Forums are an incredibly powerful tool.. and I don’t like them.
I never liked them as a customer, I don’t like them as an agent.. and you know why? Because nobody seems to get them right and I have no power over it.
If you ever used them, you probably know that is really hard to find the information you were looking for unless you have a lot of patience and you really know what to search and how [xkcd.com].
So what are the real goals behind forums and on-line communities?
What are Companies trying to achieve?
Goal #1: create a community
Forums are made so that communities can spark around the products, but people know better than companies that having something in common does not make a herd of strangers a community.
People usually lands on forums because they want a problem solved, not because they want to make new friends.
Their problem is always bigger than yours, there must be somebody else out there that has found a solution and it must be in the first page.
Goal #2: create a knowledge base
Another goal pursued by companies is the creation of a Knowledge Base, a place where all the solutions might be stored like books in the Library of Alexandria.
Nevertheless, the era of Internet brought us a bad habit: impatience.
If something is not in the first three search results, we don’t even bother scrolling down and there is no such a thing as a second page of results.
Accessibility matters: if what a person is looking for does not stand up the moment we walk into the library, is simply “not there”, like when a child says “Moooom, where is my jacket?” without even looking for it: I want it all, I want it now.
It is only when you think about customer service and satisfaction, looking at the bigger picture, that you start to see the real raison d’etre of forums.
Goal #3: create a
CESSPIT BLACK HOLE FOR NEGATIVE COMMENTS
Spending energies driven by a discomfort only increases the original negative feeling, affecting the perception of the Company, of the product and of the support.
The fact that forums are public, manually tagged and coded (yes, by real people), lets customers know that the Company is reading. Customers want the Company to know how pissed off they are, impacting on the public image.
A mainstream forum is no more than a rant box, a room of pain: it lets every customer blow off the rage making it public, but at the same time inaccessible; relying on the simple inability of the average person to find what they were looking for. In this sense, forums are the real ancestor of Twitter as a media channel: Company gets visibility, but only the last comments are the ones that will really be seen (most of the time). Mood is usually not monitored.
Thanks to forums, Companies have marketing black holes that allow them to do whatever they want: gather information about issues with their products, get in touch selectively with customers and ignore all the background noise.
On top of that, there is another good reason why forums are a great resource to every Company that knows how to use them, and I call it “Evangelization”.
Extra bonus: additional workforce
When a community reaches a critical mass, be it because of a great Company or a great product, it will be easy to find customers really different from Joe Sixpack; customers willing to defend the line of the Company beyond the extra mile: fanboys, most valuable professionals, technology evangelists.
This people is the most valuable resource a Company can nurture through forums, having them working as customer service agents without them really realizing it.
This kind of customer wants to feel part of the Company more than everything else, but did not had the chance. Some of them hope to be noticed by the Company.
They will get more productive with time, not just because they will have more experience, but because the Company will award them, fueling the sense of belonging with a processes similar to gamification.
Small gifts, prizes, tokens of gratitude will increase the product and brand loyalty, creating business agents out of ordinary users but with three added benefits:
– The Company does not pay them
– The Company is not responsible for them
– The Company gets free positive marketing
Since the “evangelists” are third parties and not employees, they are not paid of their work and their actions can never be associated to the Company. This protects Companies from every downside, letting them hold the whip hand.
Their condition of “wanna-be part of the family”, triggers psychological mechanisms that let the marketing reach places and moments that are normally private: social occasions, for instance.
Fanboys, more than everybody else, will never lose a chance to show how much they know about the product, trying to attract everybody else to their cult.
Their reputation is publicly fueled by every single token and recognition that the company is willing to give: a digital badge, a real medal, a phone that costs 100 € to manufacture.. you name it.
So.. how do you like forums now?