Why Community, Why Forums
On-line communities create a perpetuating relationship amongst customers and the companies that host them. People want to belong, be known, and interact in a meaningful way. Consider the long running TV show “Cheers” which featured a Boston bar, full of regulars who all had various personality quirks, and all fit together in their own unique way. While fictional, it is a fair representation of basic human behavior. Why did these customers come to the same bar day after day? Was the beer that good? No. It was because they were known, had a rapport with one another, and the with bartenders and owners. It was a community.
Many businesses operate with a “supplier” mentality. They see themselves as a provider of goods and services for fee, and while that is certainly the case, if that is the full extent of the relationship they form with clients, then likely they will be stuck in “Commodity Mode”. As a customer, if the purchase experience around a brand is sterile – the product is described and offered up for a price, we are likely to commoditize the product, reducing it to a list of features and ultimately a price with which to compare to other would be suppliers. Our heads are involved solely in the decision making. Where’s the cheapest place to buy the beer?
Forums can be used to create a virtual “Cheers” experience for your customers. Forums create a special place where customers can come together on-line to share their experiences around a particular product, and while so doing, develop personal relationships amongst themselves, and perhaps even representatives of the sponsoring company. In time, they begin to develop attachments, and become emotionally connected with the products. As such, they are likely to take pride in solving problems for each other, defend the products against criticism (after all they bought them) , and are apt to be more forgiving of any shortcomings. As new products come out, they are also more likely to purchase, to periodically renew their positions in the community as the mass of membership moves from one generation of product to the next. People don’t want to be left behind as the group moves on.
The sponsoring company also benefits from involvement in the community by sitting on the virtual barstool next to it’s customers and hearing what they like and don’t like about the products. This provides an inside track on what can be done to make the next round of products even more attractive.