Originally posted on CMSWire.com. “How can I best integrate my website with my community?” A lot of companies worry about this co-existence. They fear their customers will become confused if they land on a community but want to buy a product, or if they think the community is the company’s website. But Apple proves these fears are unfounded. The two not only can be integrated seamlessly, they should be. Before we look at how Apple successfully blends its community and website, let’s look at some best practices. Best Practices in Community Integration We always advise clients looking to build a community not to make it a secret or silo it, but instead put the community in the path of the user. This aligns with the rules of customer experience: organize your processes and tools around your customers’ needs, not your business’s. Make it Accessible At a basic level this means when a user visits your corporate website, if you have a customer community, it should be positioned and accessible to that visitor. Typically this is done in a few ways: Promotional banners and ads e.g. “Visit our community to get X,Y,Z” Primary menus and links “Support Community” Calls to actions “Ask a question via our community” Content widgets “Questions from our community related to X topic” Make Sure Everyone Understands the Business Value The challenge large organizations often face is the team that owns the website is often protective and is concerned that deeper community integration may impact their KPIs or sales and marketing funnels. This is the wrong approach. A community can actually drive qualified traffic into the website. It’s a two way street, so it only makes sense to ensure both paths (from the website to the community and from the community to the website) are clear so the user doesn’t get stuck in one or the other. When done right, a community is part of a great customer experience and can help a prospect or customer get their questions answered quickly. Having this rich information readily available helps convert customers faster because it shows you are making sure their needs are met before they purchase a product or service. Which brings me to Apple. Apple Blends Website and Community Seamlessly As a consumer, I was excited about the iPhone X release — I knew I had to have it. I Googled “iPhone X Pre-Order Date,” and the iPhone X product page was at the top of the results. It answered my question: Oct. 27 at 12.01 PST (not that I’m counting the minutes). Apple Support Community Touchpoint 1: The Product Page As I scrolled down the product page past various promotional items, I noticed two great additions by Apple to position its support options and community: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from our Community. Clicking on either of these elements presented the following content… Apple knows prospects and customers have questions, and it has done a great job of compiling a collection of frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) or knowledge articles related to iPhone X. The goal here is to defray unnecessary visits to the Apple Store Genius Bar, calls, tickets and emails that might overwhelm its support department. Despite Apple’s best attempt to answer questions via its FAQs, it knows consumers will likely create and answer questions far quicker than it is able to create and publish them via its knowledge base. Furthermore, Apple knows consumers will go somewhere else if they can’t get their questions answered here. So why not keep all your best brand ambassadors in one place? Positioning its user-generated questions and answers from the community right on the product page does a few things: It highlights the value of its customer community right away. Not only will consumers get answers to their iPhone X questions here, but they can also use it for other Apple support questions It encourages prospects and customers to “Ask a question” to the Apple Community to help build a richer user-generated knowledge base It allows anyone to answer — an Apple employee, an advocate and even fans. This does two things: 1. It promotes more trust among the community because it’s not just certified Apple employees who can respond. 2. It allows a faster response time because not everyone is awake at 2 in the morning like I am trying to figure out why my phone stopped. charging And as mentioned earlier, it helps deflect even more unnecessary calls, emails, support tickets and Apple store visits Lastly, it helps search engines connect the dots between website and community content Apple Support Community Touchpoint 2: Community Engagement Across the Website Beyond product page integration, Apple has also created a benchmark digital strategy that weaves community into the customer journey and experience from sales to support. The next most visible place to find the Apple community is through the Support section of the website. On the Support page you are presented with two options: community or a company run Twitter handle: Clicking on the community option shows all content organized by key products (iPhone, Mac, iPad etc) and topics that aid in discovery. Additionally Apple’s community shares a mirror of the company’s website navigation (header and footer) and look and feel. This is awesome! As a consumer I’m not confused or stuck in a community without a way to get back to the main website, or store. Key takeaway: Make sure your customers have multiple ways to learn more — even better if its through outlets you’ve created for them. Also, ensure your community mirrors your digital brand and navigation. I was also really impressed Apple have found a way to integrate the community directly on its knowledge base articles… Apple Support Community Touchpoint 3: Think Beyond the Website Consumers often turn to Google with a question or problem. Apple gets this. For example, I searched “iphone 6 plus power draining fix” on Google… Notice the second listing in Google search engine results page (SERP) is a discussion from Apple’s community, including a number of related discussions. User-generated content is one of the most highly trusted forms of content because it’s coming from a place of authenticity, not the latest marketing ploy. And this is why Google promotes answers like these in its search results. Key takeaway: Community content comes from real people, using real language that is frequently updated — all great factors for search engine optimization (SEO). Make sure your community is open to being crawled by Google and Bing to increase your chances of having this user-generated content appear in search results. Your Community Could Be Just as Great Whether you are considering or have already invested in a customer, partner or employee community, learn from Apple and don’t make it your best kept secret. I’ve worked on over 100 community projects. The ones that follow best practices like Apple are successful. Unfortunately, some turn into expensive ghost towns due to low adoption or poor alignment with the customer experience. You have the tools you need to be successful. Now you just need to put your community in the path of the user, and do it with context. Make sure your content is optimized, accessible and you are always putting your consumer’s needs first.