Create a User Community for Your Online Business - dummies

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

In the online world, more businesses are adding virtual community meeting places to their websites or in social media sites. Mostly, these places take the form of forums, discussion boards, support boards, or full communities, where people can gather and discuss issues.

You might have had the experience of turning to someone at a big department store and asking a question, only to find out that you’re talking with a fellow shopper. Or maybe you overheard a conversation and you pointed another shopper to the correct aisle to find the item he was looking for that day.

User interaction is a common aspect in the retail industry. Customers have a similar interest, which is why they’re in the same store together. They can talk about their interests and how the products affect them, and even share advice about good and bad purchases.

Online businesses provide a place for active discussions also by using social media, such as a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group, or even a Twitter chat group.

You, as a business owner, can enjoy several benefits by connecting your customers:

  • Customers might be quicker to respond to a new customer’s question or concern and can give detailed answers.

  • Customers have one more reason to spend time — and their hard-earned dollars — at your site rather than at someone else’s.

  • As browsers and customers hear about potential uses of your products from other customers, they might be more inclined to purchase those products themselves. Because they’re already on your site reading about a product, your site is their first choice for making a purchase.

  • By keeping an archive of customer communications, you’re building a knowledge database of questions, answers, and experiences that can help solve future customers’ problems.

You can find several free forum and community software tools. Look on the major search engines for a tool that works on the operating system for your web server (search for forum software or online community software). Talk to your web designer or IT staff to see whether they have access to any ready-made discussion board or online community software.

One way to encourage people to become active right away is to create certain events that revolve around a specific day or time. You can unveil your new chat room software by hosting a “town hall” or open meeting with your CEO or a visible board member, where customers and general browsers can ask questions and receive immediate responses.

You or an employee can host a workshop where you explain a new feature or product that’s being rolled out on your website.