How many times have you gone to the online support community of a business only to ask yourself once you get there: “Why am I here when I have Google?” Questions searched in Google will bring up threads from relevant corporate pages as well as from (sometimes more illuminating) discussions on those homegrown ‘support’ sites that have spurted organically from users’ needs and interests. A similar question can be asked for any kind of product-review or advice-seeking in company-sponsored customer forums.
A lot has been poured into building these corporate communities and directing customers there, yet frequently we bypass them because Google is more all-encompassing and Facebook is easier. So, I ask, why not bring the insights and discussions from all over the web that people want to see—and can access freely anyway—to the corporate website? Yes, I’m suggesting businesses include public community content—user reviews, articles, support answers—in a widget right there on the corporate web pages. A sort of RSS ‘support and opinion’ feed. A curated community feed.
Curated, of course, for relevance. If I’m buying a new tablet, then provide user reviews from all over the internet (so that I don’t leave your site to go searching for them). Provide answers to frequently asked questions from the collective smarts of the web. And curate the information so that it’s relevant to both the context of the webpage I’m on and my activity on it. Personalize it.
I admit, curation does in essence conflict with the notion of free public debate and product reviews. To be sure this point came up right away when I brought the topic of a curated community up for debate with colleagues. “How to curate public discussion and remain credible?” Opinions ranged from “Big business will never let its guard down to unfiltered discourse.” to “If public reviews are filtered, then what value do they have? People will see right through this veiled marketing.”
But I think of it more this way. I don’t need to see (I don’t want to see) an aggressive teenager’s angry review anyway. Aren’t we immune to these outbursts now? Plus, bad reviews are frequently balanced by ones that are so positive, you have to wonder whether the author is getting kickbacks. I don’t trust social input indiscriminately from any site. I use review sites to get an overall impression. True, the reviews might sway me in one direction. But the corporation knows I’ll find the bad stuff if I want to. And if, on the other hand, I am an angry teenager perusing a corporate site, I’ll be reading reviews on MySpace or the likes regardless of which reviews a business presents to me.
Reviews aren’t just about liking and disliking, but about how something works, what you can do with the product or service, where it can take you. Information.
What will I get from the curated community as I browse around a site? My hunger for more information satisfied. My need to connect with others about a topic met. And relevant insights and answers delivered, feeding in from homegrown sites as well as the corporate sponsored support community. But I won’t have to leave the webpage I’m on to get it.
I’m not suggesting we get rid of the sponsored community—it’s a good place to get live chat support with an agent, for instance, and can in some contexts provide private community exclusivity. I just want my time on your website to be meaningful and convenient. Don’t have me searching the web for independent information about your product. Who knows where that will take me. Just take your chances and deliver it to me.
I think I’m looking at a glimmer of the future.
Will businesses open the door to sharing independent information in this way? Or will they resist? Will trust in company sponsored (aka moderated) communities diminish? Please share your thoughts!
(Vikas Nehru is VP, Product Marketing, KANA)