One of the great things about a customer community is the conversations that take place in them. Giving your customers a place to talk about your products can have huge benefits for your business. These conversations have a tendency to flow and change, just like any other.
This is a frequent cause of concern for community owners. This may be because they see these conversations as empty calories, too far from the topic at hand. Sometimes it’s because conversation strays to talking about competing products. On other occasions, it’s because they believe the direction of the conversation will be bad for the long-term health of the community. Everyone (mostly) agrees that some kind of moderation is necessary, but it’s tough to know how far to take it.
Be Careful Not to Strangle Conversation
To your members, your community is a social environment. It’s where they can enjoy great conversation with other enthusiasts and get support when they need it. The experience of feeling as though their leash is being tugged is jarring. They’ll stop feeling like part of a community, and start to feel like part of a marketing strategy. Expectations will adjust accordingly.
There are reasonable limits as to what kind of conversation you should allow on your customer community. It’s ok to remind your members that they’re participating in a branded community. No one has a reasonable expectations that they’ll be able to create a discussion where they extol the views of a competitor. The real problem comes when the people managing a community believe that they should delete or censure any negative talk about their products. Comment deletion is a tool that should be deployed very carefully. If should never be used against a member who is merely expressing a negative opinion (and not being abusive) or talking about a pain point. Customers won’t stick around in a community where they feel like their content can be deleted at any point.
Discussion of Your Competitors can Benefit Your Business
If customers feel like they can’t express themselves on your forum, they’ll simply go somewhere else. There’s no shortage of places where people can post about your products. The people who want to be positive will just keep their opinions to themselves. The people who want to be negative will go to a review site, a fan community or even a competitor’s community. Suddenly you have no input, and the conversation is happening on a platform you can’t control at all.
The flip side of this effect is that allowing some limited talk of competitor products can actually benefit your community and business. If a prospective customer searches for their product and ends up in your community, the conversation around their product is happening on your platform. If carefully managed, this can be a powerful tactic. Don’t let it be used against you!
Communities Rely on Free Conversation
Don’t keep your community on too tight of a leash. Allowing a free flow of conversation creates a healthier community in the long term. A healthy community attracts more members and more conversation, which gives your customers a reason to choose your community over other options. Don’t give them a reason to find a different place to express their opinions. If you do, your influence over their opinion ends.