In today’s “Age of the Customer”, a growing number of companies are cultivating dynamic online communities where customers congregate to get and share information, post and read reviews, brainstorm solutions and ideas, and engage in organic, yet structured dialogue about brands and offerings. And of course, there’s the occasional splash of humor (is anywhere off limits to that ubiquitous Angry Cat!?).

However, while these customer communities are valuable assets that can help companies get closer to customers - not just so they can give information, but so they can receive it - the fact is that many of these virtual neighborhoods are missing a critical piece of the puzzle: optimized product content.

This isn’t to say that product content isn’t available on (or through) customer communities, because it typically is; at least to some degree. Often though, the content isn’t optimized, which means that it’s not doing as much heavy lifting as it could - or should - to inform, impress and inspire both prospective and existing customers. At best, this is a wasted opportunity that leaves current and future sales on the table. At worst, it’s enough to make some customers drift away and migrate to competitors.

The good news is that optimizing product content in customer communities isn’t an arduous uphill struggle. It can be a smooth downhill process, provided that these seven best practices are part of the strategy and approach:

  1. Ensure that all product content is accurate

Accurate doesn’t just mean that product content is internally correct (e.g. the “2” isn’t missing on a numbered list, etc). It also means that content is up-to-date, and consistent with assets that customers may discover through other channels and touchpoints, like search, social, knowledge bases, call centers, and so on.

  1. Ensure that product content is structured

Product content cannot deliver information or enrich the dialogue if customers cannot access it in the first place - which is what happens when information is trapped inside static PDFs. Steer clear of this surprisingly common pitfall by ensuring that content is well-structured with relevant classification and taxonomy.

  1. Avoid creating static product content silos

Companies that regularly product different pieces of product content - which these days is most of them - can unintentionally start piling them up in what quickly becomes static product content silos. When this happens, it’s tedious and frustrating for customers to penetrate these large and looming barriers to get what they need; and many of them won’t even try.

  1. Proactively determine what is for public consumption — and what is not

Some pieces of product content are suitable for the general customer community, while others are suitable for specific customer groups (i.e. those that have purchased a specific product, those that are part of a specific industry or professional role, etc.). Determine what is for public consumption and what is not, and push product content out to open or closed groups accordingly.

  1. Monitor and moderate how customers are describing and accessing product content

Pay close attention to how well-meaning customers describe and recommend different pieces of product content to others in the community, and if necessary, diplomatically intervene to ensure that the messaging is accurate. At the same time, keep a watchful eye on whether product content is being effectively consumed. If not, then there is typically either a problem with accessibility and visibility (i.e. customers cannot find the content easily or quickly enough), or the content itself needs to be updated, augmented or replaced.

  1. Promote product content across all channels and touchpoints, including offline and in-person

Do not assume that all customers will know that the community offers product content - because many will not be aware of this. As such, promote this competitive advantage through all touchpoints and channels, including offline and in-person when customers are speaking or meeting with sales reps, support agents, and so on. Linking to relevant topics when responding to customer questions and comments is also an excellent way to point customers towards the community.

  1. Don’t make techpubs and marketing teams manually input content to the customer community

Techpubs and marketing teams may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but as the old saying goes: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And few things unify techpubs and marketing more tightly, than their shared loathing of manually inputting content into the customer community. Besides, the instruction or request to do so is typically academic, because they are far too busy to do it, anyway.

Looking Ahead — and Optimizing Now

The Zoomin product portfolio helps companies around the world invigorate their customer communities through optimized product content that is accurate, structured, findable, organized, relevant, promoted, and much to the joy of techpubs and marketing teams: uses a one-to-many publishing approach that replaces tedious manual updates, with streamlined automated publishing.

Request a guided demo, and view the case study featuring Apptio, a global leader in technology management, that needed to create a more interactive customer community anchored by optimized, high-impact product content.

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