For marketers and brand-builders still stuck in the past, the unprecedented growth of online communities and user-generated content has proven disruptive to say the least. But the fact is, organizations must realize that they’re no longer in direct control of their reputations. Thanks to the ubiquity of social media and online reviews, everyone has a voice; and it’s more important than ever for public relations personnel to be actively involved in the discussion.
This starts with understanding how online communities work and the trends that continue to shape their development. Not to mention the benefits: many brands enjoy enormous success by encouraging their customers to become active members of their own communities.
This is particularly true in the B2B sector, which is built on trust. Here are four important trends that will shape the industry, and how B2B communities will adapt to changing customer habits over the coming years.
#1. Driving Competitive Advantage
B2B communities typically offer a combination of peer-to-peer support, a place where like-minded people can socialize and a platform for valuable product feedback and ideas. This means they offer rewarding experiences to both brands and customers alike. In fact, having an active and thriving community is now a major competitive advantage.
With that in mind, many businesses now integrate online community building with their wider marketing and customer support strategies. By recognizing the importance of value-adding content, their active community involvement develops stronger customer relations and constantly improves their products and services.
#2. Increasing Role in Product Development
In these days of social media and ubiquitous customer feedback, there’s no excuse for running blind into product planning and development. That’s why more brands are leveraging the power of online communities to gather valuable insights for their corporate operations.
A thriving community is a constantly growing database of actionable knowledge that your company can draw upon to deliver better service and a better product to its customers. Without a community, it’s nearly impossible to know the best, most timely way to serve customer interests and continuously improve user experiences. In fact, many B2B customers now expect to have a say in the direction of your organization – to the extent that they’re often more like business partners than customers.
#3. Gating Provides Greater Customer Intimacy
In the world of B2C, online communities are typically open to the public, which makes sense given that they tend to have larger audiences consisting of members with a wide range of priorities. The B2B sector tends to take things more seriously; therefore prioritizing trust, professionalism and privacy.
That’s why more B2B brands are developing private communities to promote deeper customer intimacy, while eliminating the pervasive problem of spam, trolling and generally inappropriate behavior.
A password-protected community with strict selection criteria also helps brands develop and communicate more relevant and personalized content. Given that B2B businesses are often tasked with solving complex problems, that’s a highly valuable medium to have on your side.
#4. Abandoned Communities Present a Serious Problem
Whether you like it or not, people are going to be talking about your business online, and there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do, however, is develop and maintain your own branded community while keeping a consistently active presence on external platforms, such as public social networks.
The worst thing you can do, however, is create a community and then neglect to manage or update it. As soon as your members get the impression you’re no longer involved, a community can become a major liability. Now that customer communities are squarely on the front line of customer experiences, you can’t afford to end up with an abandoned community where spam and toxic behavior reigns supreme, detracting from your brand’s reputation.