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Three Common Myths About B2B Online Communities

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Throughout the last year we’ve talked to many B2B professionals about engaging with customers through online customer communities.  While we are typically met with enthusiasm for what is an innovative, contemporary approach to customer relationship-building, we also hear about many misconceptions about online communities – what they are, how they are used, and who should (or should not) participate.  Here is our list of the top three myths about online communities for B2B applications:

 

Myth #1:  Online communities are synonymous with social networking sites. 

 

Reality:  Actually, online communities are not another social networking channel.  Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are great for people to connect, share stories and photos, and make funny commentaries.  LinkedIn, a professional networking site, is often used as a platform for community-building, but as Leader Networks CEO Vanessa DiMauro describes, communities on LinkedIn are often ineffective and “overrun with inappropriate and sales-driven content.” 

 

While these social networking platforms are hugely popular spaces for connecting people of similar interests and sharing information, they do not allow companies to own and manage the overall customer experience.  In contrast, online communities are often referred to as “owner” communities, as they enable companies to control the branding, manage and organize the content and discussions, and own and mine the resulting voluminous customer feedback data.  

 

Unlike social networking sites, online communities are owned, controlled, and branded by you.

 

 

Myth #2:  Online communities are just forums for people to complain

 

Reality:  Online communities are far more than complaint departments.  Customers love to share their opinions; sometimes it’s useful feedback, and sometimes it's not.  Perception is reality, though, so if a customer has an opinion – good or bad— you should want to know about it.  In an online community, all of the activity is treated as customer feedback that can be used by your company to make meaningful improvements that are most important to your customers and will yield the best return.  Encouraging customer feedback is one way of making customers feel valued by your company and can lead to improved relationships and increased loyalty.

 

Experienced community managers attend to any complaints that arise in an online community, and often these responses to complaints, when handled with care and genuine courtesy, can result in positive attitude changes and build trust among your customers.

 

 

Myth #3:  Competitors will have access to trade secrets and other proprietary information available in an online community.

 

Reality:  We often hear this concern, but B2B online communities are typically “closed” or “private” communities that securely operate behind your company’s firewall.  (This is another way in which they are vastly different from open social networking sites, as described above.)  As the owner of a private B2B community:

 

  • You hand-select which customers, prospects, or other industry leaders can participate in your online community.  You send a private invitation and require a secure password for entry into your community. 
  • You determine the most appropriate use cases for the community, based on your overall business strategy.  Is the community’s main purpose for industry-specific information sharing?  Building a knowledge base?  Customer support call deflection?  Customer and prospect insights and new product innovation?  Market insights and research?  Sales and lead generation?
  • Based on the use cases identified by you and your team, you develop the initial content that encourages active participation from the members of your community.  The content needs be engaging, insightful, and valuable to your customers, and needs to be well-aligned with the goals of your community.

Customers who actively participate in private B2B online communities do so to learn, share, connect, and contribute, not to steal your trade secret information, which isn’t available to them anyway.  You build their trust by providing valuable, useful content.  

 

Increasingly,  B2B companies are recognizing  the value of “social business.”   Online customer communities are effective in meeting complex business needs for faster, more cost-effective, and better solutions, but there are many misconceptions about how they can be leveraged in B2B.  We’ve identified the three most common misconceptions.  Stay tuned for more to come.   

 

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Bert Kollaard, M.S. is Vice President and Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for IntelliQ Research and Strategy. In addition to a very strong foundational skill set in marketing research and competitive intelligence, Mr. Kollaard brings a unique mix of more than 30 years of Fortune 1000 corporate, consulting/agency and entrepreneurial start-up global leadership experience in B2B and B2C product and services development, marketing, strategic planning and business development.

He also has deep industry specific knowledge in healthcare, and especially in diabetes management and medical information technology, information publishing, manufacturing, petrochemicals and financial services.

Prior to IntelliQ, Bert held senior leadership positions with NCR Corporation, Lexis Nexis, as well as several leading regional marketing services and advertising and strategy firms. Bert is a multilingual, naturalized, US citizen of Dutch descent and has a master’s degree in social and applied economics from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where he has been teaching graduate and undergraduate marketing and management courses as an adjunct professor since 2006.

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