Community: a group of people sharing common characteristics, common history or common social, economic, or political interests, often located in close physical proximity to other members; interactions are usually face-to-face. 1
Online Community: Same as above, with two big caveats, the proximity is virtual and interactions are digital. The small caveat is that online the commonality among members might not be as significant, but are just as real (like shared product, service or technical interest).
It is not New, but it is Different
What should be evident is that the idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the transition from physical proximity to virtual proximity. In the purest of context, virtual communities began about as quickly as the Internet itself, predating the Web or fancy graphical interfaces. Virtual communities progressed from bulletin boards to forums and now we have something even better. What we have now are enhanced graphical capabilities and multiple device support; the user experience is better. One problem remains; integrating communities with the rest of the business. Too often, communities are sets of isolated conversations lost in the vastness of the web.
Communities should be used to bridge the gap from social media conversation to digital interactions with a purpose? Today many organization are trying to figure out how to leverage social conversations and these new connections to deliver a better customer experience. Customer communities are great way to accomplish this goal. As much as we would like to do it, taking the online conversations people are having about your company in Facebook and Twitter and dumping them into a CRM system just does not provide a whole lot of value. As you have learned with forums, your customers really do want to connect with you and while the basics have not changed, customers expect more as does your business.
But. In order to really leverage the benefits from social, you have to bring together people, processes, and technology necessary to listen, guide, and engage your customers in the digital world. That means paying attention, understanding who your customers are, and providing them with relevant information for the appropriate stage in the customer lifecycle. In that way, you can truly leverage the capabilities of social media to deliver the kinds of customer experiences that will keep them bringing their business back again and again.
Communities provide a smart way to build engagement in a way that provides your customers with navigable issue resolution, as well as to provide feedback and insights to you and your team.
A customer community allows you to collect and analyze data, derive insights about your customers that will then allow you to provide them with relevant, appropriate information at key points along the journey. Today’s forums, or customer communities, can be strongly linked to social networks in order to maximize insight, streamline campaigns, and drive organizational shift to bring your company into the social age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.