The concept of "web community" is pretty nebulous. We have some very definite philosophies about what constitutes a true web community. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) that might help you understand how we see it.
- What's the difference between a web community and an online forum?
- Why do we need a community if we already have a great corporate website?
- What will it do for my products that a corporate website can't do?
- Can a community generate revenue? Or should I think of it as a "customer support" cost of doing business? New
Q: What's the difference between a web community and an online forum?
A: This is the most common question we run into with our clients. As we consult with them about their needs, they'll often say, "Oh, we already have a forum, so I guess that's our community."
Not so. Forums are one community service, not a community. Typical forums we've seen on corporate sites are mechanisms for letting people pose direct questions and get answers of varying quality in response. Some of these forums are regulated and monitored by product experts, and many are not. Done well, they can be a great trouble-shooting resource for people before they pick up the phone and call Support.
But even done well, they often devolve into a bristling mass of embedded threads that can be most annoying to read. Not the fault of the writers: more a side effect of the mechanism itself. On very complex questions, you have to follow thread after thread to arrive at a collection of ideas from which you must distill the answer that is right for you.
WebWise communities always include forums as one tool (but not the only tool) in a rich web community. These complex threads can be the catalyst for articles and White Papers that expand upon, and tie up the loose ends of the raw threads.
In other words, a problem that's been treated in the forum can be addressed in a more complete fashion elsewhere in the community.
Q: Why do we need a community if we already have a great corporate website?
A: They serve two very different purposes. A corporate website holds the official information prepared by the company for the universal consumption of its customers and other constituents (like partners). The information flow is uni-directional, from the inside out.
A corporate community offers customers a chance to engage with the company and other customers in a bi-directional conversation.
There are tremendous benefits to this kind of interaction: it gets around customer resistance to "being marketed to"; it helps a company find out what their customers really think (like a giant, ongoing focus group); it illustrates the company's commitment to customer satisfaction; and it helps the customers use all the features of the product (not just the ones that are obvious and easy to find).
Q: What will it do for my products that a corporate website can't do?
A: Web communities are extremely successful at creating and fostering customer loyalty to a product. In many ways, the web community takes over where the corporate website leaves off.
The corporate website is focused on generating interest in and selling products.
The community takes the new purchaser by the hand and gets them started using the product, helps them over hurdles and rough-spots, shows them the creative ways other people use the product, and generally makes them glad they purchased the product in the first place.
The upgrade rates are phenomenal in product users who use the web community regularly. And cross-sell rates are also amazing. Customers of one product are exposed to the happy customers of other products, and they sell each other without you having to do anything extra.
Q: Can a community generate revenue? Or should I think of it as a "customer support" cost of doing business?
A: That's up to you. You set the mission for your community, and we'll help you build it accordingly.
If you want it to be a pure customer support community, we'll make sure you have robust forum and wiki technology in place in your community, and advise you on how to staff for it.
If you want your community to generate revenue, there are many ways we can help you do that. Here's a sampling:
- Direct Sales
- Channel Sales
- Lead and Prospect Generation
- Event and Training Registration
- Subscription-only Sections of your community
- Demos and Evals, with community support
- Special community-only sales and campaigns