Online brands are trying something new to reach customers these days – but the method is as old as the Internet itself. When the World Wide Web was first introduced, it provided a virtual meeting place for people all over the world. This new way of communicating spawned millions of online discussion groups around shared interests. Savvy e-marketers see renewed power in these connections and are embracing community marketing to build loyal fan bases and grow revenue.
Policy Change Reignites an Age-Old Practice
There’s a reason companies are starting to build online community into their marketing approach. Change is coming to the world of paid digital advertising – new policies that could make it difficult and expensive to target customers using search profiles and behavioral data.
Instead of lamenting the change, future-forward companies are tapping into human nature. We’re social animals who love to talk, interact and build connections around shared passions – including brands. In fact, insufficient social engagement is linked to damaging medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression.
Community marketing embraces our social tendencies to build reputation and brand trust and encourage word-of-mouth advertising. So far, it’s an underutilized marketing strategy, but it’s poised to become a major growth and investment area for eCommerce brands over the coming decade.
Organic People Power
Communities sometimes coalesce organically. Just think of the activity on product review sites, the comments on brand name social media accounts, or the chitchat in lineups at popup fashion events.
In these contexts, people talk directly to each other and learn from each other about their brand experiences. This person-to-person promotion is more authentic and more meaningful for current and future customers than paid advertisements could ever be.
These engagements are more valuable for businesses as well. They grow avid and highly motivated fan bases and build trust in brands. Over the long term, word-of-mouth advertising drives more sales and encourages repeat and higher-value purchases.
Building Community has Benefits
As much as successful brand marketers love “natural” communities that emerge without involvement, not all businesses can sit back and wait for communities to blossom on their own. As a result, more and more brands are adopting community marketing strategies to find networks of users, activate customer interactions and grow their own taste-making communities. Done right, brands are able to foster that same level of trust, build reputation, and reach engaged customers – in both online and offline channels.
With a strong community, businesses are far more likely to increase their average order value (AOV), and reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC). Community marketing gives companies a direct line to the customer experience and helps improve products and services through customer feedback.
Community Building 101
Get started by designating a forum or group chat for users to connect with each other and the brand. The primary focus shouldn’t be on selling. Remember that people join communities for a number of reasons: new or regular social interaction, a sense of belonging, the joy of sharing, in-group status, learning, or just for fun.
Figure out why people might join a community specifically around your brand. Who’s already talking about it? Are people aware of the benefits? Are there reasons to connect people together who love using your products and services?
Next, identify and empower leaders in the brand’s existing community. The following guidelines will help grow your base while keeping interactions honest and authentic:
- Provide value
The community needs something to hold onto. Provide unique content your fan base can talk about, learn from, or share.
- Actively engage
People often join communities to get closer to the action. Having a chance to engage directly with the movers and shakers in a business or brand makes people feel special. It’s a great way to include people and reward community participation.
- Deliver exclusivity
These days, every business has a “sign me up” button. To encourage authentic community participation, make belonging meaningful. Give your community members-only discount and early access to new products and features.
- Promote peer-to-peer networking
Find ways to strengthen relationships between customers – such as online meet-ups, games or in-person events. When customers enjoy speaking to each other, they’ll soon bring others into the fold.
Real communities don’t emerge overnight. Community marketing is a long-term strategy that takes planning and consistency. But brands that are able to build community – and community trust – will benefit big in the long run.