What is a Customer Community Platform and Why You Need One in 2024
November 1, 2023
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No matter the size of your organization, all brands must make their customers happy to ensure long-term success.
There’s a direct link between customer satisfaction and customer retention, with low satisfaction leading to high churn rates.
According to Zendesk, over half of consumers (57 percent) identify excellent customer service as one of the leading factors impacting brand loyalty. Zendesk’s research also shows that, as of 2022, 61 percent of consumers would switch to a competing brand after just one bad customer experience.
The bottom line is your customers expect consistently outstanding experiences.
Customer community platforms give your business powerful tools for understanding—and fulfilling—your customers’ evolving needs. When prospects or customers feel part of a mighty network, they’re more likely to adopt your product, advocate for your brand, and continue engaging with your company.
Considering these benefits, building an online customer community is a smart way to engage customers and grow your organization. However, you need to approach it with a clear strategy and the right technology.
Discover how to choose the best online community platform for your business and the must-have features to look for to build a thriving customer community.
What is a community platform?
Before we break down what a customer community platform is, let’s look more broadly at community platforms.
A community platform is a space where users can interact, learn, share content, and engage in discussions with others, mirroring a physical community in the digital world.
Depending on the platform’s features and capabilities, along with its intended use, the community’s users or members can generally:
- Share and view content like articles, videos, and uploaded files
- Communicate through various chat and messaging features
- Speak with customer support staff
- Learn about a product’s features, use cases, available upgrades, troubleshooting, advanced tips, up-and-coming developments, and other important information
Meanwhile, the business administering the platform can:
- Create and manage internal or external communities built around customers, business partners, and trusted subject matter experts
- Reach and convert more prospects and gain brand visibility
- Acquire insights and feedback from various market segments
- Gain user-generated content that positively promotes the brand
- Measure—and improve—overall customer satisfaction
You’re already familiar with some of the world’s leading community platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Discord, Slack, Reddit, and YouTube—just a few examples. For example, you might “like” or “follow” a local business on Facebook. Other community platforms you might be familiar with include Khoros, Zapnito, Kajari, and Flarum.
These lists give you an idea of how diverse community platforms can be—not just when it comes to their looks or layouts but also how they are used. For example, some are built mainly around sharing images or videos, like Instagram, while others, like Slack, are focused on enabling instant chats.
Since they exist in a virtual space instead of physically, online community platforms offer advantages and features missing from traditional communities—for instance, improved accessibility. Since they’re available on demand, can support content in multiple languages, and can appeal to diverse learning styles, online communities make learning more convenient and inclusive for people who:
- Have a disability or impairment
- Are socially isolating
- Work from home or are geographically distant
- Are non-native speakers or require translation services
- Work irregular hours or prefer to learn asynchronously
What is a customer community platform?
A customer community platform is a digital platform designed to educate, inform, and connect users of a particular product or service.
Product experts and partners can also participate in the community and contribute their valuable knowledge to the larger group—for instance, by sharing videos or text in a dedicated space like an “expert’s corner.”
There are many reasons why customers might want to join online communities—and just as many reasons why businesses might want to create them.
From the customer’s point of view, an online community is a place to increase their product knowledge, get insights from dependable experts, and chat with other users about common questions or goals.
Meanwhile, from the business’ point of view, an online community is a virtual goldmine for actionable insights into customer behavior. Online communities are also fantastic sources of user-generated content, like positive reviews or helpful user-made tutorials, which can be used to help establish trust in your brand and convert prospects into customers.
Some communities exist on social media platforms, while others use SaaS, open-source, or LMS platforms. We’ll explore these platforms in the next section and cover their pros, cons, and use cases.
4 Types of customer community platforms
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that customer community platforms come in many varieties and categories. The four most common examples include learning management systems (LMSs), software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, and open-source and social community platforms.
How do these categories differ from one another? What functions are they designed to serve? Which customer community platform is best suited for meeting your business needs?
Let’s compare each option to help you identify the best online community platforms for your organization.
Learning management systems (LMSs)
Do you need an all-in-one platform where you can create customer training, analyze users’ needs and behavior, and deliver an outstanding customer experience?
