Every major brand is struggling to launch a community site around their company’s products. Maybe it’s an indirect community that you hope brings traffic and future sales, or maybe it’s a community about your product that has been designed to increase sales.
But unless you are a very big brand with a passionate following (e.g. Apple) these communities are difficult and expensive to build. Not impossible, but it’s hard work.
Yet companies are starting to build communities around their product/service documentation. Yep, something every company has but never views as strategic.
They aren’t starting from scratch. There is already web traffic from their current customers on the product documentation page seeking resolutions to their issues with your product. So the foundation is in place, it’s just been moved topsy-turvy into the corporate attic as an afterthought.
But that’s a mistake. There are major benefits to socializing your product documentation. I’ve listed the major ones by department in the infographic below:
Companies like Autodesk get it. They understand that shipping 15 DVD’s full of product documentation for a single product won’t work. Nor is it strategic. They’d rather host the certified documentation online and let the community build out the rest by enabling them to add tutorials, how to guides, articles and comments on how to improve existing documentation.
They also understand that social documentation benefits the rest of the organization.
5 Reasons Social Documentation Benefits the Corporate Departments
#1 The Sales department understands that social product documentation will drive sales opportunities because they can track every digital footprint on their documentation site. If a customer that bought product X is looking at product Y’s documentation, then Sales sees a cross selling opportunity and can choose to act on it.
#2 The Marketing Department realizes that building a community around their product documentation is easier and less expensive. They make it easy for their community to evangelize their product to their peers by having them post content on their site and share with their buddies. It works. As an important bonus, all of the rich community contributed content shows up in Google search. Which means lead generation.
#3 The Research and Development teams are finding that simply observing the interaction with their online documentation is giving them ideas as to how to improve the product or to create new ones. They are also able to view community questions and answers, conduct surveys and form ad hoc focus groups to gain valuable insights. This wasn’t possible in an Enterprise 1.0 world. It is now.
#4 The Customer Support Department is reducing costs and headcount by enabling the community to help the community. Some are even offering free support from community contributed documentation but charge for company support. But it all starts with product documentation. Documentation with a community wrapper that continues to build and evolve over time.
#5 Technical Communicators are the house documentation Directors. They author and curate community content. They help socialize the community and act as corporate cheerleaders to their most enthusiastic community contributors. They have the tools to monitor article effectiveness, poor search results, and product documentation health so they can take immediate action to better the effectiveness of the content. Their role moves from trivial to exceedingly strategic.
What the CEO Needs to Know
I’ve been there. It’s about building incredible, ground breaking, innovative new products. It’s about creating the next iPhone that sells itself and is so easy to use that your customers don’t require a product manual. How many of us actually get there? What’s your Plan B?
Has any CEO ever started a discussion about a new product or services with: “How will we document the product in order to maximize sales, build community and reduce costs through community driven support?” My guess is no.
But you should. There’s tremendous hidden value in content you’ve already created. Just look at how 3rd party sites like YouTube, GetSatisfaction, Epinions, and Amazon.com are utilizing and building traffic to their sites by discussing your products. WHY!?!
Because those sites make it easy for them to contribute user driven content and you don’t. You don’t because you’re fearful of the consequences. Yet discussions about your product are occurring regardless. And on higher traffic – higher page rank sites which make them show up higher in the search results. So you’ve lost control of the message anyway.
Best to enable user generated content on your site and curate the rest from the web.
Then you regain product authority. Are your current community efforts doing that?
(Cross-posted @ Seek Omega )