Growing an Engaging Customer community

I am a big fan of the Tweet Jam concept: a gathering of a dozen or more experts around a specific topic and a short list of questions, all done via Twitter in an hour-long session. Of course, it’s an open forum – anyone can join in and participate. There are usually a handful of lurkers who join into the dialog, but most people just follow along. And then there are the 1 or 2 folks who are clueless about what is happening, and complain that you’re spamming your Twitter followers.CMSwire_180x180 (1)

Note: if you’re complaining that the volume on Twitter is too much, you’re doing it wrong. Get a tool like Hootsuite and start building filtered views into the Twitter stream.

Today’s Tweet Jam was CMSWire’s 39th session, based on growing and engaging customer communities. You can find details on the primary participants here, and a follow-up article with highlights from the session in two parts: here and here. [Full disclosure – I am a regular contributor for CMSWire, and so I am often invited to participate in these kinds of events]

The questions posed by the CMSWire host: Which is more important — grassroots or company owned communities? How are companies tapping into these outlets to inform business decisions? What impact does social media have on communities?

And here are the individual questions asked, and my responses to each:

  1. What are the most important communities for organizational success and who owns them?
    –hmm…that could change per company/industry, but one critical internal community is support
    –some orgs build Centers of Excellence around project mgmt, product mgmt, service, ops, etc
    –some of the most important/successful communities are organically grown around a specific need
    –agree with @MJAutomatic — when you assert ownership, it often kills community
    –ownership is often determined by the stakeholders, and then by who is most passionate
  2. What are the top three opportunities customer communities provide organizations today?
    –1) Visibility into the collective unconscious 2) sounding board for ideas 3) accountability for taking action
    –the real value is getting a better understanding of the customer experience, internal or external
    –practically speaking, connecting passionate advocates to your customers reduces support costs
    –an annual survey will not provide an accurate picture of customer sentiment that community can uncover
    –participating in the community helps find new opps for your products or services, maybe an entirely new direction
  3. How do you measure / evaluate that value?
    –organizations need to get better about understanding this data, appending to CRM data
    –product teams may mine social data for trends, help inform roadmap decisions
    –important to track community connections similar to marketing campaigns, show influence over time
    –it can be difficult to quantify a qualitative activity, so sometimes you have to get creative
    –I don't think leads, conversions, or sales r right way to measure, but you can track # of influenced deals
    –even gamification requires a planned outcome, which you then measure
  4. Name three best practices for successful customer communities.
    –1) passion 2) purpose 3) flexibility
    –you need to constantly look for new community leaders, refresh the pool
    –it takes a lot of commitment. Most fail almost immediately by thinking it will self-sustain
  5. List the three biggest challenges to running a successful customer community.
    –1) time 2) leaders 3) time
    –it takes consistency. Honestly, this is one place where volume is as important as quality
    –If you have a shared understanding of what the community is trying to do, content and leadership will follow
  6. Has social media changed customer communities? If so, in what ways?
    –social has extended the long-tail of customer communities
    –social has made community possibly online or off, synchronous or asynch, across every timezone
    –the problem w/ social: the more people engage online, the less they feel they need to engage in person
    –successful communities learn to bridge the gap between online and offline engagement
    –at the end of the day, they're just tools to help develop real relationships
    –social scoring allows you to see the real reach/impact/amplification of your fans (and critics)
    –social has replaced cotton as the fabric of our lives
  7. How will customer communities evolve in the next year?
    –even deeper ties into CRM. more companies will seek to measure their activity and impact
    –there will be a much larger push for community tools on mobile devices
    –i think most companies now view communities as an important aspect of their strategies

Of course, its more meaningful when in the context of the live dialog. I am often reading as fast as I can, retweeting the best messages from other participants, sometimes starting up side conversations. The hour just flies by, and I always end up following a couple dozen new faces, and gaining as many new followers who are, generally speaking, more engaged than your average Twitter follower.

I also want to point out that this was my first Tweet Jam using the Twubs platform. What a fantastic tool! It records your Twitter feeds for posterity, allows you to reserve a unique hashtag, and provides an interface for participants which automatically appends all messages with the appropriate hashtag (in this case #cxmchat) making it that much easier for people to participate. I will definitely be using this tool in the future.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.