Tag Archive for 'customer communities'

The power of building customer communities

Incredibly, in 2017, here’s a question many small business owners ask: “We have a website, do we need a social media strategy, too?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address even though you have a phone.  It’s not either/or, but rather both/and. Because as outstanding and handy as your website may be, there’s one increasingly important capability you need that most websites aren’t good at: community building.

Once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of yours will be of decreasing interest to them. It’s not that your new stuff - products, how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. - is no longer of interest to customers. It’s just that they don’t want to have to come back to your website to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I like what you offer, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home with the new stuff?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them offers and helpful information by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website. Even when they return to buy something on your e-commerce platform, they expect to enter your website through the offer page you sent them, not from your homepage.

Building online customer communities - and getting permission to follow customers home - is how a small business transcends being competitive and achieves the pinnacle position: relevance. As you may know, I define a business social media strategy as building customer communities. But by my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the online platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your customer community strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve those communities, including: email marketing, customer loyalty programs, the new social media activity, and, of course, the original social media: face-to-face.

In the old days - way back in 2003 - your customer list was just names on an accounts receivable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community, which also includes prospects who’re just becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old - and visitors to your website - this community is functioning and dynamic, with fast-evolving expectations you have to meet or they’ll defect to another community.

Another important component of building customer communities is allowing prospects and customers to see your corporate values. Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for, which is evident in the values you demonstrate, including online. For example:

1. Are your brand elements - brand promise and image - all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?

2. When delivering information, is it all about you, or does it contribute to the community?

3. What’s the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between serving the community and making a sale.

Notice all of these demonstrate values that favor relationships more and transactions less.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value - product, price, service - is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Value is easy to find these days. But when community members are attracted to your values, they keep coming back and bring their friends.

Write this on a rock … Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media strategy that demonstrates your values.

Your values and customer communities


Last time we talked about focusing on developing customer communities as a way to find relevance through your online strategy, including website and social media. Now let’s strengthen this relevance by focusing on values.


Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for. They are looking for evidence of your values in your online elements. For example:

  1. Are your brand elements – brand promise and image – all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?
  2. When delivering information to the community, is it all about you, or does it contribute to helping customers?
  3. What is the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between making a sale and serving the community.


In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value – product, price, service – is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Anyone can find value, but when customers like your values, they tell their friends. Indeed, the most dynamic and potentially viral element of any online community is the feeling members have about your values. But remember, that “feeling” can go either way – positive or negative.


Here are a few guidelines for establishing compelling values online that match your values offline:

  1. Acquire and use the technology that makes online community building possible.
  2. Create an environment where an online community can flourish around the value you deliver and the values you demonstrate.
  3. Serve and protect your customer community, while accepting that you cannot control it. As customer members come and go, and say what’s on their minds, maximize the positive and repair the negative.


Once community members find your value and like your values, prospects will turn into customers and customers will turn into your best salespeople.


Write this on a rock…


Build and serve customer communities by delivering value and demonstrating values.

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Build community with a website & social media

Here is a question many small business owners ask: “Do we need a social media strategy if we have a website?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address, even though you have a phone. It’s not an either/or decision; it’s both/and.

Clearly, your beautiful website is also very handy: cyber address, digital brochure, e-catalog, virtual store, etc. But as versatile as it is, there is one increasingly important capability you need that a website isn’t good at: community building. That’s what social media does.

By my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the popular Johnny-come-latelies, Facebook and Twitter. Your social media strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve customer communities, including: the new stuff, email marketing, customer loyalty programs and, the original social media, face-to-face.

What are these communities? Do you have one?

In the old days – like 1999 – your customer list was just names on an accounts payable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community; the rest are prospects who are becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old, this community is functioning and has expectations you have to meet, or they will join another community.

At the risk of hurting your feelings, once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of which you’re so proud will be of decreasing interest to them. But the good news is that anything you have that’s new – product and how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. – is of increasing interest to customers. They just don’t want to have to come back to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I’ve seen what you offer and like it, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them stuff by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website.

Connect with and serve your customer communities by following them home with all social media resources. That’s how a small business transcends merely being competitive by being relevant.

It’s both/and: Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media.

I’ve talked a lot about building online communities on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to see all my interviews on social media, but first, let me know what you think about building customer communities.

Social Media Builds Customer Communities

Two things are sure with regard to social media and businesses: 1) as a way to connect with customers, social media is here to stay; 2) social media will evolve into an essential, customer community-building tool every successful business - large or small - will use.

“Social media” is the technology that makes online community building possible, not the community itself. It allows for the creation of, and service to, online communities, where dialogue and interaction among community founders and members are possible. While the term “social media” is handy, it would serve businesses well to think of it as “building online customer communities.”

There are two primary examples of these communities:

1.      A company’s profile and “fan page” on sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your company can build communities with these public platforms, which are free, but have limits.

