Six questions to ask before setting up your community

There are lots of reasons why building a community may make sense for you. A robust user community can be a wonderful long-term asset for your business. It’s a great source of knowledge that is independent of time and physical location. It’s ripe for idea generation—feature requests and different ways of using existing features, for example. An online community is also a scalable way of not just conversing with your customers, but for supporting them when they have questions or problems, and even more so when your customers can respond to each other. For you, that means an opportunity for greater ticket deflection, which will keep support costs down.

Before you throw open the doors to your user community, there are a few things to do and think about.

1. What’s the strategy?
Your business goals—and the goals of your customers—will ultimately determine how you structure your community and the kind of commitment and resources it will need. For example, your online community might be public or exclusive. Either way, the community platform won’t suit all types of customers and all types of businesses, so it’s important to think about what you want to achieve and who you want to attract. When you’ve worked that part out, you’ll have some decisions to make about features and structure. Do you want to: allow commenting on posts and knowledge base articles, add comments to announcements and release notes, open a general community Q&A, open a feature request community, create a community for tips and best practices? Or, maybe you could do it all, like we do!

2. Who will be responsible?
No community can succeed without someone there to ensure it remains productive. In other words, you’ll need a community manager. Your community manager should be able to encourage participation, drive growth and measure outcomes in line with the strategy. Your organization might be large enough to support a full-time role, but it’s more likely to be taken on by your support leadership. And where the day-to-day community support is concerned, you’ll need to decide which agents will be responsible for monitoring questions posted in the community. They can provide answers themselves, check that any answers posted by members are correct, and for stuff they don’t know, they can direct particular colleagues to respond. It could be a rotating assignment or a permanent role, but if you’re not sure who to start with, look for those team members who have a natural affinity for connecting people.

3. How will you communicate the purpose?
When you’ve got your strategy and resources together, you’ll need to get everyone on board. Explain the purpose of building your user community to other influencers in your organization so they, too, can go out and inspire interest in everyone else. Successful communities require ongoing marketing to stay that way, so always be pitching. And don’t forget to talk about your online community and expectations as part of your new hire training.

4. What about moderation and guidelines?
If you have a small community, a private community, or you’ve enabled community support for internal customers, you may not have to worry too much about dodgy behaviours and moderation. A single statement about reasonable conduct may be all that’s required. For larger online communities, nurturing relationships with your most active participants and offering them some moderating responsibilities can pay off. Consider providing a private forum for your moderating team to communicate guidelines and start discussions.

5. Have you created a welcoming environment?
Nobody likes talking to an empty room, so don’t open the doors straight away. Seed your community with content first. The “convert ticket to topic” feature is an easy way for your agents to push quick tips to the public forums (based on their comments in tickets). Once you’ve done that, invite your best customers to contribute as early adopters. By the time you market your community to the broader customer base, there should be enough helpful content and members there that it won’t feel like a tumbleweed just rolled through.

6. Is there a process for routine maintenance?
Your support community is a living knowledge base, so create a program for regular maintenance. Routinely archive service-related threads that have become obsolete, and set an expectation that agents update any incorrect information as they see it. An idea from one of our own customers is to add a tag with the article’s creation date (or expiration date). Once a month, they review “old” articles, based on the tag, to update or retire them.

Whether you’re helping customers that are internal or external to your business, their individual contexts and experiences are useful and valuable to their peers and to your organizational learning. Build your customer community with purpose, so it remains productive and meaningful.

Speaking of community, join our discussion on setting up community