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Online communities aren’t just for selling used goods or discussing new music. Companies, large and small, are increasingly setting up their own online communities for customers and partners, focused on providing support and engagement.

These communities give companies new ways to connect with prospects and customers, provide efficient customer service, influence buying behaviours and develop trust.

In a 2015 report on enterprise social networks and online communities, global market intelligence firm IDC offered up this opinion:

“Connecting to customers, employees, partners, and suppliers has always been a mission critical activity. Alongside rapidly shifting expectations, communities have become a broker between business networks and will only continue to contribute more value to organizations trying to develop ongoing relationships.”

The firm also estimates that worldwide online communities market revenue will hit a whopping $1.2 billion by 2019.

In short: online communities are quickly becoming an essential component of customer relationship management, for companies of all sizes.

But how does one go about setting up and deploying a highly functional and well-designed online community? Meet Salesforce Community Cloud.

What Exactly is Salesforce Community Cloud?

Community Cloud is a Salesforce platform that gives companies the tools to create branded online communities. These communities can be created for connecting with customers, external partners and employees.

Customer communities can be used for support and feedback. For companies with B2B business, partner communities can be used for qualifying leads, tracking revenue and providing product information and training. And internal employee communities can be resources for HR and IT information, as well as a place for discussion and collaboration.

So Why Should I Use It?

The idea of building out an online community intimidates many companies; it sounds expensive and complex, and maybe the value isn’t immediately clear (we’ll get into that shortly).

Salesforce Community Cloud empowers companies of any size to create communities that are customized, on-brand and optimized for mobile. Thanks to a library of scalable templates, no coding is necessary. Third-party and custom components make it easy to personalize a community to meet your company’s specific needs.

As a Salesforce product, Community Cloud offers seamless integration with Salesforce CRM data — opportunities, leads, activities, etcetera.

Keep reading for examples of the value Community Cloud can deliver.

It Can Build Better Customer Relationships

Online hubs built with Community Cloud can be populated with an FAQ, tutorials, a searchable database of questions and answers, and forums where customers can connect with one another, and your company.

These different resources, when combined, form a content-rich hub that lets your customer guide their own experience and find the information they need, in the way they want it delivered — a friendly response from a company rep in a forum thread, an answer suggested by a fellow user, or details discovered in a database.

By offering an online community, you’re deepening your relationship with your customer, who comes to trust your transparency, accessibility and willingness to engage.

It Can Save You Money

Providing excellent customer and partner support requires a significant dedication of time and resources.

Community Cloud reduces those time and labour costs by helping your partners and customers help themselves. They can get the information they need by way of the content you’ve populated your online community with and the content that has been generated by other users.

A good online community will result in a slowed stream of support calls and emails, and will reduce your role to one largely of website maintenance and updates and community management.

Organizations of all kinds are seeing significant cost savings as a result of offering online communities. In England, it’s estimated that a popular online community for diabetes patients has saved the National Health Service over a million dollars each year in hypoglycemia cases alone.

But customer and partner service isn’t the only way that online communities help out a company’s bottom line; as outlined in a report by Constellation Research, there are “are six major areas through which an online community can contribute to a company’s revenue, profits and margins”, including “increased revenue through new products and services; enhanced communications, marketing and public relations; improved employee engagement; and better business cost efficiencies.”

It Can Help You Improve Your Product

All three community types created with Community Cloud — customer, partner and employee — can also be powerful research hubs.

Properly observing your communities and collecting data from them will reveal the most common sources of customer/partner/employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction, the new product features that customers would like to see most, and what the most fielded support questions are about (a sign that something needs to be fixed.

Research by Leader Networks shows that nearly seven in 10 marketing and community leaders use their online customer community to listen to what customers need and want so that they can better respond and market.

So, Should I Be Using Salesforce Community Cloud?

If you want to create online communities and are looking for an out-of-box, but highly customizable solution, then yes, Salesforce Community Cloud is for you. App Solve works with you to develop and implement communities that are designed with the exact functionality that your particular company requires.