If your answer is yes, then a learning management system (LMS) might be the best solution for you. What is a learning management system, and how can an LMS support an online community of customers, experts, and partners?
A learning management system is an online platform used to create, customize, and deliver educational content to learners, such as vendor partners or, in this case, your customers. An all-in-one LMS, like the Learning Cloud from WorkRamp, can facilitate customer training, support enablement, and onboarding.
LMSs are used for teaching knowledge and skills—for instance, training new customers on your product or helping users get up to speed on new features. In addition, they’re also packed with social and community features like message boards, instant chats, user forums, and video hosting, making LMSs ideal spaces for thriving online communities.
Additionally, learners are more motivated and engaged when they can control their own learning, like setting their own pace or deciding what content is most helpful. This learner-driven approach is called autonomous learning—and it’s been linked by some research to increased success in both classrooms and online learning.
WorkRamp’s Customer Learning Cloud empowers autonomous learning and puts your customers in control.
As Salesforce points out, this operating model conveniently eliminates the need for installation or local hosting. Traditional software that must be installed is sometimes called on-premise software.
The Customer Learning Cloud uses cloud technology to deliver the fastest and most cost-efficient customer enablement solutions. This approach reduces costs while simultaneously providing your organization—and its customers—with exceptional speed, security, and scalability.
Here are a few reasons why your business should consider choosing a SaaS or cloud-based platform to support and manage your customer community:
- Secure data back-ups and recovery
- Fast implementation time
- Lower maintenance costs
- No need to pay software licensing fees
- Easy to set up and start using
- Integrates with other platforms to bring all your tools into a single hub
Open-source community platforms
The phrase “open source” can describe many types of technology, from AI and video editing tools to bookkeeping software and code for delivery apps. It simply means the software’s source code is available to the general public for use or modification.
You can build your own personalized community platform using open-source code— provided you or another person on your team possesses the necessary coding skills.
A simpler, faster solution may be to use a SaaS platform or LMS equipped with a drag-and-drop editor, like the Learning Cloud. With its intuitive interface, the Learning Cloud empowers you to create content in minutes so you can deliver customer training when and where it matters.
Most of us use social media platforms daily. Four of the most common examples are Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Other popular examples include WhatsApp, Tumblr, Pinterest, and, for professional networking, LinkedIn.
Even YouTube, which people typically think of as a video streaming platform, has a social media component since users can leave comments, subscribe to their favorite channels, and interact with content creators or subscribers.
It’s fast and easy to start creating business pages and communities on a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram. Another advantage is that social media is fun, leading to higher user engagement.
However, there are also some drawbacks. Social media platforms limit your ability to customize each page, are packed with distracting ads, and aren’t always reliable when ensuring your followers receive notifications.
Other types of customer communities
The above is not an exhaustive list of every possible type of customer community platform.
For example, some are categorized as “insight communities,” where companies seek feedback from specific customer segments and demographics. Another example is an “advocate community,” where customers advocate for and have discussions about your brand—generally in exchange for free shipping, product discounts, or other incentives.
The key is to determine what you’re trying to achieve with the platform, then choose a software option that supports your goals and aligns with your budget.
Why is building a customer community so important for your business?
Now that we’ve covered some basic definitions and use cases for virtual customer communities, it’s time to break down the benefits they offer—not just for the customers who use them but also for the businesses that create them.
So why should your business invest in creating an online community for its customers and/or partners? How do your customers benefit, and what about your own organization?
There are at least five reasons why building an online community is beneficial for your business and your customers:
- It supports customer empowerment
- It boosts your brand’s reputation
- It increases customer engagement and brand loyalty
- It provides you with customer feedback and insights
- It lowers your expenses
It supports customer empowerment
“You’re sitting on a pot of gold with your customers, so in a customer-led world, it’s about prioritizing infrastructure on your customers and being able to retain them and grow them,” Kevin says. “It’s simple concepts that are oftentimes overlooked. There are so many things that go into customer infrastructure, customer debt, customer processes, and workflows that the intention and outcome is to drive expansion in renewal revenue. And most people don’t really think about it until things start really breaking. And so for me, in this current environment, it’s less about having the perfect benchmark but just organizing the company’s priorities around the customer.”
