Community Beyond Transactional Support
Over the past several years, impersonal customer-brand interactions have become the status quo. In 2022 though, transactional relationships are simply not enough. Customers want more from their communities than product support. They want connection and they want belonging.
How can community managers offer their members more? By ensuring their community is a destination where members feel included and important.
The goal for many communities starting out is to be another resource for customers to get answers to their support questions. It’s an important function of a community and one you should spend time on to get right. However, once you have that more basic function of your community nailed down, you might want to start expanding beyond transactional support.
In a recent talk at Super Forum 2021, community expert Jenny Weigle covered that very topic. She gave three suggestions, along with a number of different tactics, any team can use to supercharge their community efforts to go beyond support. In this article we cover those three tips, and offer some suggestions for those looking to grow.
On January 24th Adrian Speyer is covering four future-focused sessions on community management including how community is evolving beyond transactional support. Join him and special guests to celebrate Community Manager Appreciation Day by registering for free here.
In the meantime, check out Jenny’s full Super Forum session here:
Tip 1 – Make your community a destination
If you want to go beyond transactional support one tactic you can use is to give members – and non-members – a reason to visit even when they don’t need an answer to a question. By making your community a destination for something other than support queries you reinforce that it serves other purposes and can also increase overall engagement and page visits.
There are a number of different tactics you could try, but there are a few that Weigle thinks work particularly well:
- Event series – anything that is outside of “standard programming” could qualify as an event. Things like conferences and webinars are both common events you could promote.
- AMA sessions – if you’re not familiar, AMA stands for “ask me anything.” They’re sessions where a person of interest answers user questions, as opposed to being a moderated talk with predetermined points.
- Weekly challenges – these can be great to get consistent engagement with community members. It’s generally best if these aren’t too time consuming or difficult so as not to turn people off from participating.
- Contests – contests are a classic option for making something a destination (anyone else immediately think about the McDonald’s Monopoly game?). However, Weigle says that these are best for things like a product launch and aren’t good for long term engagement.
- Blog series – these are series usually about a specific topic, authored by an expert in the field. It could be someone internal like your CEO, or an external guest you get.
Depending on your product, team, and budgets, some of the above tactics may work better for you than others. Most of all what you need to do is make sure your members are at the center of any tactic you choose to use. If you do, it should be a success.
Tip 2 – Invite members to be part of your innovation process
One of the biggest benefits companies get from community members are their thoughts and ideas. In order to harness that resource and deepen relationships with community members Weigle suggests bringing them into your innovation process.
This can take on a few different forms, but could be something like feature suggestions, or new product ideas. Or, perhaps you could set up a page to collect community members ideas on how to improve a current offering.
When done right, it can be an incredibly powerful way to engage and energize your community. However, there are some ways it can go off the rails and end up being less-than-successful. To avoid those pitfalls, here are a few best practices:
- Dedicate space – creating a specific place for this type of feedback makes it easier to manage for you and easier for your community members to contribute.
- Be specific about what you want – giving guidelines on how to submit ideas is very helpful. You could even have an example submission to remove any guesswork for your community members.
- Engage with people directly – adding comments to ideas and following up with people shows that you’re invested. You could even assign statuses to different suggestions to increase transparency and show participation from your end.
- Show ideas are actually being used – if people don’t think their ideas will ever see the light of day, they’ll stop suggesting them. Be sure to follow up and give insight into exactly how you’re implementing the ideas you’re given.
By inviting your members to actively participate in company decisions you empower them and show exactly how much you value them. When you get it right, both your company and community benefit greatly.
Tip 3 – Create a VIP program
Everyone wants to feel special. Community members are no different. A great way to further engage members of your choosing is by creating a VIP program. VIP groups are generally invite-only and give members perks for participating.
There are many variable parts of a VIP program like perks offered and criteria someone needs to meet to be invited to join. Even with that being true, Weigle has some suggestions anyone looking to start a VIP program should follow.
- Have clear set criteria for joining – it’s easy to just look and see who has been most active in your community and invite them to be a VIP. Though that’s a good place to start, Weigle mentions you should make sure anyone you invite is not only a regular contributor, but also contributing things of substance. She also mentions that VIPs should be longer tenured community members (6+ months) and are people who respect community guidelines.
- Don’t start right away – building a community is a large undertaking, so it’s probably best you wait until the basic day-to-day aspects of your community are running smoothly. Also, it’s hard to give status to certain members when there aren’t that many. Time also lets you get your game plan together and have a clear vision prior to starting the program.
- Gamify the process – If you want to make things even more engaging for members you could try gamifying the process of becoming a VIP. For example, you could give out badges when people complete different tasks. You could also make that a way to gain VIP status, or move up to a different status.
- Give incentives to participate – though status is a motivator for some, being a VIP is really only worth it if there’s something in it for the members. You could offer special discounts, or priority access to events, or even support. No matter what it is, it needs to be limited to your VIPs and also be valuable. If not, people may feel less motivated to participate.
When you make people feel seen and respected, chances are they’ll be willing to give even more to you and your community. Building a VIP program is a great way to offer that recognition and make an ideal situation for your company and community members.
Communities can contribute to your company in many ways. Though it’s normal to think about a community simply as a support resource, that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. In order to unlock the rest of your community’s potential, you need to take action. Be thoughtful, be willing to experiment, and keep your members at the center of your efforts, and you’ll be good.
If you want to learn more about community beyond transactional support download the free eBook Community Predictions 2022 here!