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The Importance of Building Online Communities
You’ve probably heard these sentences uttered more than once in recent years, but contrary to these very common sayings, one might argue that people now get together more than ever. Despite COVID-19 social distancing measures, despite (and even thanks to!) the rise of social media and smartphone use – people have more opportunities to communicate, exchange ideas, ask questions, consult each other and make life-changing decisions with the help of others.
To a large extent, this is thanks to the birth of online communities. Your favorite Facebook or LinkedIn groups, message boards, online forums, instant messaging group chats and other digital hubs are perhaps the fastest-growing, most convenient and approachable way for people to get together and discuss a mutual interest, hobby, product or service.
Diabetics can now confide in other diabetics worldwide, exchange daily routines and sugar levels, and discuss treatments and supplements. Young, sleepless parents can consult with others about childcare and exchange tips about toys, strollers and bottles. Skiers and scuba divers can share pictures from their favorite destinations, recommend sites and even get together to go on their next adventure.
Where Do Online Communities Meet Your Brand?
Obviously, none of this is new. Consumer brands and companies have been creating and participating in online communities for years. But if you and your brand are yet to jump on the bandwagon, there are a few things to consider when it comes to online communities:
Who is your target audience and what are their likes, dislikes and interests? When considering your messaging and target audiences, which social media platforms, apps, forums or other online sites, are most suitable? Is your brand’s tone of voice more playful and cynical or serious and professional? All of the above will be decided both by your company’s DNA and values, and by your clients’ or stakeholders’ demographics: age, gender, nationality, hobbies, education and more.
After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll want to understand if there is already a community – or communities – where your target audience gets together. This can be done by online and social media research. When appropriate communities exist where your target audience hangs out, consider engaging with them there instead of creating a community from scratch. If you do decide to open your own community, you have an important decision to make. Perhaps you will specifically target users/consumers surrounding your brand name. Alternatively, you can create a community dedicated to a hobby/interest, where even users who are not your customers or potential customers, can get together and have general discussions.
A Room of Your Own – Creating Your Own Community
Although traditionally online communities have been the domain of consumer brands, they can also serve B2B. The former could be a large-scale, wide community, with thousands if not tens of thousands of members, while the latter would perhaps be a private, moderated community for dozens or hundreds of connoisseurs.
A well-known, industry-leading tourism company decided to create a community for people who go on organized tours. They wanted a place where new and returning travellers could find out about new destinations, especially when making decisions about their next vacation. However, they didn’t want the community to be ‘market-y’ and spam users, thus alienating them from the brand. Eventually, they decided to create an open Facebook group where members would be able to like and post pictures from vacations, using their own tour guides as the main content generators. This proved to be quite an effective strategy, boosting sales and fortifying the brand’s online presence and its relationship with returning clients.
In terms of B2B communities, potential professional members could include buyers and distributors, doctors, consultants and others. Here, the idea is to create a hub where professionals can interact with your brand and with each other to get marketing ideas, ask questions about products or services and ask for advice from peers.
In one case, a large cosmetics company wanted a community for clinic-owners who purchased their machinery. The closed Facebook group acted as a source of communal knowledge for its members, for example surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak which shut down a lot of brick-and-mortar businesses. This brought value to the users while allowing the company to learn about the needs of their clients, publish surveys that helped plan for the future and also offer clients help in the form of workshops, training and other inbound marketing platforms.
Monitor and Track – Are You Really Covering Your Bases?
Often, customers and target audiences take to their favorite Facebook group, WhatsApp group or subReddit to both recommend products or services, or, at times, to complain about them. For this reason, it is imperative for brands to research their digital market and try to identify key intersections where they could communicate with their clients.
Your company may have a system in place for monitoring comments made public on Tweets, posts and other open forums – a key part of customer success, allowing you to respond quickly to praise or blame. But what about private or closed groups, where you probably don’t have a presence?
You want to know about complaints made by clients in active online communities in-real-time to decide on the fitting response. A company representative in closed groups, subReddits or WhatsApp chats can go a long way.
Are You Involved Enough?
Online communities allow us, more than ever before, to talk about what we like, want and need. Every one of us is a member of at least one of them, even if we’re not aware of it, which is why online communities have become such an important tool for marketeers, customer success representatives and sales professionals.
So, are you involved enough in the online communities where your clients ‘live’ in the digital realm?
Creating your own online community has benefits, like enhanced control and monitoring. But being present in existing online communities also has its advantages for showing brand personality and allowing for quick response.
Keep in mind that building and running an engaging community is time-consuming and requires a good understanding of your audience and the digital sphere. Working with a digital agency is the best way to ensure effective results without compromising your brand and relationships with your stakeholders.
Think about the right course of action for you and your brand, based on who your stakeholders are, what the nature of your industry is and your goals.