This ties into the concept of customer empowerment, or the process of providing customers with the tools and resources they need to be successful.
One of these tools and resources can be an online community—a convenient and accessible virtual space where your customers can:
- Share insights
- Ask questions and get answers
- Provide feedback
- Learn about news and updates, like new product launches or upgrades
- Explore various types of educational content, such as product tutorials or eLearning courses designed to help onboard new customers
It boosts your brand’s reputation
Consumers’ trust in brands is low, but their trust in other consumers is high. For example, in one recent survey of more than 1,000 participants, 46 percent said they trusted business reviews as much as they trusted recommendations that they had received from their friends or family members.
If you want to encourage prospects to trust your brand and adopt your product, you must take active steps to boost your brand’s reputation.
Creating a customer community online is the perfect strategy for accomplishing this goal—not only because it provides you with transparent customer feedback but also because you can leverage member-generated content to establish trust with other consumers and prospects.
In other words, you can use content from satisfied customers to help convince undecided consumers they should get on board with your product or service. That translates to lower marketing costs and higher adoption rates.
It encourages customer engagement and loyalty
The more satisfied customers feel with your product, the more likely they will remain loyal and continue engaging with your business instead of switching to a competitor.
How do you create satisfied customers? Of course, there are countless strategies—but creating an online community where they can find expert support, provide feedback about their experience, and network with peers is a great step.
By creating a friendly, easy-to-use, and visually appealing space where customers can learn about your product’s uses, features, and upgrades—or, interact with your customer service and support representatives—you can boost customer satisfaction and lower your churn rates.
It provides actionable customer feedback and insights
Different sources estimate that companies spend about 5 to 20 percent of their yearly revenue on market research. That represents up to one-fifth of your annual revenue being used on campaigns to learn how your customers and prospects think.
Customer communities are exceptional sources of feedback, providing insights that businesses can incorporate into their local, national, or even global strategies. By using an LMS, SaaS platform, or other solution to create and manage a community of customers, prospects, and experts, your business can stay ahead of what’s trending and efficiently fill market gaps that aren’t being adequately served.
It reduces costs
Marketing campaigns can get expensive quickly. For example, the average social media campaign costs businesses anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 per month, which adds up to $48,000 to $84,000 per year.
Ironically, despite the money businesses spend to market their products, organic word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) tends to be more effective—up to 5x more successful than paid ads, according to Semrush.
According to Shopify, WOMM is an advertising strategy where customers promote your products based on favorable experiences. An online community creates a dedicated space your customers can visit—and repeatedly revisit—to endorse, share information about, and discuss your products.
This type of marketing approach, also called community-led growth, brings together prospects, customers, and subject matter experts who generate their own content. Your business can then use this content to educate other customers, convert prospects, and create deeper trust in your brand.
By embracing this type of member-led or community-led growth model, you can expand your business’ reach—while slimming your marketing budget at the same time.
6 must-have features for a customer community platform
When choosing between LMS, SaaS, and other types of community platforms, you need to keep your mission top of mind. What will you use the platform for, and what pain points are you looking to solve? How quickly are you looking to launch the new platform, and what sort of budget do you need to consider? These are the core questions that should be guiding your search.
No matter which platform you choose, ensure it has certain features and capabilities. For example, you’ll need a platform with robust, cutting-edge security features to protect your customers’ data.
Of course, top-notch security isn’t the only feature your business will need. That’s why we compiled this checklist of six must-have features to look for in a customer community platform.
Here’s an at-a-glance overview of the features we’ll be covering:
- Various content options
- Multi-platform accessibility
- Communication opportunities
- Member flexibility
- Security and privacy
- Analytics and reporting
- Various content options
One of the advantages of an online community is that it lets members share, access, and interact with many different types of learning content—all within the same course or program.
