Almost half of Americans feel alone and isolated, and brands are responding by building online communities to connect with consumers. Though online communities can help develop loyalty and trust, creating such groups requires much more than merely gathering people together in the same place. Here are some strategies to guide you on how to build a vibrant and sustainable online community.
More from PostFunnel on customer engagement:
These Modern Brands Prioritizing Customer Service Above All Else
Brands Raising the Bar: 4 Examples of Outstanding Customer Experience
How Stitch Fix Uses Data to Increase Sales and Engage Customers
Have A Community Concept
To avoid a ‘dead upon arrival’ online community, it’s important to have a concept. This framework will help you build a solid foundation and ensure sustainability. Here are a few things to keep in mind when building your community concept.
Define Your Community: Decide what your community is all about, the qualities it’ll represent, and the event topics you’ll discuss. Whatever the MO, you must build a community on a strong and narrow interest. When you’ve gotten this down, test it out with a pilot and see how it goes.
Have A Clear Purpose: To build a large and sustainable community, focus on fulfilling a need. Multinational retailer Woolworths’ members-only community is dedicated to celebrating their love for food.
Carry out a survey to identify consumers’ values and build a community around those ideals. Move forward once you have a clear purpose and then weave it into your marketing materials to unite your audience and drive activity.
Value Proposition: Create a mutually beneficial and clear value proposition for consumers and your brand. Woolworths Bunch community members, for instance, can experience a new range of products in exchange for comprehensive feedback on the brand’s performance.
While your value should benefit both you and your customers, don’t rush to sell; let the integration happen organically. Invite a few people to join your community with the goal of gaining a better idea of what they value from the program.
Don’t Neglect Community Management
Trolls, provocative opinions, and aggressive behavior can cause chaos and prevent your community from thriving. You have a duty to ensure that members are safe and that harmful content or behavior is properly dealt with as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways to foster a safe space:
Guidelines: Establish guidelines on how you’ll govern your group. Keep the rules simple and brief, and offer examples of positive behaviors. Post your guidelines in your forums and share them in your welcome email so new members can learn how they should engage with one another.
Moderation: Show members that your moderators are interested in the community by allowing them to contribute to discussions. While a little controversy is alright, keep the conversations on topic and make sure members aren’t attacking one another. Allow consumers to report offensive behavior and know when to step in.
Community Manager: Your community manager plays a key role in your venture’s success. Ensure you hire someone personable who understands your brand’s voice and general community etiquette. Empower your community manager with social listening tools to gauge sentiment around the brand and monitor engagement and feedback.
Create A Sense of Belonging
Entice customers to invest in your project by helping them find their tribe. Brands that help consumers find a sense of belonging can grow their revenue up to 12% per year. Here are some ways to help customers find a home in your community:
Create Space for Real Conversations: Feature subgroups and forums where members can discuss issues that matter to them. While Sephora is committed to beauty, the brand’s Insider Community features a moms group where members talk about motherhood.
Allow members to interact with each other on a personal level via private messages and don’t censor discussions. Just remain vigilant for discriminatory, hurtful posts or foul language.
Connect With Them: To help develop a human connection, communicate in a personalized manner so customers can think of you as a friend rather than a product. Encourage members to share their stories and feature them (with permission) on your website or publications. Members of Harley Owners Group, for example, get featured on h-d.com or in H.O.G.® Magazine.
Encourage In-Person Interactions: 79% of consumers agree that brands are well-positioned to connect people of varying backgrounds and beliefs. Bring people together by organizing offline events such as in-store events and meetups. Curated dog brand BarkBox opened BarkPark, an outdoor clubhouse for dogs and their people.
Allow members to create profiles where they can display their personal interests to easily connect with other members. To help members find meetups, include an event finder on your website with location-based message boards, so members can turn virtual conversations into in-person bonding experiences.
Build Strong Relationships With Top Members
Maintaining a strong relationship with top community members can help build authority and credibility. Here’s how you can build a good two-way relationship with VIPs:
Recognize Them: Celebrate top members and motivate them to further engage with your community by acknowledging them in your marketing materials, at events, or by giving them some form of online expert status symbol. Based on interaction levels, members of Sephora’s space get Rookie, Go-Getter, Rising-Star, and Boss badges.
Share Power: Provide top experts with moderation rights to increase their involvement. Pay special attention to their permissions, and only give privileges to those who understand your brand and can be trusted to edit content appropriately.
Give Exclusive Access: Deepen your relationship with members by giving them access to exclusive events or perks. Apple gives ‘Level 6’ members of its online community access to The Lounge, a private club for active members. To provide the right perks, find out what motivates top members of your community.
To get the most business value out of your online community, you’ll need to keep members engaged. Engaged members create a loyal customer base and are a good source of data-driven insights. A few elements you can include in your engagement strategy:
Co-creation: Involve consumers in your product development process by allowing them to drop product ideas or review your products. ALDI’s Testers Club allows customers to review items online and let ALDI know what they love, and what needs improving.
Ask community members questions through quantitative surveys when quick feedback on specific products is needed. If you hit upon a promising product, consider commercializing it in a finished product.
Publish Valuable Content: Center your content around the needs, wants, and pain points of your community. Procter & Gamble’s online community is a perfect example of creating value-add marketing content for their target audience. The content is focused on women-centric lifestyle, relationships, and culture.
Publish educational, aspirational, or funny content either from your brand or from relevant experts. Include members in the content creation process by allowing them to suggest topics or featuring them in your content. This will help encourage connections between members.
Give Rewards: Gamification techniques such as rewards can help you increase engagement. Create rewards exclusive to community members and acknowledge the right behavior. Give intrinsic rewards to make members feel seen, heard, and understood. Use extrinsic rewards as enforcement of social identity. ‘Full Life’ members of Harley Owners Group get a special life member patch and pin.
Build A Buzzing Community
While online communities are a great way to keep consumers engaged, don’t forget to calculate your ROI. Set up your forums so they’re easy to navigate, make posting simple, and quickly respond to questions. Lastly, put your community before your brand, and insist on integrity, a fun atmosphere, and developing meaningful conversations and connections.
Learn more about the importance of connecting with consumers at the PostFunnel Summit!