Tips for Building Customer Communities
Illustration by Eric Jackson

The Legal Solutions business of Thomson Reuters has been enjoying considerable success with its Small Law Firm Legal Professional Online Community since its launch in May 2015. The private online community is dedicated to legal professionals at small law firms (approximately 30 or fewer attorneys).

The community offers great value to its members, says Community Manager & Senior Director of Strategic Marketing Michelle Wildenauer. It’s a place where customers can collaborate with experts from Thomson Reuters and its partners, find best practice insights and interpretation on law, as well as custom content and commentary. Another important benefit is the opportunity to network and gain referrals.

Michelle Wildenauer, Community Manager & Senior Director of Strategic Marketing, Thomson Reuters
Michelle Wildenauer, Community Manager & Senior Director of Strategic Marketing, Thomson Reuters
“The information within the community helps the members to work smarter and faster, and the collaboration allows them to improve their visibility both on a personal level and for their firms. It enhances their overall ability to succeed,” she says.

In less than a year, about 1,000 customers have joined the community and it’s continuing to grow—but success didn’t happen by chance. The program was the result of much foresight, careful planning and testing. A pilot program, along with qualitative customer research, provided Wildenauer with early information about customers’ wants, needs and expectations for the community. Once launched, she continued to collect regular feedback about content and business needs, as well as the pain points that customers were looking to solve within the community.


Joining the community is a convenient and simple process. It’s visibly promoted within Westlaw, Thomson Reuters’ online legal research platform. Customers can automatically enroll with just a few clicks and ask questions while conducting their research.

Once customers are enrolled in the community, Wildenauer has several processes in place to engage them from the start. New members are welcomed into the community and provided with basic instructions on how to work within the community, such as how to post, how to reply to a post, how to generate private one-on-one communications, and how to follow specific topics or people.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: KEEP IT SIMPLE, CONVENIENT AND COMFORTABLE“We start out in very safe ways,” Wildenauer explains. “We will post some type of content, such as an industry update or technology trend, and we will try to pull our customers into that conversation by inviting them to respond. That’s the safest way for them to start participating within the community. Then, as their comfort level increases, we will often see them posting their own information, comments and questions.”

Keeping the conversations flowing is critical to ensure that the community will thrive. Wildenauer has engaged internal and external experts to ensure that content is always fresh and relevant, and that members are involved.
For instance, a curator program enlists internal subject-matter experts as well as some external partners (e.g., attorney-editors).

“These individuals have agreed to lead discussions and to provide valuable content to make sure that we have the right level of activity in the program,” she says. “We are also developing an ambassador program, which is a customer-facing program. We will be identifying some of our top community members—those who have a large following within the community or in their professional lives—who will serve as role models, and provide other customers with the comfort and example that they need.”



What are some of the best practices to take away from Thomson Reuters’ community experience? Understand that launching and managing a community requires ownership, executive support and a dedicated team, says Wildenauer. “The reality is that we are building one-on-one relationships with some of our best customers. It’s important to take that seriously, and to make sure that the community is staffed so that it can be a powerful tool,” she says.

Also, keep in mind that a community is a deep-rooted commitment and it will take time to get results—think in terms of years, not months. “It is definitely a journey,” she notes. “It takes a couple of years to ensure that customers are brought into the program, that they feel comfortable engaging in it, and to build a long-term relationship.”

There are additional factors that Wildenauer considers to be key contributors to the community’s success:

  • It is convenient to use—the community is integrated into the customer’s workflow.
  • It is a private community that is exclusive to Thomson Reuters’ customers.
  • It provides a safe environment for members to communicate and network. Members can conduct private one-on-one conversations with others in the community.
  • It is moderated by Thomson Reuters’ legal experts who facilitate the conversations and contribute content.

“We see the community as a value-add for our customers,” Wildenauer says. “We believe that the community is core to our long-term strategy and we’ll continue to track its impact as we further develop the program.”

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