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They help companies increase brand loyalty, get valuable insights, and foster great client relationships. They give consumers a sense of belonging and make them feel important, valued. The importance of brand communities for businesses of all sizes is undeniable - especially in 2022. In fact, in the 2021 CMX Community Industry Report, 86% of companies said that “community is critical to their mission” and 69% claimed that they “plan to increase their investment in community next year.”
It’s hardly surprising then that building a brand community has been on your mind more than ever before, and you probably have countless questions about it. You might even be asking yourself:
Why and how much do I actually need to invest in a community?
And you’d be right to do so! Everyone seems to be talking about communities right now. However, companies tend to get onto them without even thinking about the “why” and “how” behind the whole project. It's a vicious circle – without clear goals and some process knowledge, it's impossible to succeed.
A thriving community is a serious investment that requires a long-term commitment. You shouldn't underestimate that - otherwise, you might waste your energy, money, and hours of hard work. You will definitely need the know-how and a good community strategy. So if you want to succeed in this project, it’s best to start from the basics and build up your community roadmap from here.
What is a brand community?
In a nutshell - a brand community is a space that brings both your existing and potential customers together. It allows your most loyal clients and passionate users to gather in one location, which is a massive gain for any business. Such a place creates meaningful relationships between the members and a brand. In the business world, a brand community is a powerful machine that creates value.
Imagine thousands of people spreading the knowledge about your product or technology and building your social media presence. It sounds like dreams come true. However, to build this kind of commitment, you need to understand the core fundamentals first.
The difference between an audience and a community
The social media world is changing rapidly, but one thing stays put - creating value for your customers is vital. Or, as we like to say, brand communities exist to serve the people in them.
Community-led brands go one step further. They help their customers create and serve value to other customers. Mind-blowing, right? When you create a brand community, you provide users with a space in which they can help each other by sharing knowledge and insights. In the case of the brand audience, it is the brand that does that for its existing and potential customers.
It is important to have that difference in mind. A brand community unlocks the opportunity to exchange real-life experiences and scale value creation.
The Notion's Subreddit is a great example here. Instead of investing tons of money in one-way communication through social media posts, Notion took the extra mile. They created an online space for their most engaged customers to let them exchange ideas on how to take full advantage of their product. With nearly 200 000 members interacting, sharing their tips and answering questions every day, Notion makes an outstanding case of how to build a strong brand community. They empower their members to contribute.
A brand community should go along with your business goals
I often say that social media likes won't pay your taxes. Before you start investing time and resources in community building, you need to understand the “why” behind your brand community. Moreover, It's crucial to know the “why” before you even think about the "how".
So consider asking yourself this question:
Why should I build an online community?
Let's take a look at some objectives your community can drive, with examples.
- Gathering feedback and validating ideas
As a Product Manager, I dare say that we all struggle with the lack of user feedback when we make decisions about new features or product updates. Creating a space where you can ask the most loyal customers for feedback directly or chat with them and learn how they use your products is a massive value for the company.
Here’s what Alex Zhu, the founder of Musica.ly, said about building community-led products:
We have hundreds of users on WeChat, where we have daily conversations, not only about the product but also just talk. We talk and make jokes to understand how [our users] think and to be immersed in the American teen culture. We always first present the ideas, have a conversation with users, share the mock-ups and wireframes, and get the feedback before we do any coding.
- Improving product adoption
It is essential to show your customers how they can solve their problems with your product, but what if you want to scale it? Well, the community comes to the rescue! Empower your existing customers to teach other users how to use your product better, and share use cases or templates.
Take a look at Miroverse, a space created by the Miro company to share workshop templates. Here’s how it works: community members share their workshop ideas and templates that active and potential customers can easily browse. With ready-made brainstorming canvas or agile workflows, new users quickly learn about Miro's features and get value from the tool almost instantly. They don’t have to spend long hours getting to know it by themselves. It's a great example of how user-generated content can help your business grow.
- Building brand awareness
Time for brand advocates! Imagine that instead of paying a lot of money for social media ads, you can invest and build a group of loyal brand ambassadors who will spread the word (and knowledge) about your products. It might seem impossible — and yet!
Check out the Google Developer Experts use case. It's a worldwide community of highly experienced Google technology experts and developers who contribute to a wider developer ecosystem. By creating content such as resources, documentation, blog posts, or by organizing meetups, they educate other developers on Google technologies, like Android or Cloud.
