"I spent some time in the call center, and learned that there are so many questions users ask, there's no way we could answer them all," says Scott K. Wilder, Group Manager, QuickBooks Division, Intuit Inc.
For example, he explains, a plumber may use a product in a way that varies greatly from how an owner of a wine store might use the same product, and the questions that each would ask are just as widely varied.
Wilder wanted to create a place where users could find answers to their questions, and he wanted to do it without hiring a full editorial staff.
"User-created content was the answer," he says. He envisioned a community site where users could post their own content online and answer each other's questions. Shortly thereafter -- last New Year's Eve -- he launched a QuickBooks' Community site. Initially the project moved forward with just Wilder and another person working on the initiative. "It was kind of my night job," he admits.
Now, the site boasts tens of thousands of registered users, and "high tens of thousands of visitors a month," says Wilder.
He shared with us the tactics he used to make the community site a success:Tactic #1. Pre-populate with house content
Because Wilder had plenty of Intuit-created content, he started the site slowly. When it began, the site averaged about 50% Intuit-created content. Now it's down to 25%.
"We made a decision to slowly ramp up and slowly advertise more and more," says Wilder. "First we wanted to learn." While the site was open to the general public right away, "we were passive in terms of marketing."
As the site gained traction, it began to rank well on organic listings from search engines. Tactic #2. Offer many types of content, and different ways to access it
The QuickBooks' Community offers content via discussion boards, blogs, podcasts, wiki's, "commented help" (in which sections of the help book are posted online and users can comment), articles and white papers, and, soon, video. Members of the community can access content via RSS or online.
Interestingly, while blogs are supposedly the "hot thing," most users are still using traditional web discussion boards, says Wilder. But, he adds, the two can complement each other: discussion boards are good for specific questions, while blogs are good for the sharing of ideas, he believes.
Of the people who use the site, about 10% are actively posting, while 90% are lurking and reading but not registering.
"Several thousand" of the active users, or about 15-20% of them, get their information through RSS, Wilder says.
Offering various types of content is important when users are themselves so varied. For example, the wiki -- or collaborative site that allows anyone to add and edit content -- is a useful place for information, but content posted on the wiki is unsourced. In other words, a user is unable to tell the validity of what has been posted. On other areas of the site, such as the discussion boards, users indicate who they are and what their expertise is.
"There are many different types of users that participate -- accountants, developers, educators, people that develop training programs," says Wilder. "It's important to indicate where the help is coming from."Tactic #3. Hire experienced moderators
The community polices itself well, says Wilder. When someone posts something inaccurate, another user generally will point out the inaccuracy.
Still, Wilder hired moderators experienced in discussion boards right away. He currently has moderators in six states and two North American countries. The moderators have experience either with moderating discussion boards, experience with the products, or both. In cases where a moderator doesn't have experience in both, he pairs them up -- so that a discussion board will have two moderators, one with experience in the product and one with more moderating experience.
Wilder has found that employees from the company's help line make good moderators.Tactic #4. Form an advisory board
With such a varied ecosystem of advisors and developers on the community, Wilder has a rich source of information on the industry. By keeping tabs on the users who tend to comment and answer questions the most, he has identified what he calls "the answer people," to whom he can go with questions.
He has also formed an advisory board of about 20 users. They have a private space on the community for discussions with each other, and he is in touch with them via phone or email almost weekly. "They're very vocal in a constructive way."
The advisory board offers suggestions on ways to improve the site. For example, says Wilder, "Recently, we set up the search so you can search by a posting or a blog done in the last hour. That [idea] came from users."
The board is about 80% "answer people." But he also asked some users who have not been as active in the community, "to find out why they haven't been," he says.Tactic #5. Have a few basic rules
Most online communities have some loose rules, and QuickBooks' Community is no different. Wilder calls them "Rules of the Road." Copy on the site reads:
“Since this is your community, we really don't have too many rules. Below is a list of some of them, however:
--No selling -- no soliciting or offering products and services --No "wordy dirties" -- no profanity or verbage --No B A s -- no bad attitudes --No muscle flexing -- no intimidation... please treat everyone the way you would want to be treated”
Wilder's advisory board and answer people help him keep users in line. For example, says Wilder, "This weekend, one of the top answer people emailed me and said, Hey, somebody is soliciting on the site, you might want to talk to them…'"Useful links related to this article:
Past MarketingSherpa Case Study: How to Build a Rabid Fan Community to Help Market a Product That Doesn't Exist (Yet) http://library.marketingsherpa.com/barrier.cfm?CID=2996
Past MarketingSherpa article: How B-to-B Marketers Can Use Email Discussion Groups to Grow Sales and Increase Customer Loyalty http://library.marketingsherpa.com/barrier.cfm?CID=1194