For example, here are some types of content that WorkRamp’s flexible platform enables you to incorporate when building your customer community:
- Blog posts and how-to guides
- Case studies
- eBooks and PDFs
- Games and challenges
- Infographics and interactive content
- Interviews with experts and leaders
- Podcasts and webinars
- Quizzes and assessments
- Screen captures and screenshots
- Simulations and role-play scenarios
- Slides, diagrams, charts, and other visual aids
- Text blurbs and long-form articles
- Videos and product tutorials
So why is this important? There are two key reasons:
- Using a variety of content types keeps your customer education program fresh, dynamic, and engaging. It also increases usability and convenience for community members. For example, Slack gives users the ability not only to send messages but also to share GIFs, videos, files, and other documents.
- Using various content helps you connect with a wider range of learning styles. No matter how your customers learn best, using various media types, visual designs, and content formats will help ensure that something “clicks.”
You should also ensure that content is relevant and tailored to users’ needs. LinkedIn suggests four techniques for personalizing your online community to its members:
- Send personalized emails or newsletters to subscribers
- Display personalized recommendations or offers on your website or app
- Create personalized landing pages or pop-ups for different segments of your audience
- Provide personalized support or guidance to your community members using chatbots or live chat
- Multi-platform accessibility
When building an online community, one of your fundamental goals is to give your customers a sense of belonging that will keep them returning to the platform to continuously learn, share, and engage. Your community also aims to educate and empower customers so they have a better experience with your product and remain loyal to your brand.
To deliver an enjoyable and frictionless customer experience, you need a platform that’s easy to use, mobile-friendly, and reliably accessible. For example, does it work with both Windows and Mac? Can customers easily log in and use the platform from their iPads, iPhones, laptops, and desktops? Does it integrate readily with your tech stack, like integrating with Workday or Outlook?
Look for a platform like the Learning Cloud that offers multi-platform accessibility and integrates with the software and apps your team is already using.
A community is based on communication. If you want your online community to thrive to reap the rewards of community-led growth, you must facilitate communication to the greatest extent possible.
In other words, you should choose a platform that lets users chat and interact in multiple ways—for example, through discussion forums, peer-to-peer messaging, video livestreams, and group chat/team meeting features.
The Learning Cloud is packed with chat features and integrates with all of the biggest communication and scheduling tools, including Zoom, Slack, Outlook, Intercom, Google Calendar, and Chrome.
A community platform that isn’t flexible will quickly lose its appeal for customers, whose needs and priorities shift over time and vary by role and department.
The Learning Cloud is designed to accommodate all types of training and education needs. You can easily tailor your content for different teams, from your customers’ marketing and salespeople to their PR and HR staff. Our platform offers additional flexibility by supporting multiple languages, offering numerous integrations, and being mobile-friendly for learners who are on the move.
Security and privacy
Privacy is paramount when using an online platform, and keeping your customers’ data secure is a non-negotiable part of the deal. After all, security breaches cost the average company an estimated $4.45 million per year as of 2023, according to IBM—and if current trends continue, that figure is on the rise, with average breach cost already up 12 percent from $3.86 million in 2022.
Security breaches dent trust in your brand and cost your company money, causing both short-term and long-term harm to your public reputation and image. We understand how important it is to mitigate your risks and shield your data, which is why our platform has cutting-edge security features built in.
With advanced data encryption, SOC 2 Type 2 security controls, and user permissions that are designed to reduce your vulnerability, you can feel peace of mind that the Learning Cloud keeps your info secure. Learn more about WorkRamp’s commitment to your privacy and how we protect our customers’ data from malicious cyberattacks.
Analytics and reporting
Bringing customers together and getting feedback isn’t the only purpose that an online community serves. Depending on which platform you use to manage your online customer community, you can also access data reports and analytics, which provide your business with actionable insights into user behavior. For example, you can use analytics and reporting to determine which products or features have the highest adoption rates and pain points where users are struggling or less engaged.
WorkRamp’s LMS features a native analytics dashboard that tracks real-time statistics and data. The Learning Cloud empowers your business to monitor and analyze customers’ progress so that you can make continuous, data-driven improvements that learners will love.
Use the best customer community platform software
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