2.      Communities founded and hosted by your company and oriented around relationships with customers and prospects. This type of community is established when customers subscribe to one or more of your channel offerings in order to receive information. There is now new technology emerging that helps you create a Facebook-like social media platform that you host, which I predict will become the next killer app.

A channel is a syndication tool or method of content delivery and service to a community. For example, real simple syndication (RSS), a blog, email marketing, including an email newsletter (ezine), a text (SMS), and Twitter are channel tools, through which businesses serve their customer communities.

A website is a very important part of your online presence, but it is not a very effective community-building tool. However, a website can become a platform from which you launch and serve customer communities. Think of your website as the living room where you entertain new friends and social media communities as the den you share with close friends.

There is one critically important thing for a founding company to understand about both of the online customer community types: The company cannot control community behavior.  Members - customers and prospects - control the conversation in the community. The founding company can only create and influence the community by establishing and demonstrating community values.

If value is the threshold of a community relationship, values are the foundation. Get started building online customer communities.

On The Small Business Advocate Show I’ve talked quite a bit about building customer communities and social media on my radio program. Click here to see and listen…

The customer is now in control - get over it!

As previously revealed in this space, the Age of the Seller is succumbing to the Age of the Customer. In the new Age, control of the relationship between Seller and Customer has shifted to the latter.

This paradigm shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about a Seller and its products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they have learned about and experienced with a business.

To put two fine points on the first element of the shift, in the new Age: Customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is changing - or disrupting - the way you market to and connect with customers, as well as how you train sales people. Plus it demonstrates why your greatest danger in the Age of the Customer isn’t being uncompetitive, it’s becoming irrelevant.

The second element is the new kid on the block, but corresponds to a centuries-old marketplace maxim, “If you make customers happy they will tell someone; if you make them unhappy they will tell 10 people,” which describes the ancient practice of word-of-mouth. The theory behind the 1:10 ratio is that all businesses, regardless of size, are motivated to perform, or risk a marketplace indictment by the judge and jury of word-of-mouth.

In the new Age, online platforms have caused word-of-mouth to transmogrify into a powerful dynamic called “user generated content,” aka UGC. This is when customers post online their experiences, questions, praise or condemnation about a seller’s products, services, and general behavior in the marketplace. In the vernacular, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

Indeed, if the word-of-mouth maxim were coined today it would sound like this: “Customers may post online their opinion – positive or otherwise – about your business, making it available potentially to millions.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparing word-of-mouth to UGC is like comparing a lightning bug to lightning.

In the new Age you have to do two new things: 1) anticipate that customers are already well informed; 2) track and respond to UGC about your business. And how well you do these two will influence whether the new customer control becomes a sales lever, or a disruptor that makes you irrelevant.

It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it.

Last week on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Alan Maites, President of Robinson & Maites, an unconventional marketing firm in Chicago, about the Age of the Customer and how it will change relationships with customers. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and listen to our conversation. And, as always, leave your thoughts on the Age of the Customer.

Marketing in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

Serve communities in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

Creating online customer communities for your small business

A “craze” is something that takes popular culture by storm. A “fad” is a craze that doesn’t last. Social media is currently a craze, but it’s not a fad. And the question is not whether this craze will last, but rather, what will it look like over time and why should a small business care? Consequently, let’s establish a few “social media” points.

Strictly speaking, “social media” is the technology that makes online community building possible, not the community itself. It allows for the creation of and service to online communities, where dialogue and interaction among community founders and members are possible. Ultimately, the term “social media” in a business application should become the more accurate term, “online customer communities.”

In defining community, Webster uses words like association, fellowship, like-mindedness and shared interests. When building online customer communities, we should remember these words. Every small business should create online customer communities, of which there are two primary examples:

1. A company’s profile pages on sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your company leverages these companies’ platforms. These sites are free but have limited flexibility.

2. Communities founded and hosted by your company, oriented around relationships with customers and prospects. An online community is established when customers subscribe to one or more of your channel offerings in order to receive your information.

A channel is a syndication tool or method of content delivery and service to a community. For example, real simple syndication (RSS), a blog, an email newsletter (ezine), a text blast and Twitter are channel tool examples, through which businesses and their communities exchange information.

Merely having a website isn’t practicing community building any more than owning a piano makes you a musician. But a website can become a platform from which you launch and serve online communities.

There is one critically important thing for a founding company to understand about both of the online customer community types: the company cannot control community behavior. Members – customers and prospects – control the community. A founding company can only create the community and influence it by establishing community values, then serving it via the channels and information it offers, which are requested by members.

Always remember: Customers control online communities, not companies. Soon I’ll post my thoughts on defining, establishing and being true to your community values.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about some of these social media points. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your thoughts.




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