Acquisition and Retention via Online Communities
Originally published October 14, 2009
EMarketer recently published research into interactive ROI, and concluded that the primary objectives of online marketers are to aquire and retain new customers. Now it’s the fall and little has changed.
There are a number of projects, technologies and tactics that can be deployed to drive customer aquisition and retention, and I will be focusing on how publishers and brands can apply their online community platform for this purpose.
While the explicit definition of the terms ‘customer’, ‘acquired’ and ‘retained’ vary across organizations, I consider a new registered website user to be acquired, and a returning registered website participant to be retained.
Top interactive tactics include email and SEO
“For online marketers”, says David Hallerman, eMarketer senior analyst, “search is the most effective tactic for customer acquisition, and e-mail is the most effective for customer retention.”
Below is a breakdown of interactive marketing tactics. Email is still the weapon of choice, and many of the other tactics are methods to add to the email database.
Niche communities should also be included on this list of tactics for several reasons.
First, they can provide value to existing and potential clients via support forums and knowledge exchange.
Second, these communities, if seeded, supported and nurtured by a community manager, can also reenforce the primary tactics of SEO for acquisition and email for retention.
Acquisition through community SEO
Using search engine optimized web applications that include blogs, commenting, forums and Q&A can build many more pages of relevant content. By enabling and encouraging sharing of that content, and setting up complimentary external social networking pages, you can greatly increase the number of quality, relevant inbound links. Inbound linking is critical for SEO.
Inside Facebook also provides an excellent guide to optimizing your actual Facebook fan page for search engines.
Community Managers should actively participate in the conversation, answering questions, and adding additional topical links. They should quote and link industry blogs, and share community discussions in the comments of those blogs.
Focus on adding value for your audience, and you will grow your community.
Retention through community participation
Community platforms generate branded, direct communications from fellow community members. Because these messages originate with others in the community, they tend to represent trusted advocacy sources and are less likely to be ignored.
Branded email can be generated by a number of activities:
- Digest content update (daily, weekly, etc…)
- Content matching specified interest has been posted
- Comment made on posted content
- Comment added to thread
- Content sent to fellow users
- Internal message waiting
- Registration welcome email
- Friend request or follow notification
Niche communities can also have any number of custom message triggers such as, “UserBob thinks you are funny” or “HandyHardware is interested in building your house”.
Each of these emails could be HTML emails with image branding, commercial calls to action or even banner ads, all in addition to the actual message linking back to the site.
“Personalizing the message itself is associated with higher click rates. It is also correlated with higher open rates, though open rates are generally more influenced by the subject line, sender name, and subscribers’ relationship with the sender.”
Community-generated email perfectly provides these elements because the subject is timely and relevant to the user and the sender name can be the familiar community or a fellow member name.
If you have ever received an email from YouTube or Facebook stating that someone has commented on your content, you understand that opening it is irresistible.
UPDATE: EMarketer has just published research, “Top E-Mail Subject Lines Focus on ‘You’”. It has ‘you/your’ showing up as the number one used word in marketing email subject lines, and ‘welcome’ coming in at #9. This shows that the naturally personal email that is generated by a community to its members has high value to hosts and sponsors.
How many emails can be expected?
This depends on a wide range of factors including the number of members, nature of the community and level of engagement.
An example is the wildly successful CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Anthem Challenge that was built and run by Filemobile on the Media Factory platform. The website logged 90,000 registered users, 80,000 comments, and 35,000 content shares.
That is 205,000 branded messages generated by the community in 90 days (and this assumes only one person saw a social network share message!)
This was not a permanent community, but shows how many messages can be generated by a great campaign.
Community management is key
This point is worth restating. Active community management is key to acquiring and retaining customers online.
- Engage users personally and improve the breadth and depth of the conversation
- Push discussion points and conclusions out to the social web to link people back
The content created by this cycle draws people in via search and keeps them coming back with personal email.