Monday, 18 November 2013

On-site vs. off-site communities - the difference between your social media pages and on-site community

When a business thinks about online community, it is useful to split activities into two types of community building.

Off site communities - those that are run off social media pages, and
On site communities - those that sit on the business' domain and are controlled by them

It's interesting that while virtually every business seems to be developing their off site communities via a Facebook page or Twitter account many are neglecting their on site ones.

This is important as the two are useful for quite different purposes.

Off site communities are best for communication and social marketing efforts.
Firstly, a Facebook page or Twitter account is for many an alternative means of contacting a company to an email or phone.
Secondly, they represent a good marketing channel, whether that's paid advertising or earned followers, with the potential to reach large audiences.

On site communities are somewhat different. Here the three benefits are sales, content and loyalty.

Sales: it is far easier to tie an on site community into the fabric of a business site in a way that it boosts sales. Adding product page Q&As, showing community FAQs or providing a community help centre are all ways to convert more visitors through to a purchase.

Content: all of the content created by an on-site community benefits the business and contributes to better SEO. Apart from search engine rankings it also creates important content to sit alongside product pages and other information rich areas.

Loyalty: lastly an active on site community will show customers that the business has a vibrant community in a way that is quite different to a Facebook page or Google+ profile, and encourage them to engage more closely with that business. Combining the community site with a rewards programme can be another great way to further improve loyalty with existing and new customers.

So as your business assesses it's social and community strategy, be sure to factor in an on-site community. You'll quickly see the return.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Quoted! Some comments from founder Phil Woodward on WWD

HipSnip founder Phil Woodward was recently quoted in an article for Women's Wear Daily:
"Retail Goes Beyond Social to Engage Consumers"

The article is here and well worth reading!

Some of Phil's comments from the article:
"Retailers can use all this online time to better connect with their consumers. HipSnip's Phil Woodward, co-founder of a London-based community platform provider, says although social media can alert customers to sales, promotions and new wares, it cannot help guide the customer through to a purchase. On the other hand, he says, a retailer's community offers the benefit of content, conversion and customer experience.

"Apart from just having something to browse, content can help inspire shoppers and help them work out which product is right for them," Woodward explains. "On site communities can be woven into the fabric of the site in a direct way, contributing to conversion improvements. And they can also improve the experience a customer has on site: seeing what others are shopping for, getting questions answered and better understanding a retailer's character."


Woodward says community comes down to two key purchase drivers.

"One is affirmation — helping customers get affirmation that a purchase is right — and community support is a good way of achieving this," he says. "The second is inspiration — inspiring shoppers to find the right piece, or combination of items. Seeing what others are buying, or getting suggestions from the retailer itself or their community is a great way to help this."

Monday, 21 October 2013

Why create an online community?

The idea of online community is becoming increasingly well understood and appreciated. But what are the real benefits of creating one for a business? Aren't there risks involved in allowing customers talk about a business online? And how can a community really impact commercial performance? These are all questions we are regularly asked.

The benefits of an online community

Pretty much every organisation can benefit from creating and managing an online community. These are some of the key benefits to consider.

1. Better customer support
Enabling your customers or audience to help each other is very effective, scalable, and low cost. For many businesses a community site will reduce their overall customer support costs and will also surface great FAQ-type content.

2. Customer feedback & insight
Voice of the customer is a well understood idea, and it has been sought in many different ways such as surveys, interviews and reviews. Community is another approach to understanding what the customer wants with a big difference to other methods - it is interactive. You can see discussions evolve and intercede (or not) to better understand issues.

3. Content
When someone searches for an answer to a problem on Google, it relies on there being content for Google to fine. Content's importance continues to grow. But it is hard to create. A community site not only results in user generated content, but can really direct the content creation process by giving questions to respond to and topics to write about.

4. Loyalty
Having somewhere to go on a business' site to get advice and answers will increase loyalty. If you know you don't have to trawl the web for an answer, because a business you use has a community advice site that's helped before, you going to go back to that site.

5. Brand perception
'Brand equity' and brand perception is important. Any activity that gets brands closer to their customers is going to positively feed back into their perception of the company they are spending money on!

The risks

So are there risks to allowing customers to talk about a business? Well we know that will happen anyway, discussions on social media sites can't be stopped.

The key difference, and sometimes concern, is that an on-site community provides a more discoverable, centralised area to find negative comments. But in fact unless someone keeps track of a Twitter conversation it is easy to see someone tweet a complaint, and then never see the company address it. When a business replies to concerns within its own community it means they can ensure that any negative comments are also seen to be addressed.

So there are no more risks in running an online community that those any business with an online presence faces. In fact by understanding the dynamic of online social media engagement a community site can be a highly effective tool to turn online complaints into powerful demonstrations of a businesses customer service ethos.

The commercial impact

There are three ways these benefits will benefit the business commercially.

1. Increasing sales
All of these benefits ultimately help drive more sales. Using a community to answer buyers' questions, get potential & past customers back to the site and demonstrate a business' expertise will help convert more people to buy, and help people buy more regularly with confidence.

2. Reducing costs
Using a community in a support function can help reduce the time and cost of supporting commonly asked questions.

3. Making better decisions
Lastly by being closer to customers, by understanding what they are saying and what they are thinking, the company will be in a position to make better commercial decisions.

HipSnip coverage by Growth Business magazine

There's a nice piece on HipSnip at Growth Business magazine, highlighting 25 of the most exciting tech businesses in the UK.

