Online communities are highly effective places for engaging with your target audience. Find out how to harness their power and achieve marketing success.
Online communities are highly important for intelligent modern marketing. They provide your brand with a platform for repeat engagement and relationship building with its target audience.
Ultimately, online communities translate into a better bottom line. Research from CMSWire suggests that customers who are part of one spend 24% more than those who aren’t.
Read on to find out how online communities work, and how you can harness them for marketing success…
What is a community?
Communities are as old as humanity itself. Ever since cave people huddled around a fire to share a mammoth leg, we have felt the need to form part of interdependent, interacting groups.
Dictionary.com defines a community as: “A group sharing common characteristics or interests and distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”
So, what is an online community?
In this new context, your brand, products, services or sector become the common interests that unite your online community and make it distinct from the rest of the web.
Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn provide a certain level of community building. For example, you can create and manage groups of like-minded people.
But the ideal scenario is a fully owned platform or forum that you can host, manage and curate, allowing you to facilitate consumer conversations and build your own online community.
Content Marketing Institute says: “Online communities… represent a common ground that can spark targeted, valuable conversations. By combining editorial content, user-generated content and networking, online communities provide many benefits to brands.”
3 key benefits of building an online community
1. Encourage customer interaction
By providing a social hub for discussions and interactions, your brand gains social proof and standing among its audiences, as well as all-important consumer engagement.
As a place to get insightful and free feedback on your products and services, a ready-made online community is ideal. You can demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction while also obtaining key actionable information to help improve and fine-tune your offering.
2. Improve your content reach
Your online community is effectively a captive audience – a targeted group of people who are interested in your brand.
Publishing your content here makes it much more likely to be seen, appreciated, and acted on. Online forums and Q&A platforms are a constant source of fresh user-generated content and long-tail keywords, all great for maintaining your search engine rankings. They also produce social signals indicating engagement with your brand, another key factor for search rankings.
3. Build brand loyalty and boost your SEO
Loyalty and trust are precious. An enjoyable online community experience builds favourable associations and encourages members to be invested in the group and your brand.
This nurturing builds a fertile ground for soft-selling of products and services. Online forums and Q&A platforms are a constant source of fresh user-generated content and long-tail keywords, all great for maintaining your search engine rankings. They also produce social signals indicating engagement with your brand, another key factor for search rankings.
How to establish community leadership
Another key benefit of hosting your own online community is that you are in charge. Position your brand as a thought leader and take on the role of guiding and managing the community.
Leading an online community encompasses many different roles. Discussions and debates need to be facilitated and – in some cases – moderated.
You will also need to set the tone for the community, helping to engage and inspire others while also allowing them space to be themselves.
Ground rules are very important. Define the purpose of the community, and set common guidelines for interactions and activity. But at the same time, you must let your customers talk.
Listen to comments, respond where appropriate and engage with any criticism in a friendly and helpful way. These interactions will build your credibility and show your commitment to true customer engagement.
Done the right way, communities can act as a social network for your brand
Community building is not quick or easy, but if done right, it can be wonderfully rewarding and worthwhile for your brand.
Getting to know the community and its members, demographics and interests are vital. Ben Dyer helped to build a community for eCommerce software provider Seller Deck. He offered this insight: “I like to divide community members into three camps: newbies, casual users and the hardcore fanatics. These camps tend to play out distinct roles: newbies ask questions, fanatics answer them and the casuals move up the scale, or get bored and go elsewhere.”
By working with and leveraging the most prolific and engaged posters, you can build engagement with more casual users and boost overall social engagement.
Create value for customers, and they’ll keep coming back...
Ultimately, the most successful online communities are the ones that truly create value for users and customers.
This can be as simple and providing a question and answer forum where users of an application or platform can ask and answer common queries.
One example of this is Symantec Connect, with has some 260,000 members who are actively engaged in providing answers to support and troubleshooting queries.
The company rewards them via a rewards system, and maintains a small support team to monitor and facilitate the community.
Online communities can also be a source of news and releases for a particular industry or interest group. Chorus FM is a community that houses music fans, and has built 500,000 members thanks to its status as an exclusive source of new tracks and artist news.
Exclusive content for your community is a great way to add value. Other ways include special offers and promotions, which help to drive sales, and early access to new products or services.
The secret to building a successful online community is creating value that keeps them coming back for more. Your time and effort are well spent in nurturing a base of loyal fans, supporters and – ultimately – customers.
- Online communities provide brands with a platform for repeat engagement and relationship building
- You can use existing social networks or build your own platform to really optimise the benefits of online community
- Online communities let you encourage customer interaction, gather feedback and foster loyalty
- They also improve content reach and have SEO benefits
- The best communities keep customers coming back by providing real value, for example in the form of advice, special offers or exclusive content
Get deeper insights on how to leverage online communities to grow brand awareness, audience engagement, and conversions in the sales funnel. Download The CMO’s definitive guide to online B2B community building.