Additionally, Google creates special rewards programs to make its brand advocates feel high-class (e.g., by sharing early access to the new versions of products). That’s how they drive community engagement and encourage experts to share more content.
- Supporting your Customer Service team
Online forums can be a great way to help your customers help each other. Create a space where your users can ask and solve their problems. Here’s one example - check out Adobe Support Community.
- Customer acquisition
A strong brand community can help you grow your pipeline and develop a potential customer base. Imagine this simple scenario: let’s say you have a lot of users who have the free plan of your product. You encourage them to join the community with experienced power users who are on paid plans. They exchange knowledge, create meaningful connections and become loyal fans of your product. They also learn that the paid plan of the product can give their company more value. Now you’ve turned them into paying customers! Many factors need to happen during this process, but it's worth it!
- Getting internal brand advocates
Let's not forget that your employees are your best ambassadors. Today's businesses realize that building strong internal communities among their employees, partners, vendors, and suppliers is vital to employer branding.
This form of workplace community brings your internal contributors together. It connects them with like-minded people and fosters a sense of belonging, support, and inclusion. If you recognize the most active brand ambassadors, create rewards programs and support your employees by providing them with resources and knowledge, you can definitely create a successful brand advocacy program within your company.
The above are just a drop in the ocean of business objectives that brand communities can leverage. The one that you'll select should depend strongly on the stage of your company’s growth.
For young startups working on the market fit, it will be best to focus on collecting feedback and validating product ideas. More mature companies should make it their goal to build strong communities that will help with acquisition and retention or product adoption.
Think about the goals of your members
Silent, inactive community members are every Community Manager’s nightmare. There is nothing worse than investing in an online platform for your brand that no one is excited to use. It's excellent that you have business objectives, but if your members don’t want to contribute to those goals, your community program will fail.
How to drive engagement in an online brand community
The crucial thing is to, once again, know the "why". Why should people join your online community? Why should they be active and participating? You need to know what’s motivating them.
The simplest, yet skipped by most companies solution is speaking with your potential members directly to identify their needs and motivations. So simple, so underrated. It's fun and easy to brainstorm ideas and start building right after. But no matter how good your team is, their assumptions about your users' needs usually don't hold true in reality. You have to spend some time on research.
Here’s one way to conduct user research for your brand community:
- Start with a list of potential members you want to reach out to. Select at least 10 people you hope to interview. Begin with those who already have some relationship with your brand - they are more likely to agree to it. Then try to also reach out to users you don't know well but believe to be a good fit for the group. Make sure to gather vital personal information, like job position, company size, demographics: age and location, and how they interacted with your brand before.
- Start scheduling interviews. Ask for a 30-minute call and take as many notes as you can. Explain your concept briefly, but don't ask what they think - everyone will say it's a great idea. Instead, ask these:
-> What challenges and goals do you have that the community might help you overcome or achieve?
-> How would you contribute to the community?
-> What would motivate you to be more active?
-> What would prevent you from joining/contributing to the brand community?
Try to ask as many questions as possible and learn about the perspective of your potential members. After the interviews, come back to your community strategy and check if you’re on the right track. Keep your interviewees close and happy - after you launch your own brand community, they will become your most important members.
- Never stop listening and asking questions. Gathering feedback and validating ideas should become your habit, even if you already run a thriving brand community.
Building a strong brand community - where to start
You already know why you should build a brand community and have a clear vision of what's motivating your potential members to contribute. Now it's time to start mapping your community strategy to help you thrive and measure success. Step by step!
Strategy for building the best brand communities
Building a community strategy might seem like a complicated task. If you don’t know where to begin, you’ve come to the right place. All communities have the same underlying fundamentals. You'll be well on your way to creating a vibrant community if you get these right.
The best brand community building strategies contain 7 core topics:
- Clear goals and vision for your community
- Community target audience and its motivation
- A place to gather members – a community platform
- A Strategy for driving engagement and contribution
- Community rules and policies
- A clear plan for growth and scaling up
- Metrics and goals to measure success.
Let's break down these complicated buzzwords into a simple and logical plan of action.
Why does your brand community exist?
This is the clear goals and vision part. And I've got good news! If you read the first section of this article carefully, you probably got it covered.
