5 Companies With Profitable Online Customer Communities

by 3 10/16/2012

Thinking of building an online customer community?

Not sure where to start? Check out these five sources of inspiration.

ModCloth: Let The Community Pick Your Inventory

Ever wanted to become a virtual fashion buyer? If so, you should hop on over to women’s clothing retailer ModCloth, where you can participate in their ‘Be the Buyer’ program.

From a company-selected sample of clothes, customers can vote on their favorite pieces. When a product receives enough votes, ModCloth will order it to sell.

Why It Rocks for the Business
ModCloth’s Be the Buyer program creates an instant customer base. Presumably, a portion of people to vote will return to by the item later on. Furthermore, the data from the voting feature can help ModCloth forecast supply and demand on niche items. The company can use this information to plan its inventory more efficiently.

Why It Rocks for the Customer
It’s fun! Browsing through new pieces and voting on them is a great way for twenty-something women to kill time and find fashion inspiration. It’s a community feature that people enjoy.

Ideas Worth Trying
Build a community around your inventory. Get your customers involved with ordering what you decide to stock on your shelves. After all, the amount that you sell will always depend on the number of people who are available to buy. So, get people interested in buying by letting them tell you exactly what they want.

Udemy: Let The Community Create Your Inventory

Udemy is a peer to peer (P2P) learning platform where people can create and enroll in classes.

The entire company is based around its community of instructors who upload educational materials to the site — and sell them for a fee. While this exact business model won’t be a fit for everyone, it does highlight two key takeaways:

  • incentives are important for getting people involved
  • people enjoy engaging with and learning from one another.

Why It Rocks for the Business
You’ll have a constant stream of ideas and content from a community of people who are self-promoting what they are creating. Self-promotion will yield more extensive reach.

Why It Rocks for Customers
People get a chance to connect with and learn from each other — or become experts, themselves.

Ideas Worth Trying
Not ready to revamp your entire online inventory for peer-created products? No worries. How about involving people with the products and services that you’re already offering? If you’re thinking of creating instructional guides, for instance, you could ask your most active customers to help develop them.

Fiskateers: Let The Community Build The Content

Thousands of scissor wielding craft makers (Fiskateers) create the content and the audience for this Fiskars scissors community.

Fiskateers

Why It Rocks for the Business
The audience creates the content and a built-in network that will help generate an audience. The business will never have to worry about writer’s block — hundreds of heads are better than one for generating great ideas.

Why It Rocks for Customers
They’ll have a trusted dedicated resource to discover and share new ideas.

Ideas Worth Trying
If you’re thinking of launching a blog, consider leveraging your most loyal and dedicated customers to contribute the content.

Threadless: Let The Community Design The Products

For years, Threadless has relied on its community to create its designs. People can submit designs for fellow community members to critique and score. Designers who submit successful t-shirt ideas receive a combination of cash and gift cards.

Why It Rocks for the Business
Beginning as a simple t-shirt design contest, The Threadless community has kept the business going for years — since 2000, to be exact. The company continues to print and reprint user generated designs. With thousands of community members involved in the process, the company has a bottomless supply of design ideas. The audience submits the designs, votes on the designs and then buys the designs.

Why It Rocks for Customers
It’s a fun and creative outlet where ideas can evolve and designs can come to life as actual products. People can also build on their design skills by critiquing each others work.

Ideas Worth Trying
Host a community contest where people can learn from one another. Let people vote on their favorite ideas and pick the winner. If the idea can become a real product — even better.

Slickdeals: Let The Community Share Value With Each Other

If you’re a bargain-hunter, then you’ve probably heard of Slickdeals, a forum where people can sign up to share their favorite offers, coupons, and deals.

What makes the website so powerful is not the owners of Slickdeals, it’s the audience.  The value of Slickdeals is based entirely around what consumers share. This dynamic has given Slickdeals a powerful reputation and brand image as one of the most reputable online deals sites.

Why It Rocks for the Business
The value of Slickdeals is based entirely around what consumers share. Behind the dialogue, the company can stay relatively anonymous in the background — and they do. Slickdeals’ members are constantly scouring the web to help build the company’s product. The brand image is authentic, as it comes directly from the community.

Why It Rocks for Customers
Customers get to pick the exact content and offers that they want to see.

Ideas Worth Trying
Struggling to figure out your brand image and core value proposition? Let your customers define it by empowering them with a forum to communicate and share information.

Final Thoughts

What are some of your favorite customer communities?

How do you integrate community into your business? Share your thoughts, suggestions, and ideas in the comments below.

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About 

Ritika Puri is a San Francisco-based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She’s inspired by the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology. By day, she works for a large online media company, and after-hours, she runs her writing consulting business, UserGrasp.

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3 COMMENTS

Caitlin Sundborg

We’re currently working with a client who’s website is strictly user-generated content – thanks for some great examples and ideas to encourage customer communities!

October 16, 2012 Reply


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