Ask anyone what they think when they hear the word “salon” and most people are likely to reference a business that does hair and/or nails. Although its usage has degraded over time, the moniker makes sense, because those getting their hair and nails done gab about their lives, and the word is meant to describe a forum where people exchange ideas, usually facilitated by a distinguished host.
The word has roots in French philosophical and literary traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries but continued on into the roaring 20s. The news website takes its name from this use of the word.
Essentially, a salon is what nowadays we would call a “forum.” With the increased digitization of our culture, it is unsurprising that most of the interactions that used to be relegated to the salon now take place on the Internet. While the days of Gertrude Stein hosting Hemingway and Picasso are gone, the need for a distinguished host to moderate relevant questions — and broaden knowledge through conversation — is still important.
Digital experiences — i.e., the web of interactions via the internet, whether on mobile or messaging apps, email, social platforms, video chat, or customer portals — have several facets. A portal is something that contains account information, leveraging data to provide relevant information tailored to the user. When a portal is an information-sharing forum, it is known as a community.
Establishing communities has several benefits. They can help build brand cohesion by reflecting the texture of your company aesthetic or offer useful insight into problems. By being able to pose questions to other community members or find useful information, communities give users the autonomy to solve their own problems while fostering a collaborative atmosphere.
There are three types of communities: customer, employee and partner. Whatever the type of community, they all basically serve the same function: they are information hubs.
A customer community is a sort of DIY bulletin board that allows customers to find things such as articles or FAQs. An employee community is basically a single website where colleagues can find things like the company newsletter or access company documents. Meanwhile, a partner community empowers sales teams and resellers to tap important data that leads to more sales.
Just like their analog counterparts, digital communities have entry points. As a result, they can be private or public. Typically, communities are private, meaning they have a barrier to entry. That barrier is usually a log-in with credentials. A public community simply means users do not have to log in to use the portal. This has several benefits — and a few tradeoffs.
Time is valuable to everyone. Without the need to log in to engage a community, companies make the process seamless. While logging in is not a huge barrier, it will deter people. This might seem like a minor thing, but we are all inundated every day, all day with minor things that require something of us. The more that phenomena prevails in our lives, the easier it is for us to say “I am not going to bother.”
As an illustration, imagine there was someone with a petition outside your grocery store. You might stop and hear their pitch and even sign their petition. Now imagine there is one outside your barber. Your dry cleaner. The cafe you frequent. Your favorite record store. The post office. Are you going to sign them all? Doubtful.
Another boon of a public community is it enables companies to reach users with whom an established relationship does not exist. They provide resources to customers such as FAQs, articles, important documents and forums where other customers can post. This broadens a company’s reach, tapping into the market and potential customers with less effort. Further, since public users do not cost businesses anything, it is effectively a double whammy.
Of course, as with anything, there are tradeoffs with having a public community. As already discussed, a public community is more accessible, more inviting, because of its lack of a barrier to use. However, eliminating the authentication step leaves businesses more exposed and less personalized.
Obviously, there is value in authenticating a user, so when determining whether to opt for a public community, businesses need to weigh what to expose publicly. Further, they need to be more thoughtful in ensuring everything is secure, buttoning up details so as not to create security risks for the company. If not done properly, such a risk would quickly swallow the benefits of establishing a public community in the first place.
This is where an experienced partner can help.
Security is complicated. Partnering with a knowledgeable team will safeguard companies from the consequences of having a poorly established public community. An experienced partner has the insight into how to maximize the benefit of setting up a public community while minimizing the risk.
Additionally, a partner can help tune the UI and UX of a company’s public community to its specifications, giving it a unique branding and voice that is on message with the company’s desired identity. Finally, stoking the flame of interest and keeping customers engaged is paramount to any forum. By tapping a partner’s expansive knowledge of public communities, companies can sharpen their public community to not only grab people’s attention but hold onto it — something of which Gertrude Stein would approve. Create your own salon by setting up a public community.