Now, answer these questions or use them to create a brainstorming session with your team:
- What is the mission of your organization? How does it relate to the community?
- How will creating the community support your company's business goals?
- What opportunities does your community provide for its members?
- With what challenges does your community help its members?
- How and where will you tell your members about your community's mission?
Take the extra mile and validate the ideas you’ve collected with the potential members. People you’re going to interview for your research might come in handy now!
Who should join your community?
When thinking of building a community, always start with people. You'll be at least 10 times smarter about how to make your community effective and how to attract people to join it if you call three of your potential members and talk to them for about 15 minutes. The foundation of a strong community isn’t a brand's reputation. It’s the knowledge of its members’ pains and desires. That’s why you should go through the questions below and write down your answers:
- Who is your target audience?
- Who is your persona? Try Persona Canvas to define at least 3 of them.
- What are their individual and career motivations and goals?
- Who isn't your target audience?
- At which step of the customer journey are they? How well do they know your brand?
- How comfortable are they with technology?
- Are there any requirements to become a member?
Where should you accommodate your community members?
Before you commit time and money to find your community a "home base" learn to understand your current members and how they connect.
Your community can extend across the entire digital ecosystem, from a tailor-made platform to a Facebook group. So first, think about the following questions and check some examples:
- Do you want your community to be online/offline or hybrid?
- How many members do you plan to have in a year? (only realistic numbers!)
- Do they need a private space to chat, or should it be available to everyone?
- When selecting a platform, which habits or preferences should you consider (e.g., privacy, convenience, user-friendliness, mobile versions, etc.)?
- How much flexibility do you need to interact with the members, collect data, etc.?
Here are some common examples of community platforms:
Social media platforms
An already-existing social media network that allows you to tap into their user base, for example, a Facebook group. While this is a low-cost option, existing social media networks may work better as an extension of your owned brand community rather than the primary channel. You don’t own online communities on social media – you can build relationships and interact with users, but when the business model of the platform change, you may lose all of your member connections. Gathering data, automation, analytics, flexibility – such features are limited when you build your brand community on a social media platform. It’s usually not worth the risk.
A forum is a fantastic way for a much bigger audience to discuss similar interests, whether they are directly related to the brand or not. Take, for example, the Spotify community. Because Spotify is such a large music streaming service with a massive audience, a forum is an ideal platform for loyal customers.
Third-party community platforms
Brands frequently choose third-party platforms to assist them in developing a brand community. You can select between less complicated online sites, like Slack or Discord, or check the community software that will help you leverage the whole community management process. From recruiting new members, to analytics and automation, to scaling the project.
That's where Advocu steps in. We developed a solution to streamline your community growth and advocacy processes. With Advocu's powerful out-of-the-box recruitment, onboarding and brand advocacy modules, and flexible customizations, you can create a tailor-made space for your brand community and move towards your business goals from day one.
Finding the best platform for your community is a weighty decision, so take your time to learn about your target audience and how they want to communicate.
How to keep your community members engaged
There are countless ways for members to contribute and engage in the life of your brand community. As members’ dedication and confidence in the community grows, they are more eager to participate. To build a successful brand community engagement strategy, consider these:
- What are the various ways a member can contribute to your community? Posts, comments, resources, participating in events? Reading posts is also a contribution!
- When members initially join the brand community, what do you want them to experience and understand?
- How can you help your members build a habit of contribution? What will motivate them to come back for the second, third, and fourth time?
- What type of participation will have the most value to your members?
- What obstacles do members face while participating in the brand community, and how can you reduce them?
- Which exclusive rewards do you want your members to get for their contribution?
- Is your company technologically prepared for all the forms of contribution? Think about the technical details and user experience.
How to drive brand community engagement
Driving engagement is the part that best brand communities never overlook. Remember that all the members’ activities and contributions should bring the desired business impact.
If you want to manage this process effectively and be able to track goals and KPIs, create a structured tactical plan. Make a list of everything you plan to accomplish in the coming months to promote community health and involvement while increasing business impact.
Here’s a sample plan of recurring tactics that you can use:
-> Create discussion prompts, post updates, and thoughts.
-> Respond to all comments and messages, and moderate discussion by asking open questions.
-> Create a welcome thread for new members and motivate them to say hello.
-> Message 5 inactive members and ask them why they’re not participating; try to motivate them (show value).
