Software technology and products have had a fairly unique attribute until recently: communities. Software technologies and products have had this seemingly innate ability to have a group of people rally together about the product. This community is a positive thing for the product: it provides technical (an sometimes emotional) support for the product and promotes and evangelizes the product.
With the maturity of online social “platforms”, many non-software products are trying to build their own communities to reap the benefits that software product communities have gains for so many years. This trend simply validates the importance of product communities.
So, how can a company nourish and maximize the benefits of a product community?
First of all, we’ve touched on some of the benefits of these communities; let’s detail some other benefits:
- Free technical support personnel—users helping users
- Free promotion—comfort of real-world users to potential customers
- Highly focused and vetted feedback—users-helping-users point out documentation/usability short-comings
- Free Quality Control—users-helping-users point out flaws and workarounds.
- Product developers feel empowered and more like contributors.
Some of the side-effects of the benefits include:
- Increase sales
- Reduced support costs
- Increased quality
- High ROI for product development because it’s more focused to user need.
- Reduced product development costs.
- Improved employee morale.
Clearly an established community is positive to the bottom line.
Knowing what some of the benefits are, we can focus efforts on maximizing those benefits. Without some way for a community to gather and communicate there’s no way for the community to provide any sort of support for fellow members. The ability to community members to gather provides the ability for the community to openly discuss the benefits of the product and the different ways to use the product to solve problems. This positive community communication promotes the product by providing potential customers with real-world solutions to their existing problems and details how to use the product to realize those solutions. A positive community also puts a human face onto the product and company that potential customers can associate with. Recognizing community leaders categorizes and prioritizes users and their communications. Community communication provides tangible feedback about the product and company that can be mined at any time and vetted by category. Employee involvement means the company is more personal and provides employees with a sense of belonging and empowerment because they see the human factor of their work. Employee work into the product is of higher quality because employees see the human impact of what they are working on and have a sense of belonging.
Nourishing Community Guidelines
- Community is not a replacement for technical support.
- Provide an identity for your community.
- Provide an presence for your community.
- Provide top-notch technical support.
- Be open about the future.
- Provide a positive feedback collection mechanism.
- Organize, prioritize, and cultivate feedback.
- Treat your community efforts as a product. They need technical support, to be user-focused, high-quality, reliable, robust, easy-to-use, and provide a positive experience.
- Provide recognition for community super-stars.
- Rapidly improve product to promote positive community communication.
- Employees should be tasked with and regularly communicate with the community.