive software platform. Prior to Higher Logic, Hunter was the vice president of marketing at Vocus, Inc. Hunter has spent a majority of his career in the high-tech industry where he has successfully led marketing efforts through startup, survival, turnaround and growth modes. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.











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