What do executives and teenagers have in common? While this may seem like a trick question, the answer is the ability and desire to use online communities to make decisions. Research has proven that executives make strategic business decisions based upon peer information, much like their teenage counterparts. However, there are relatively few opportunities for executives to connect with each other online, other than via email. They often need to wait for a conference or in-person event to learn who is doing what with whom in business. Conversely, throughout the web, teenagers have a myriad of forums where they are talking about themselves and their experiences. They are sharing information and collaborating with each other in powerful ways.
Armed with their peers’ perspectives, they are using new tools to make decisions about what they buy, where they go, and what they do. In essence, they are changing the global economy through their online collaborative behaviors.
The potential for this opportunity exists for executives as well, as this constituent is also very driven by leveraging peer referral and experiences to shape future decisions. So, while teens are discussing which music to download or party to attend, executives need a means to discuss industry changes and trends, management issues, which product or service to buy for their company or how to best leverage their organization.
Accordingly, online communities are becoming the new strategic business mandate – especially in the business to business space. Effective customer relationships are the core to any successful B2B company and the strength of any organization is largely dependent upon the company’s ability to deliver the right products and services to its customers in a timely way. Knowing what the customer wants and understanding their current and future needs is paramount to increasing revenue and exceeding customer expectations. Communities provide a prime opportunity for B2B companies to get to know their customers more intimately and keep the finger on the pulse of their needs and behaviors.
The time is now for companies to embrace communities to help them serve their clients better, faster, and in more cost-efficient ways. Through the use of online communities, B2B companies now have an opportunity to forge a dialogue with their customers actively throughout the lifecycle — not just at the point of sale — to learn what they like and don’t like about a product or service.
There is nothing more dangerous to an organization’s lifeblood than a group of dissatisfied customers. Yet, often times, an organization may not even be aware of clients’ issues until they have incurred reputation damage or a trending loss in revenue. By cultivating meaningful relationships online, product development leaders can work with clients to share roadmaps and plans — and to get early input from the people who would be their buyers at a later stage. Marketing can learn what messages are most effective with their constituents and have greater opportunities to educate and inform the customer, not just with shiny whitepapers and marketing newsletters but by bringing them into the discussion and process of product and content co-creation. Online communities also offer opportunities to make heroes out of users, enabling them to share best practice stories and to connect with other clients. This is especially effective with enterprise level support when the key buyer is a C-level executive: information sharing could result in strategic growth opportunities for all involved.
So, although teenagers and executives do have their differences – and it is unlikely that many C-level executives will be submitting YouTube videos of their weekend activities any time soon – B2B online communities are well within reach. And they are an extremely viable medium that can be harnessed for substantial gain.