This blog post is guest-written by Sherrie Nguyen, Bazaarvoice Community Manager. This is part of a series of blogs on building and sustaining healthy Q&A communities.
Flowers are in full bloom, and summer has officially begun. Whether you are gearing up for a barbecue, trying your green thumb at landscaping, or finally building your deck, Home Depot is the destination spot to find great products and expertise.
Home Depot Canada has truly found a way to provide just-in-time expertise with Ask & Answer. They branded the Answer Depot, “the product information tool at homedepot.ca,” where customers can expect to ask questions, receive answers from the community, and have their problems solved. Their efforts have launched them through the levels of maturity with Ask & Answer, putting them in Level 5 – the top tier of client success.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Sam Barnes, Manager of Online User Experience & Creative Services, to ask about some of the innovative programs he has tried with Answer Depot, ongoing challenges, and what’s in store next.
You’ve been live with Ask & Answer for a while now, and Home Depot Canada has really set the bar for other clients. What advice would you give new Ask & Answer clients before launch?
It’s key to have a specific resource dedicated to being a really engaged community manager. Rachel Paul, our community expert, does a great job ensuring we have a fast turnaround on triage with questions so they get to the right people to be answered and posted quickly.
You also have to let other departments know about the tool and create buzz internally. This should be specifically targeted to merchants, so they understand how it will work and the value it can provide. You really need to gain buy-in and acceptance to be truly transparent. We also found that custom badging for vendors is key for transparency, and the vendors have something to show within their organization. This small act makes the answer seem more like an official response to consumers, and that drives credibility. We value the expert response as well as community answers.
How did you engage manufacturers and help them see the value of participating in your community? What Bazaarvoice tools did you leverage?
It took a bit of work to initially get vendors sold on this idea. We conducted an internal study on several participating vendors to determine who was active in Answer Depot. We were able to show that active vendors saw more traffic and conversion for their category, and showcased this metric as a case study to get other vendors on board. The bottom line is more involvement leads to better metrics. We wanted to help them understand the benefit: this will help you reach potential customers and get answers to help them make a purchase, resulting in higher traffic and higher conversion.
We are able to leverage tools like the Workbench to make participation easier for vendors. Our Community Manager did an email blast first to vendors that had outstanding questions. She included a step-by-step guide on how to participate and the value of getting involved. Later she was able to organize the alerts for open questions by brand so that the vendors wouldn’t have to monitor incoming questions weekly.
It seems that having these best practices in place can really help companies kick off Ask & Answer on a strong note. What are some of the challenges you faced as your community grew?
Getting continual traffic is a big challenge. We try to include call outs for Answer Depot in our email marketing, and it lives permanently on the homepage. We also began leveraging social alerts, specifically “Your question has been answered,” to help drive customers back to the site. I believe hiring a Community Manager was key to organizing our efforts and showing the value of the solution. We want someone going in there frequently to answer questions or forward them to the appropriate merchants or vendors. She also clearly points out that it’s in the vendor’s best interest to participate because it’s free and valuable information, and it’s also great advertising for their brands. With her help, we were able to expand Answer Depot from the category to the product level.
What interesting initiatives have you launched recently?
We launched Garden Centre – a themed portion of Answer Depot (store within a store or a community within a community). This is a specific niche area that gets a great response and is growing. Q&A has more than doubled since last year (during gardening season), and the season is only halfway through. Our dedicated email subscription also doubled, which indicates Garden Centre is driving great engagement. We know it’s a concentrated number of people and may be a smaller segment, but their participation is really showing in the metrics. We have received more questions and answers, higher click-throughs, and overall better engagement. We are currently running a contest for Garden Centre, but all of these stats occurred beforehand. Themed Q&A is a great strategy for segmenting and appropriately messaging to a niche audience.
In terms of engagement, 3 of our top 5 emails for the entire HD Canada site were Garden Centre emails (measured by open rate and click-through rate). For Garden Club, having Ask & Answer helped to define and grow a cold segment into a warm community.
Another great initiative we launched is Ask the Scotts Expert, a campaign sponsored by Scotts. We were looking for more multi-channel alignment with the in-store experience. The Scotts Expert is an integral part of the store experience during gardening season, so we thought, why not offer this online? This is a very seasonal campaign since the timing is fast and intense. We want make information available to our customers no matter what medium or how they want it. This category also has a need for the expert opinion because of the detailed subject matter. Ask & Answer has made customers more receptive to the Scotts expert and the advice given in stores. It’s also easy to leverage email to drive engagement, and the key benefit is that the content lives forever online. It’s the perfect way to supplement online and offline conversations.
For more real world tips from clients who are getting the most out of Ask & Answer, check out our blog series on building and sustaining a healthy Q&A community, and request our white paper on harnessing the power of community Q&A. Stay tuned to our blog for examples of clients who are making the most of their online consumer-generated questions and answers.