Reviewing research to write a future post for Metschers’ Musing, I stumbled upon a case study I wrote about successful online community management. After reading it again, I thought others would appreciate the tactics needed to build successful communities focused on the clients’ real needs. I wrote this about a year ago, but some of the tactics still hold true today.
Why the need for Online Communities?
With the rules of traditional communications and marketing changing, more companies are looking to digital communications tactics to help drive customer acquisition and loyalty. And it is for good reason. According to CEB, 57 percent of prospects are conducting research prior to the sales conversation.
Forrester in 2008 summarized the importance of online communities as one of the most powerful tools a marketer can deploy for customer retention, word-of-mouth, and customer insight. Some companies have embraced real-time input from the market and customers by building communities where customers can come together, exchange ideas, communicate frustrations, and truly foster two-way communication. However, many companies are challenged with how best to manage the community where it has no control over the conversation and cultivate a space where customers come to engage.
Topliners Road to Success
Eloqua built an open peer-to-peer forum for marketers and customers called Topliners in 2010. For those unfamiliar with Oracle|Eloqua, Topliners focused on marketing, sales, and improving topline revenue where members find peer support and ideas to meet common challenges.
The company chronicled its experience to build and grow its’ community on the company’s blog and shared some of the best practices on creating a thriving community. According to Eloqua’s lead on the project, “Growing a vibrant online community isn’t easy. As the community manager, my mandate was to grow the community from scratch, keep members engaged, and make sure that the content was up-to-date.”
Beyond what she shared, one can observe Eloqua took strategic steps when building Topliners:
- Know their customers. Eloquans, what Eloqua customers are called by themselves and the company, are hyper-engaged and tech savvy. Most marketers buying Eloqua buy into this concept of ‘modern marketing’, which means that traditional marketing methods will no longer work in customer acquisition. The community is very active and uses a gamification platform to support engagement.
- Listen to what customers wanted. Everything in the community is about the customer. Information is abundant. Best practices from other marketers fill posts upon posts. But more importantly, Eloqua has built a community where marketers come together and ask questions of fellow colleagues in a ‘judgment-free zone.’
- Planned for engagement. Building an online community that is a trusted resource takes more than technology; you need to plan for building content and engagement. Eloqua did not have a “build it and they will come mentality.” The company planned out the content for the site (see blog post), leveraged brand advocates to seed content, and talked with customers on the type of content they wanted to see in the community.
- Truly customer-centric. Since revenue performance management and marketing automation is in the nascent stages, most customers not only need help with implementation, but also how to change their overall marketing approach. The company’s strategy has always been how to answer the question, “how do we make our customers successful?” Eloqua has become a trusted resource and curator of quality content that is used and shared by many clients, prospects, and industry influencers.
Why Topliners works?
Advocates drive the content on Topliners with blog posts on using the solution, uploading helpful documents, starting discussions, and posting polls. The site also uses gamification technics such as badges and level designation to improve user experience. Members can earn certain badges for posting content and other activities such as Overachiever, Share Your Flair, and fifty other types.
The point of members’ badges and levels? Incentives your strongest advocates to share their knowledge and best practices and reward them with virtual recognition. So was it successful? In a follow-up post, Eloqua shared that the community experienced a 55 percent lift in average active users in the first month after the launch. Since implementation, Topliners continues to grow in activity and engagement.
But is Topliners Retuning on the Eloqua’s Investment?
According to its submission to Forrester’s Groundswell Awards 2013, its customers who use Topliners renew at a dramatically higher rate than those who do not — 87 percent. They also submit less support cases and issues. Topliners contributes to reserving customer support references, drives sales, and builds engagement amongst users.
Many companies are looking for better ways to engage with customers online as customers are researching more information online prior to purchase. Eloqua has created a community and social embassies that energize its base to evangelize the brand. Without too much corporate speak, Eloqua has created a word of mouth marketing platform built on conversations and strong relationships with its current customers.