Believe it or not, you’re probably already part of an online community. Whether it’s a group on Facebook or LinkedIn, a neighborhood app like Nextdoor or a sub-Reddit page, an online community is where a group of people with a shared interest or purpose communicate and share information. Branded communities are a subset of online groups that bring people together around a shared organisation-based experience or purpose. These groups are gaining popularity among marketers: 48% of business-to-customer (B2C) and 32% of business-to-business (B2B) marketers had online communities in 2020.
Why are these groups becoming more common? Brand communities have far-reaching benefits for both consumers and companies. These communities take the relationships between organisations and their customers to the next level by encouraging real connections among customers who share information and answer each other’s questions. Hosting a brand community for your audience can demonstrate your dedication to delivering the best experiences for your customers and enhance brand loyalty.
When one company wanted to test out the value of its online community, it hid the group from search engines for four months. Its customer support teams were quickly overwhelmed with customer questions and satisfaction scores plummeted. The brand discovered that it was 72% cheaper to answer customer questions within a community than to rely on customer service agents to manage all of these inquires. Having online communities encourages customers to find support from other customers and previous answers to similar questions before contacting customer support.
Brand communities also deliver increased value and improved experiences to customers. Many brand communities are designed to be a forum for members to share knowledge and advice related to the brand. For example, on Sephora’s brand community, customers help each other find the best beauty products based on their preferences and needs. Members can collaborate and discover new and better ways to use the brand’s products, enhancing their overall experience and strengthening customer loyalty.
These groups break down the traditional one-way exchange of information from brands to customers and provide a space for organisations to collect feedback on current products and ideas for new features from their biggest fans. If a brand hosts the community on its own platform, such as its website, it can also collect important customer data that can inform marketing, sales and product development decisions.
Online platforms can also be a resource for brands to advertise within the community, identify sales prospects and give brand advocates a voice to share their enthusiasm. According to a study from the University of Michigan, customers spent 19% more after they became a member of a brand’s online community. On average, brand communities experienced 4,530% return on investment (ROI) in 2020. This value only increases as the communities mature and grow more robust.
To create the right online community for your audience, set it up for success with our steps for how to build a community for your brand online:
What does your organisation want to gain from the group, and how will members benefit? The best online communities are designed around the audience and what your customers need. For example, an electronics company could form a support group for customers to troubleshoot common product issues, updates and questions. A group fitness company, conversely, could create a platform for members to plan social events and share fitness tips. Targeting the unique needs of your audience and aligning the purpose with your brand identity will build a foundation for a thriving community that enhances customer experiences.
When building a community, marketers can choose to use an existing social media platform or develop their own space for the community to live. Proprietary platforms provide brands more control over security, access to more data and custom management tools. However, social media platforms require less investment to create and are more convenient for members who already regularly use the platform. Marketers must decide whether to prioritise access to data and community management tools or accessibility for customers. Consider your budget, short- and long-term goals and audience preferences to determine the best fit for your community.
Online communities need dedicated community management to ensure the space is safe and enjoyable for all members. Set community guidelines and moderators to make sure the environment is inclusive and members feel comfortable about their privacy. Task moderators with striking a balance between maintaining order and allowing enough freedom for members to feel like they can express themselves. Members who don’t align with the values of your community may need to be removed if they break protocol, such as using inappropriate language or harassing other members.
Moderators can encourage engagement by contributing conversation starters and adding comments where appropriate. Moderators can also welcome new members into the community so they feel compelled to share their own thoughts and ideas. Brands should allow for honest reviews and feedback rather than stifling any negative comments about their products or services. If you want to build a community of real connections with valuable insights, you need to be open to hearing real feedback.
When your audience has a space to share success stories, support each other and develop new connections, your brand can uncover customer insights, improve loyalty and boost revenue. Raving fans of your business can promote your products to newer customers and spread their enthusiasm. Customers can gain a sense of community and are more likely to stick with the brand moving forward. In fact, 55% of branded communities surveyed in 2019 said their community has contributed to an increase in sales. By building a space for your brand’s community to thrive, you can improve the overall experience for your customers and stand out from the competition.
Ready to build an online community for your B2B brand? Contact us today.
Theresa Colston is an Account Executive at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. She enjoys developing creative marketing ideas and building connections to drive results for clients.