Boo! How Not to Scare Your Customers Away from Your Online Community

Anna Ritchie : Community Maven
Anna Ritchie
Marketing & communications practitioner, and product manager for TMCnet. Focus on content marketing and social media with a specialty in Online Community-building for businesses. Follow @Connectincloud and @apritchie
| Expertise and Advice on Successful Online Communities

Boo! How Not to Scare Your Customers Away from Your Online Community

fear.jpgScouring the internet can be scary. At any turn you may be asked to download a document, submit a form, or enter any amount of personal information. And then, the dreaded Spam starts flowing into your precious inbox that you work so hard to keep organized and clean. So you stop. Think twice about giving out your email, and are skeptical towards those overly-promotional, overly gated websites.

It’s a scary web out there, there all right, which makes it difficult for marketers to break through the spammy clutter and get their audience to trust them and their content. Here’s where having an online community can be beneficial for educating and engaging with your target audience; nurturing them with your credible content and, over time, positioning your company as an industry leader. But, this only works if the online community is set up correctly, because first impressions mean everything. If a visitor immediately likes your site, they will come back again and again and forward your useful information to their friends, prompting even more visitors. But if you scare them away at first glance, you will never reap the benefits an online community can offer. Here are some spooky online community practices, and how to avoid frightening your precious prospects.

1)      Terrifying Teaser Trickery

Teasers are great promotional tools. Ramp up excitement about a new product, maybe, or give a snippet from your latest research report to entice people to purchase the entire piece. But empty teasers are terrifying, and game changers in your community-visitor relationship. If you trick your customers into clicking on a teaser that immediately takes them to something other than what you’ve communicated, like a form, or a promotional ad, trust may be shattered (especially if the relationship with your prospects is just starting to develop). Slow and steady wins the sales race these days, and if you try to trick, instead of treat, your site visitors, it’s likely they’ll never view you as a credible source of information. Use the teasers to treat them with the latest, hard-to-find information, or a special discount code that will incent them to return to your online community again and again.

2)      Spooky Self Promotion

You know those freaky rooms full of mirrors, like the ones they have in carnivals or in Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” fight scene? Where everywhere you look there are dozens of reflected images? Now, think about how many times your company branding appears on your online community. Is every page your visitor goes to littered with “You you you”? Are you eerily present at every turn, suffocating them with your imagery and messages every where they look?

If and when your prospects what to learn about what your company has to offer, they will go to your company website. But if they want an online community to go to, to learn the latest industry news, read product reviews, and join discussions with others that have similar interests, then give them that. Don’t bombard them with your branding, because you’ve done enough by simply creating the space for this education and interaction to occur. By building the room, you’ve done enough. Leave the mirrors out of it.

3)      Deadly Design

We know, we know; these days it’s all about the content, right? But as a community sponsor, you have the burden of providing that content in an easy-to-navigate, visually appealing place. If your online community looks like a disaster zone, you might just scare away your site visitors for good.

Making sure your online community design matches the quality of your content is crucial to building trust with your target audience. The more organized, clean and fresh your community looks, the more professional and reliable you will appear. A hard to navigate or just plain messy site will, no matter how awesome your content is, scare away a lot of interested, eager visitors.

4)      Frightening Forms

Ever go to fill out a form online, and then click out of it, unsure as to how your personal information would be used? You may have even left behind something you really wanted to watch, or read, but just didn’t trust the website enough to disclose your details.  Forms can be scary, but online communities can still use them, if they follow a few rules. For one, make sure there’s enough information on your site that isn’t gated (or blocked by a form). You want people to come to the site, browse, look around and begin to trust you. Some of these people may be valuable prospects. Others, not so much. By capturing each visitor’s information and pushing them through your internal sales process, you may be wasting precious time and resources following up on unqualified leads.

 Instead, make your most valuable, robust and insightful pieces gated, but develop a fair amount of “free” content to surround it. On the download page, display some charts or research from the piece. Provide quotes from people who read it (or watched it) and liked it. Let people post comments and questions about it, and do the right amount of teasing that will make people crave the asset. But, be clear on the form just what people are getting in exchange for their information. Reassure them their information won’t be sold, and allow them to opt-into your newsletter or updates if they want. The people that opt-in, and download your information, will be truly interested and qualified leads worthy of your time and attention.

How have you been scared away from a company website or online community? Any spooky practices you want companies to avoid? Facebook  | LinkedIn | Twitter

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