Online communities in the telecom industry

There are not as many examples of good online communities for the telecoms industry. Part of the reason for this is that the nature of the industry is one that facilitates communication – they don’t provide content but allow people to communicate over their networks or using their products. Therefore many example of their use of social media are actually of them allowing people to communicate in social networks and on other sites. This means that you miss out on the benefits that online communities bring and is a shame – as the great examples below show the ways in which they can really support brands in the telecoms industry.

Telstra’s nowwearetalking

Telstra’s nowwearetalking has attracted some criticism in Australia as being too evidently a PR vehicle, but it is a good example of how a telecoms firm can build and run an online community and begin to have a different dialogue with shareholders and others with an interest in the firm.

The online community was originally built to provide a new dialogue with shareholders at Telstra, many large firms struggle with shareholder engagement and nowwearetalking was a way of overcoming this. The site also aims to increase the level of public debate across Australia on the future of telecommunications. Telstra want to engage and interact with their shareholders and also to discuss and debate bigger issues in the industry. For both of these an online community is a good solution.

Whether nowwearetalking has achieved these aims is not clear, but what is clear is that the online community is a great example of how to combine activity on the community and also on other sites – a hub-and-spoke model. Alongside the blogs and discussions on the site, there are videos on YouTube and podcasts to download. Telstra are engaging both on their own community and also distributing content across other social media domains. This can be a very successful strategy – you engage with people where they are and also provide a place for them to come to that you manage. A picture

Sprint’s Buzz About Wireless

Support forums can be a great way to build a community, and there are a number of great examples of these in the telecoms industry. Sprint’s Buzz About Wireless is a particularly good example. The site is designed for people to share experiences and ideas with each other, rate and review services and also to ask and answer questions in the forums. This is predominantly a support forum, but it provides a number of other ways for people to interact which both creates a fuller experience for members but also allows people to engage in the way appropriate to them at any given time. Sometimes you will want to ask a question or answers ones that have already been raised; other times you might just want to look at and rate ideas.

What makes Buzz About Wireless really work, however, is the forum area. Support and problem solving is an important component of customer service in the telecoms sector and one that many firms spend large amounts of time and resources on. What Sprint have done is to build an online community that takes away some of these time and resources. Rather than Sprint answering questions and solving problems, they provide a space where consumers can answer each other’s questions and solve each other’s problems.
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The power of this should not be overlooked. Even a community of modest size could have a real impact if its members are motivated to respond to and answer problems. A community the size of Buzz About Wireless must have a large impact indeed. What Sprint need to do, and what they do do, is to provide different ways for people to engage but also to encourage people to support each other and answer questions. In a support forum it can be advantageous to create different user types to both reward people who answer a lot of questions, and also to highlight the potential weight and importance of any answers they give. A community like this needs a lot of work to get the planning and strategy right, and the success of Buzz About Wireless suggests that Sprint did just this.

T-Mobile’s Sidekick Wiki Community

Where online communities can support telecoms providers is to allow people to extend and enhance the experience they have of using their service. For mobile providers this can be a case of providing people with a place to discuss their handsets to to share advice and tips about using them, or content created with them. This is what T-Mobile did with their Sidekick Wiki.

The Sidekick Wiki site has been running since 2006, and is an online community where Sidekick owners can exchange ideas about using and customising the handset, solve each other’s problems, share tips on how to make the most of the equipment. The site is a Wiki and over the last three years has grown to include a vast quantity of content. All created by users, with the only noticeable presence from T-Mobile in the forums where they help to answer questions, and on the homepage and in the news sections where they provide an office T-Mobile presence. The rest of the site is what a Wiki is at its best – a customer-curated experience of ideas and experiences.

This online community shows how telecoms companies can add real value to their equipment and products, and also how they can extend the life of and interaction with them. Many people will move from one mobile handset (for example) to another quite quickly. This will be either because they want the new features, want to keep up with the latest trend or, in many cases, because they feel they have got all they can out of their existing handset. Sites like the Sidekick Wiki are designed to constantly show how you can get more from your handset, making you retain it for longer and so increasing customer loyalty and decreasing switching.