Welcome to another edition of noissue’s Marketing Inspo series! In this post, we’re putting the spotlight on online branded communities, and the impact they can have on your customer engagement and loyalty.
Communities have been gaining steam over the past few years and they’ve been proven to generate a positive ROI for brands. Research from the University of Michigan found that customers can spend up to 19% more after they join a company’s online community.
Businesses are increasingly seeing the value of online groups, and industry data shows that 77% of brands believe that "a community significantly improves brand exposure, awareness, and credibility."
All this to say that community-building may be a worthwhile endeavor for businesses that want to generate awareness, engagement, and sales. If you’re looking to build a community around your brand, the following pointers will give insights and ideas on how you can launch and maintain it successfully:
Decide on the right platform
One of the first decisions you need to make is the platform on which to run your community. You generally have two options here: you can either build your forum or create a community on an existing social network or platform like Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, Reddit, etc.
Pro and cons of using your own platform
The biggest pro to having a community on a platform you own is that you have more control over the user experience. You can pretty much design the forum from scratch and have a say on its appearance, features, functionality etc.
Another big advantage is you’ll have more access to your members’ information. If you enable them to register on your platform, then you’ll be able to view their contact details and get in touch with them directly.
The downside? Going down this route takes work and could eat up a lot of design and development resources. If you’re unable or unwilling to spend time and money building and maintaining the platform, it’s best to go with an existing social network or website.
Pro and cons of using existing networks or websites
Ease of use and low costs are the biggest draws of running a community on an existing social network or website. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn make it extremely easy to create groups, and best of all, they’re free.
It may also be easier to build up your membership, particularly on a site like Facebook. Pretty much everyone has a Facebook account, so people won’t have to go through a lengthy registration process to join your group.
However, your community will live within the walled garden of the social network you choose, and you likely won’t have full access or control over the information of your members. And while these sites already have features that enable you to build and run groups, you won’t have much of a say when it comes to introducing more advanced features or experiences.
Ultimately, the right decision depends on your specific needs, budget, and goals. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages and go from there.
Proactively invite people to join your group
So, you’ve set up your community and you’re ready to take memberships… great! Now it’s time to fill it with people. At this stage, you should decide whether you want your community to be open to the public or if you want to restrict it to say, paying customers.
Your decision here will dictate how you’ll promote your group.
If it’s public, you can send out an email blast to all your subscribers, run ads, and post about it on your social media accounts.
If you’ve created a customers-only group, then you’ll want to limit your email promotions to those who’ve previously purchased from you. You could also have people fill out a questionnaire prior to joining, so you can verify if they’re an existing customer.
Let’s look at some examples of how other brands are promoting their communities.
Use your website to increase traffic to your brand’s group. Put a banner or link on your homepage or other high-traffic areas of your site to get people onto your community.
Sephora heavily promotes its Beauty Insider community by having a link to it on the site’s main navigation, so visitors can access it from anywhere. Then once you hover over the link, you’ll immediately see a dropdown menu showcasing the benefits of being a Beauty Insider community member.
Got an active social media presence? Use it to drive awareness. Post about your group on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and keep reminding your friends, fans, and followers to check out your community.
The indoor bicycle company Peloton, for example, has several posts promoting its community.
On Peloton’s Instagram account, you’ll even find a link to a post promoting the company’s Facebook group.
If you want existing customers to be community members, you can streamline the recruitment process by automatically sending an email to shoppers when they purchase a product or start a subscription.
That’s what the supplements company Athletic Greens is doing. Once you make a purchase, AG will automatically send you an email linking to its Facebook group.
Welcome all your members
Once new people start trickling in, make every single one of them feel special by welcoming them into the group. Mention newbies in a post, invite them to share a little about themselves, and encourage existing members to give them a warm welcome.
Athletic Greens, once again, does an excellent job here. Every week, AG’s community managers publish a post calling out the newest members of the community and asking them questions about themselves.
Experiment with various types of content
The ideal scenario for a community is when you have such an active userbase that people post high-quality discussions on their own. This is what you should strive for, and accomplishing this requires constant effort to drive membership and engagement.
That being said, if you’re just starting out, then you and your team would need to take the initiative with generating conversations. You can do this by starting discussions that resonate with your members.
Different content types will produce different results depending on your audience. Don’t be afraid to vary your prompts and conversation starters to see what generates comments and engagement.
Here are some suggestions of what to post:
- Open-ended questions
- Motivational lines
Rotate between these content types and track views, comments, and likes to determine which pieces drive the results that you’re looking for.
Establish ground rules
While you certainly don’t want to curb free speech, you also don’t want to be in a situation where your group becomes a free-for-all platform that lets anyone post whatever they want. As such, you need to establish ground rules to ensure that members know what’s ok and not ok to do in your group.
When creating your guidelines, be sure to cover:
- The topics that are allowed and prohibited in your community
- Your stand on promotional content
- Rules around how members should be treated
- What members should do if they have questions or concerns
- The consequences of breaking the rules
Be sure to display your guidelines before or upon sign-up, so all members see it.
Use your community to gather intel
Once you’ve established an active community, it can serve as a goldmine for customer insights. Track members’ activities and conversations, and keep an eye out for:
- Commonly asked questions
- Product or feature requests
- Typical words and phrases used in conversations
Take note of anything that stands out and share it internally to see if you can use that intel in marketing, customer service, and product development.
Community-building can generate a positive ROI — if you do it right
Creating a community can be fun and rewarding, but it also takes work. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to adopt a “build it and they will come” attitude. For your community efforts to work, you need to constantly engage members, encourage conversations, and find new ways to grow.
Hopefully, the tips above gave you some ideas on how to do just that.