The list of 25 is here:

And HipSnip's coverage is here:

Friday, 18 October 2013

Startup 100 list - HipSnip in at 74th :)

HipSnip hits 74th place in this years Startups 100 list.
Our entry is here:

The full list is here:

A hat tip to our friends from Springboard (now part of Techstars) Teddle and Blottr, and our friends on the Zoo Project Lux Fix, who beat us at 73rd...

Friday, 11 October 2013

What is an online community?

The concept of community is an ancient one. In fact, almost by definition community is as old as civilisation itself!
And online communities, despite the recent attention they've received, date back to the very earliest days of computer networking. For instance Usenet was started in 1980 and is still in use today (and is the forerunner of forums).
Wikipedia has what I think is an interesting definition of online community:
An online community is a virtual community that exists online and whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership ritual. An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a Bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs.

I find this interesting for three statements that help get to what is important about the underlying nature of online communities:
1. members enable its existence
An online community only exists as a result of its members. While the platform used to host a community has a very significant impact on the form the community takes, its health and the 'membership rituals' possible, it is ultimately the members that shape it.
2. taking part in membership ritual
An online community develops its own 'rituals'. Methods of expression, acceptable tones, community memes, codes of etiquette. Looking at some global social networking sites - Reddit has quite a different community feel from Twitter.
3.1 anyone can post content...
Anyone being able to post content is one type of community.
This is typical of the countless forums and bulletin boards across the web. And Twitter is a global community where anyone can post a Tweet.
3.2  ...[or] a restricted number of people can initiate posts
Restricting who can post is a different approach but can still result in a thriving community., a regular read of mine, is a thriving community. While only the owner Fred Wilson can upload blog posts, anyone can comment  on these and many, many people do.
And Medium is a fairly new platform started by Ev Williams, one of Twitter's founders. At the moment who can post is controlled (though it sounds like it will open up), but it is still possible to comment and recommend posts - the beginnings of a community, rather than a pure content platform.
So what is an online community?
An online community is a place for like minded people, or unlike minded people, to come together and post, discuss, debate, argue, cajole, criticise, praise, thank, contribute, and learn.
They're wonderful things, and used properly they can do wonderful things for your business.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Seven ways to get your customers talking

This article from HipSnip CEO Phil Woodward was originally published in The Wise Marketer here.

Customers have always been keen to share their thoughts and feelings about brands with each other, according to Phil Woodward, CEO for community shopping platform provider HipSnip, who here explains how today's digital channels can be adapted to build a healthy dialogue with and between customers.

In the days before the internet, those customer discussions would take place on a one-to-one basis and news about brands and products would spread by word of mouth. In cases where customers wanted to complain about a brand, they would need to write a letter which would likely be met by a formulaic, corporate response. This article is copyright 2013

However, times have changed and these conversations are now taking place online and with some major differences; the brands themselves are joining in and are reaping the benefits, while customers are having their concerns addressed directly.

So how can a brand more effectively participate in these discussions with their customers? Here are HipSnip's top seven strategies that are already working for brands worldwide:
  1. Create an on-site community
    Create an area of your website where customers can discuss issues, post questions and see what others are posting - this will enable and encourage interaction between customers and with your brand, and will allow you to manage and maintain the sense of community among users.
  2. Vibrant online communities are thriving
    There is an ever-increasing number of people pro-actively posting content and participating in the discussion. It is natural that these conversations have progressed to the online space, as the speed and magnitude of the internet allows customers to reach and interact with a far greater variety of fellow brand enthusiasts. It also enables lightning-fast responses from the brands, which work hard to ensure the dialogue keeps flowing smoothly and all customer concerns are addressed.
  3. Include calls to action across your web site
    It is vital to make it as easy as possible to ask questions from anywhere on a site, particularly on product pages - it is also worth including links to any community or social networking site where your brand is active, as customers may feel more comfortable interacting there.
  4. Structure the discussion
    While unstructured, free-flowing discussions on Twitter are fine, they require more work to analyse and consolidate into useful information. Providing a structured environment enables better discussions and thus more helpful insights - using a designated community platform can be a good way to do this.
  5. Get involved
    Whether a good, bad or even an ugly comment has been posted, it's essential to get involved and reply - being attentive to negative feedback or customer complaints can be a key factor in turning things around and a well-structured response can even gain a new fan for your brand. You should aim to reply to each question or comment within a few hours to maintain the nurturing and supportive environment of an online community.
  6. Create a feedback loop
    Ensure those monitoring discussions are able to feedback to other decision makers in the organisation, that they have a framework for this and that their feedback is taken seriously. This direct communication with customers has a multitude of advantages for brands, including the fact that they are able to learn more about their customers than ever before; online discussions provide brands with huge amounts of sentiment data that would previously only been accessible via careful and expensive market research.
    What's more, the data harvested from online discussions is generally a lot more accurate than researched data for a number of reasons. For example, when customers are participating in an organic, natural discussion unaware of any observation, the information they supply is genuine and unaffected - when people know they are being monitored, their answers may change and thus be less authentic. Online discussions also allow brands to get an instant insight into what is important to their customers in real-time; information is not delayed by weeks of administration time, nor do brands have to take guesses as to what their customers are most concerned with, because they are told directly by the customers themselves.
  7. Empower your staff
    Members of staff who will be managing and participating in the online discussion need to be empowered and allowed to respond freely without being micro-managed from above; this means giving them guidelines and training, but then taking a step back to allow them to become immersed in the community itself.
    It is worth noting that although there have been several high-profile cases of brands getting it wrong in conversations with their customers when inexperienced staff are given control of a social media account, for example, this shouldn't put other brands off making the most of online communities - the benefits far outweigh the potential damage of any blunders. As long as staff are informed and confident, the community should flourish and continue to strengthen the brand's relationship with its customers.