Customer-facing community spaces are on the rise across industries. At this year’s CMX Summit in Los Angeles, community managers from around the globe gathered to talk about cutting-edge strategy and best practices for fostering member connectedness, determining ROI, and optimizing user experience. If you’re looking to take your community to the next level, or even deciding if starting a community space is right for your business, considering these top takeaways can set you on the path to success.

Ensure Your UX is Designed for Different Member Behaviors

When designing for user experience, you’ve probably heard the words “empathy” and “customer-centric.” But how do you build a site that addresses needs for a diverse group of customers? According to Arielle Tannenbaum of Buffer, you need to start with identifying each customer’s “why.” Why have they come to your community? Why do they come back?

Qualify levels of customer behavior into groups. For example, potential members, new members, lurkers who are curious to learn more, contributors and leaders. Once you have these insights in-hand, you can effectively design for each level – and optimize each visitor’s experience based on their desire to lead and engage or consume. An intuitive user experience can and should assist consumers in becoming contributors and those contributors becoming leaders that nurture your community from within.

Nurture Top Engaged Customers to Bring Up Lower Level Members

In every community, there will be certain members who engage at a higher level than others. As a community manager, it’s your job to nurture those people into leaders who can help turn other users into advocates. Holly Herbert, the best practices manager for the eTapestry community at Blackbaud, has put this into practice seamlessly. She breaks her strategy down this way:

Up: Help users move up the pyramid of member level by empowering them to make more meaningful engagements

In: Bring top members closer into the community by inviting them to an advocacy program that both nurtures and equips them to share your brand story

Out: Send advocates back out of the community space to talk about your product and share their experiences

Cycle Back: Incentivize your advocates to help lower level members move into an advocacy role

In summary, collaborate with your users. Empower them to engage and to nurture other customers.

Make Customers Partners in Innovation

One of the most unique opportunities community offers your business is the chance to work with customers to innovate your product or service offerings. At this year’s CMX Summit, Jeremiah Owyang of Crowd Companies shared insights on why collaborative road mapping is so important. As a product-focused community evolves, the strategy should shift from simply caring for customers and gathering product feedback to actually connecting customers who have actionable ideas with your company’s innovators.

Beyond just identifying highly engaged community members and connecting them with employees who are in charge of planning for new features, this may include setting up specific spaces for communication like a designated Slack channel, or by conducting focus groups and task forces. By including customers in the innovation process, you ensure customer-centric product inception and development.

What’s Next for Community in Business?

Whether the concept of community as part of your business model is new or not, community isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the need for it is rapidly increasing as companies seek to authentically connect with their audience in a digitally-driven world. David Spinks, a seasoned community builder who heads up CMX Hub, believes that membership as a model is overtaking advertising and the traditional ways businesses reach customers.

People increasingly desire relationships and connection over consumption. While new AI driven tech like chatbots offer convenience and save companies money, they generate impersonal touches which pose a challenge to brands as they strive to nurture customer advocates and foster loyalty. “Being purpose-driven and community-driven is a competitive advantage,” stated Spinks at this year’s CMX Summit. As more companies start to shift towards a community-driven business model, we should expect to see collaborative product ideation and growth driven by advocacy emerge as industry trends.

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