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Building an Online Community: Part 2

by Admin 7. May 2009 09:05
Our first post in this 2-part series talked about the use of forums in buidling an online community for your current and prospective customers. In this post, I will discuss how a blog, together with a forum, can be great resources for small businesses and serve your customers better.

 

Blogs can be used to build relationships with customers, as well as help you in product development by sharing new features and welcoming ideas and feedback from the readers. Blogging can also be used for viral marketing, as the posts can create a number of responses from other bloggers, bringing traffic to your blog and improving your SEO.

 

Blogs can help you improve your operations and this is where running a forum parallel to a blog can really benefit your customers. Blogs and forums can both give support to customers; blogs through the article format and forums more through a question and answer(s) format.

 

Although all the above are true benefits your company can experience from blogging, perhaps the biggest one is the ability to create brand awareness and set yourself apart from your competitors. At OfficeClip, we have chosen to use our blog to help other small businesses become more efficient. We do this by sharing tips on marketing and advertising techniques, technologies and strategies, and by explaining the benefits of our timesheet software, web contact manager and issue tracker.

 

Blogging is a way for us to share what we know and what we struggle with, so that we can help our current and prospective customers. Hopefully, they'll leave comments and suggestions for us too!

 

As far as platforms for blogs, we use www.wordpress.org and this is probably better for a business than www.wordpress.com because we have more control over things like widgets, adding features, changing the design, etc. to fit our specific needs. Also, we get to have our own domain name, which is very important for SEO.

 

Online communities connect us to our customers in ways that most could not have even imagined a few years ago. Building one by being transparent, honest and creative can help you establish your company on the web.

Building an Online Community: Part 1

by Admin 27. April 2009 10:04

This is the first part of a two-part series; we are now focusing on forums and the second will focus on how blogs can help small businesses to build an online community.

So far we have been serving our customers and prospects using direct email, phone and our product knowledge base. We have known for awhile that we wanted to implement a forum, where our OfficeClip customers could discuss their own findings with the software, such as easier ways to use web timesheet or web contact manager, how to set up issue tracker, etc. In effect, we want to create a community for our users so they have some place to go to find answers. This will make their satisfaction with our product even better and allow us to easily look to the conversations to see what we are doing well and where we need to improve. Additionally, prospective OfficeClip users can look to the forum to gather their preliminary information and talk with current users about their experience. This does put pressure on us though, because we want the word-of-mouth comments to be positive!

Our next step was to find a forum for us to implement. While researching for an online support forum, we found that there are many inexpensive and open source forum products out there. To my surprise the free and open source are almost as good as the paid ones.

We selected the YAF (Yet Another Forum) to implement our support forum. The advantage of being open source is that we could make some minor tweaks to the source code to make it work exactly like what we want.

When using open source, it is important to remember that developers of these open source programs need to be supported through donations (many of them have donation links on their website) or contributing to the open source product (if you are a developer and want to add more features to the product).

Please visit our OfficeClip Forum, let us know what you think and let us know if forums are working for your business. And if you like our community and want more discussions, follow us on Twitter, too!

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