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Online Membership Communities: Success is About Service

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Recently, NMX launched a brand new online membership site, NMX University. Premium members have access to our 2013 Virtual Ticket through NMX University, but there is also a basic membership area of the site where people can access a handful of virtual sessions, our library of ebooks, and other content for free. Yours truly is managing the content on NMX University (with tons of help from the rest of the NMX staff).

I’ve run and been involved in membership communities in the past, and what I’ve found time and time again is that success hinges on how well you provide service to your members. Content might still be “king” online, but even the best content will fail in a membership community without great customer service.

The VIP Mentality

Members of a community are all VIPs, whether they pay for premium content or not. People are quick to complain and because everyone is used to getting so much free stuff online, there’s a real sense of entitlement online. I don’t say this to complain. Frankly, I think people should feel entitled. Whether we pay for something or not, we are all entitled to be treated with respect. So if you aren’t treating all of your members like VIPs, you’re missing the boat.

Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that you should bend to every demand. What it does mean is that you should promptly respond to questions, apologize for problems, and take everyone’s suggestions into account. When you give someone the option of being a member of your site – even a free member – you have an obligation to provide customer service. If you don’t want to service non-paying members, don’t have a free membership option.

At NMX University, whether you are a free member or a paid member, I will respond to your emails within 24 hours. If I don’t, that’s an indication that I haven’t received it. Everyone is a VIP in my book.

“Prompt” has a New Definition

It used to be that a prompt reply was six to eight weeks. You had to write to a company and wait for a response (if you got one at all), and often your problem was a moot point by the time a solution was proposed.

Today, people have a new definition of “prompt.” That’s why I do my very best to respond to all customer service emails for NMX University within 24 hours. Even that much time – yes, less than one day – can seem like a long time when it comes to online content, so I try to respond even faster when at all possible.

People have short attention spans, so you have to help them quickly if you want to maintain a good relationship. A response within the hour will get a much more positive reaction than the same response three days later. Not only that, but people aren’t afraid to complain in a very public way (on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) if they think they are being ignored.

Your Definition of Clear isn’t Everyone’s Definition of Clear

“User-friendly” means something different to everyone. What might seem really clear to you might not be clear at all to your members. That’s why I’m constantly tweaking the usability of NMX University (without making drastic changes that confuse people) so members have the best user experience possible.

People will have suggestions for you. Some people will not be nice about these suggestions. I’ve been called stupid, ignorant, and a host of others things from people who don’t like the design and usability of membership sites I’ve helped create. Don’t take it personally. I actually keep a folder of the emails I get from people praising sites so I can read them whenever I get the occasionally mean or critical email. You can’t please everyone, but what is important is that you set aside your ego and take others’ suggestions into consideration. Already, NMX University is better thanks to user suggestions and we’re only getting started.

You’ll Catch More Flies with Honey

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a piece of advice my mother gave me when I was young: You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. That is, even when people are being complete jerks, the situation will turn out better if you’re as nice as possible instead of mean or aggressive.

Even when your membership community is loved by 99.99% of people, there will always be that .01% who send angry emails for some reason or another. It’s easy to be angry right back, but remember: You set the tone for your company. If your reply is apologetic and sincere, you’ll be surprised at just how many people change their tune and even apologize for overreacting in their previous email. Because I listen to people, address concerns politely, respond quickly, and apologize for their frustration – even when they are in the wrong – over half the time, I get much happier email responses the next time around, even if the problem hasn’t been solved yet.

I hope you’ll take some time to check out NMX University and put my customer service to the test. For those of you out there also running membership communities, what are some of your best tips for success? Leave a comment below!

Photo Credit: Bigstock

The Story: Building and Growing Online Communities

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Session: Successful Solutions for Building and Growing an Online Community
Speaker: Debba Haupert

Question: How do you build an online community?

The short answer: two girlfriends were dealing with cancer and I felt helpless. I wanted to know how best to be there for them. I also found myself with a strange, overwhelming need to be close to my girlfriends – those two and others.

That was the genesis of my online community – Girlfriendology.com. Definitely not with the intent, initially, to build an online community, but to address a personal need to express my girlfriend gratitude and a desire to inspire women to be better friends to each other.

I suspect that a driving emotion is most often the beginning of many successful online communities – a need to express our beliefs and passions, a desire to educate or inspire, and a longing to connect with like-minded people.

Whatever the origin or mission of a community, it will eventually weave a unique story. The story threads its way through the community manager, in and out through the communication and content, connecting the members of the community and, in the end, the story creates a ‘fabric’ much stronger because of all those elements.

And, just like any really good story, there are several, distinct, key elements to an online community that build into the story as the community grows. We’ll cover these in my BWELA session on Successful Solutions for Building and Growing a Successful Online Community (Thursday, Nov 3, 2:45 pm):

1. Community Goals and Objectives – From branding to managing expectations, for new communities or those who might need to re-examine their goals and objectives to get back on track.

2. Knowing and Growing our Communities – Who are the citizens in our unique community, and what connects us? We need to take stock of your community as it grows, and continue to provide substance and content that meets our objectives and is valuable for member participation.

3. Using Social Media to Grow our Community – I’ll share a variety of ways in how others have grown their communities using Social Media, as well as defining specific social media tools for managing community connections efficiently and effectively.

4. Managing our Community – Most of us wear multiple hats, from CEO to content creation, from ongoing social media updates to managing a budget. But the one hat that we may struggle with wearing most is that of managing a group of people who have their own goals, objectives and viewpoints. So we’ll share some lessons I’ve learned about managing communities – the good, the bad and the downright painful!

We’ll cover several case studies of a variety of communities, the advice they have to offer and the lessons they learned the hard way. Join us to as we share in the conversation of how to be successful at managing and growing our online communities!

Note: I’d love to hear your community manager/community story! Please fill out this survey and share your community insights. You may be selected as one of our seminar’s case studies. And we’ll note all the communities to thank in our presentation and upcoming eBook on Community Building for Bloggers.

p.s. And wear your best SHOES to the session. (:

Hear what else Debba has to say:

Watch more videos and see why other speakers are attending BlogWorld LA. See all Speakers here.

Learn more about BlogWorld LA and register Here!

With over 20 years of corporate marketing, DEBBA HAUPERT now focuses her marketing efforts on social media to help companies reach/build their ‘communities.’ She built the online community of women: GIRLFRIENDOLOGY . Debba has over 24,000 Twitter followers and 20,000 female Facebook Fans – and, keeping with the brand, she deletes (most) guys! She has worked with Biz, Kroger, The UPS Store, Frito-Lay, Healthy Choice, Crystal Light, International Delight and other brands. She teaches/speaks on social media marketing. She/Girlfriendology can also be found at @Girlfriendology and Facebook.com/Girlfriendology .

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