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The heart of social support is building branded online communities

Online communities, also called forums or discussion boards have been around for much longer than Twitter and Facebook. There has been a lot written on communities and community management but I think that it is time to discuss how a branded online community can augment social customer service programs.

While reading the Social Customer Index (via Social Media Today) it occurred to me that many companies are not yet using their branded communities to their full potential for social media customer support.

According to this report the most common channels companies surveyed currently use for customer service are Facebook (86.2%), Twitter (78.8%), while branded online communities were only used by 24.9% of customers. Interestingly, the report states “Facebook and Twitter are still very important channels for those also using branded communities, as they are to the general population. But their branded communities are used by them more than they use Twitter or Facebook to engage with customers. And these branded communities are their most effective social channel—more so than either of the two social giants.”

I agree with them. I would argue that a social media community becomes the legs on which your customer support program sits on. In other words, the community can be the center, or the heart of your program.

On its own there are a number of business benefits of a branded online community including:

  • Cost reduction in assisted support as customers help customers without rep involvement.

  • Increase in customer satisfaction as customers find the information they need with low effort (Community content often shows up high in search engine results due to recency and relevance to keywords)

  • Increase in customer retention as customers are more satisfied and better users of the product/service.

  • Deeper insight into customer issues and ideas, which if used properly can lead to greater speed fixing defects and bringing new products or services to market.

  • Development of brand advocates who will not only spread positive brand messages but help support customers by answering questions on the community and elsewhere.

Social Support programs that have integrated their branded online community with their social care efforts are much more efficient in achieving those business benefits. These are some of the ways efficiency is gained:

  • Reducing time to respond and resolve customer inquiries on other channels such as Facebook and Twitter by pointing the customers to answers in the community rather than numerous back and forth messages to get across the same thing. This is particularly helpful on Twitter where 140 characters is very limiting for service interactions.

  • The online community, in particular one with advocates or high frequency users of your product and services, can act as a bellwether- bubbling up new issues before they appear in your call center or other social channels. By using this information support teams can fix defects before it appears elsewhere.

  • With a branded online community, you will also have more information about your customers for your CRM efforts. This can allow you to support their questions more easily, and potentially personalize the support experience.

  • Social support teams may see different questions asked than their counterparts in traditional contact center. Monitoring and categorizing frequently asked questions on the community and other social properties can help keep self-serve content and knowledge bases fresh, accurate and reduce information gaps.

  • By linking out to the community on Twitter or Facebook, either as a reminder to customers that it exists, or in response to their questions you will find customers may increasingly check the community first before going to an assisted support channel (phone, chat, social care).

  • Last but not least – a community is an amazing place to build relationships with brand advocates, super fans or super users. An advocate from your branded community often shows up to support your efforts outside the community on Twitter and Facebook.

Considering the Social Customer Index also found that the biggest obstacles to engaging in customer service with customers on social networks is resources (48.2% of respondents), I expect we will see a lot more emphasis on using branded online communities in a more formalized way for social support.


This post was first written for Social Business News in 2013 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.


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