Published on 17 August 2011
One cannot underestimate the thrill of customer evangelism for a product or a service. Any business - large or small - that manages to incite even the slightest bit of excitement or interest from customers should count themselves lucky in today's message-cluttered web 2.0 world.
That said, small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have truly been the beneficiaries of the "cluttered web" in the past decade as the Internet has taken at least some of the guess work out of the main question that all marketing departments have been asking since the beginning of time when man first sold clubs in caves: what do people think of my product? While there may be more products than ever floating around on the Internet, at least human nature has compelled us to continuously comment, ask and form communities that have helped businesses to better understand what their customers (as well as critics) are thinking.
However, while people have been free with their opinions when it comes to, oh just about anything, sometimes the trick is trying to make sense of it all. If your product or service is indeed generating conversation and questions on your site or on forums, then the next step is to reign it all in. That is where Answerbase.com comes in. This solution allows you to apply a Q&A community to your website so that your customers can ask questions and receive relevant and helpful answers.
What Does It Look Like?
One of the easiest ways to create an "online" community that generates both helpful information and customer evagenlism is to launch a Q&A forum that will help you understand what questions are being asked by your customers. A Q&A community will also provide you with the opportunity to offer your customers with helpful advice based on their inquiries. Answerbase.com, which was launched a few years ago for the enterprise sector helping such companies as Edmunds.com create Q&A forums, recently launched their "SMB-focused" tools. The service offers small businesses with smaller budgets the ability to extend their customer service through Answerbase.com's Q&A templates. SMBs can assign moderators, users, customize the Q&A templates as well as create widgets, integrate with social and mobile media platforms, print reports and more.
I should stress here that having an Q&A software is not just about offering great customer service; it is also about implementing a strategic search engine optimization strategy. According to James Arnold of Answerbase.com, "Having a Q&A platform on your site allows you to attract search engine traffic and new visitors to your website. Each question asked generates a new page on your system that has Search Engine Optimized page titles, URLs, and descriptions. Since people with similar issues use search engines to find solutions, your content will show up in the search results and the result can be additional web traffic."
Answerbase.com starts at $15 per month for basic tools and goes up to $45 and above for more sophisticated features such as CSS design and other tools to customize and create an online Q&A community.
Creating a Helpful Community: Forum 2.0:
Arnold says that the main difference between a Q&A community on a platform like Answerbase.com versus a forum where people merely post their thoughts - is that a tool like Answerbase.com will provide you with an opportunity to control your message and provide customers with the most helpful advice available. Generally, forums have no editing features but rather are designed to allow people to post their thoughts and questions, while Answerbase.com will literally cull the most helpful answers and make sure those comments are prioritized for your customers. What I liked about this product is that even at the $15 a month level, the service does an tremendous job of prioritizing the questions and answers to ensure the best advice is front and center for your visitors.
Here is how it works: As a customer types in their question, the technology automatically searches for a question that is similar to the one being asked. Once it is found, it alerts the user that an answer is already available and allows the customer to see that answer. "If the user sees the question that they are trying to ask, they can click on that question and see the most qualified answer available right on top of the page below the question text," says Arnold.
Another nice feature of having a community on Answerbase.com - is that you do have the ability to edit and take down "unhelpful" answers or "inappropriate" copy as well as edit the content for the benefit of your customers.
I found Answerbase.com relatively easy to use and implement. The process is intuitive and if you have absolutely no programming skills what-so-ever, Answerbase.com provides you with Q&A templates that allows you to get a community up and running rather quickly. That said, you can also customize your templates with logos, or if you are more inclined to do so, utilize Answerbase.com CSS tools to create a design that aligns with your company branding, as shown below with the site for Mavenlink a popular online project management software.
Other Features: Widgets, Social Media and Mobile Phone Integration
Answerbase.com does a nice job of offering you lots of bells and whistles to help you promote your Q&A community. For example, you can create widgets that you can then post on your business website homepage or other areas of your site to let your web traffic know there is a Q&A community that they can visit. An example of a widget is Edmunds.com's forum pages as shown below, where a widget displays on the right of each forum post showing the latest Q&A questions and also gives visitors the ability to ask a new question.
Other tools include the ability to offer mobile and social media integration. For example, your customers can look at your Q&A community on their mobile phones - and Answerbase.com has programmed the software to automatically fit into a mobile platform.
In terms of social media integration, your customers can post questions or answers they like on their favorite social media platforms such as Facebook. This tool, by the way, as far as I am concerned, is another great way Answerbase.com allows you to promote your company or service. Imagine if just a handful of people post your questions/answers on different sharing platforms per day - imagine the eyeballs on your product per week.
Answerbase.com also provides SSL - single sign-on tools so people coming to your website do not have to continuously sign on several times to get to the information they need.
Other helpful features include the ability to print out reports so you can ascertain the type of questions/answers are being posted on the site. Reports can be customized so other departments within your organization can also understand what people are saying about your product or service.
Is it for you?
I would venture to say that many businesses would benefit from having a Q&A community on Answerbase.com. This type of solution works especially well for products and services where customers may need extra help in terms of using the product and understanding the scope. For some services, may it be health-related, real estate, business oriented, technology, law - anything where there are rules and laws that can be confusing - this type of community can very much help answer basic questions. From a marketing POV - a Q&A community can provide a masterful way to stay in touch with customers as well as evangelize people as experts for your product or service. Finally, Answerbase.com does a nice job of allowing you to have another outlet for optimizing your site as more people come to your website for advice and answers.