Community forums—online spaces where consumers and developers can interact and collaborate— are increasingly popular tools for companies hoping to improve their product development and ideation.
“Customer-centricity is somewhat of an industry buzzword right now,” said Kate McGaughey, engagement advocacy manager at CallRail, a call-tracking tech supplier for marketers. McGaughey spent the last year building out a community forum for CallRail, which provides the company a platform in which to be transparent with users about features in development and limitations of existing products.
Often, companies will build a product and then market it for a target audience, McGaughey said. Community forums allow companies to flip that logic on its head by making consumers into stakeholders in the development process, which in turn improves the demand for and quality of the product.
Community-based development is an important growth strategy. “To keep innovating and growing your business, it’s really important to involve customers in your ideation process,” McGaughey said. “It really gives an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve.”
When developing a community forum, companies need to identify key stakeholders in their consumer bases. “Those might be people who’ve engaged with your brand heavily in the past, they might have responded to surveys, or even left feedback on other channels like review sites. Those are the people who are going to be most excited about the opportunity to supply feedback,” McGaughey said.
CallRail’s community forum was built using Discourse, a forum software with different tiers of customization. CallRail used the higher tier to access the Discourse API and customize for its specific needs, McGaughey said.
Retailer Target recently built a community forum called Studio Connect, which is drawing praise for its creative functions. The invitation-only platform allows chosen customers to collaborate with Target designers.
McGaughey praised the way this collaboration moves beyond surveys and beta-testing to involve consumers early in the product development process.
“They’ve identified a way to connect the creators within their company to the customer base they’re designing products for in a way that’s very familiar to them,” McGaughey said, describing the forum as “sort of an Instagram-type wireframe.”
McGaughey explained that successful communities can be built on everything from private Facebook groups to online forums coded completely from scratch. Regardless of the platform, “It’s super important to understand what your customers want, the emotional motivation,” she said.
Anna Kramer is a staff writer at Street Fight.