-> Create an icebreaker session – ask an icebreaker question like "What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?"
-> Set up a 30-minute call with one of your members for an interview.
-> Run a community event – a live/online meetup, a webinar – anything that'll keep your members connected.
-> Run a contest to drive rivalry. For example, create a trivia contest by asking questions about your product, company, or domain. In this way, you are both teaching and improving community engagement.
-> Send the monthly community newsletter with news, guides, and value for the members.
-> Run a community survey to get a better understanding of members’ needs, problems, and motivations. Make it a celebration!
This might seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything perfectly and by the book. The key to success, in this case, is to be systematic and genuinely care about your community members. For more community engagement tips take a closer look on our curated list of the best engagement techniques.
Define your rules and policy
As a leader, it is your responsibility to create a friendly environment and the culture of your brand community. Make it inclusive, safe, and productive by establishing a policy. Your policy must be clear, and all members must accept it before joining. Otherwise, people will tend to ignore it. Ask yourself:
- When and how will you inform the members of your policy?
- What are the rules? What kind of actions do you want to see in your brand community, and which shouldn't take place?
- What are your community values? (Think of your company's values).
- How can you make sure that your members feel safe, welcome, and comfortable?
- Who is responsible for the moderation and execution of rules?
- How will you react to conflict, haters, and rule-breaking?
Growing your brand community
Building brand communities is not enough. Your creation should constantly grow, adapt and thrive. Recruit new members systematically, and replace the inactive ones with the "new power". Run regular updates on your processes, tools, rules, and automation. Make sure to modify the outdated concepts and solutions. And, most importantly - connect with your community members daily, or at least regularly. They can be loyal customers, passionate about your product, or simply interested in your brand. But all of these users are extremely important to your company. Make them feel valued. That’s how you drive brand loyalty.
Should all brand communities grow fast and big?
Not really! It all depends on your business needs and goals, and the experience you want to provide for your members.
For instance, let's take a look at these two examples:
- A company specializing in the construction of high-class yachts decided to launch a brand community. They hope to organize events and cruises to promote the luxurious experience of yachting and empower their clients to share their knowledge and insights. To keep the membership high-class, they need to select their members wisely and cap the membership to achieve a selective experience they intended.
- A charity fighting for women's rights runs its support group and community to spread knowledge, educate people and help women in need. To carry out their statute goals, they need to keep their membership growing.
Large brand communities can have a greater impact on the world and provide more content, experiences, and opportunities to build relationships. But big isn't better or worse than small - it's just different. Some questions you might want to consider are:
- How fast do you want your community to grow (in terms of sign-ups per month)?
- Where can you find new members? Where are they now?
- How should new members discover your community?
- What is your marketing strategy?
- What should people know about your brand and community before joining?
- Which tools and resources do you need to help people discover your community?
There are many ways to promote brand communities. Pick those best suited to your goals and your marketing strategy. You can use such tools as content marketing, paid advertising, newsletters, social media posts, recommendation programs, etc.
Scaling and measuring brand communities
When you set business goals, you’ll want to see the progress. Keep in mind that your community goals should align with the company’s business goals and support them. You have to get a sense of what should be your success. Having clear goals and vision will also help when you communicate and seek support from stakeholders, company owners, and your team.
At first, you might feel a little overwhelmed when thinking about how to define the goals, track the right data and analyze it. That’s why it's important to start simple. You don’t have to measure everything.
First, focus on such issues as:
- How can you track participation in your community over time?
- To which data do you have access now, and what data do you need to get?
- Which metrics do you want to track when it comes to members number, active members, and contribution?
- What are the most valuable actions and metrics that will help you achieve your organization's goals?
- How and where will you organize the data?
- Who should have access to it, and to whom will you report?
How to launch your online brand community
Good news - you don’t have to organize a grand opening event. Start small and get the first 10 members on board.
It’s good to have your strategy, your goals, and your vision prepared beforehand to know what you are trying to achieve. Don’t rush through your objectives or KPIs - you’re building a long-term project here. Take your time to experiment and focus on building meaningful connections.
Once you establish the quality, environment, and brand loyalty in a small group, take it one step further - share the existing members’ reviews to show others the value of your community. At this point, you can scale everything slowly. If you do this right, your members will become the best promoters of your community and provide you with lots of user-generated content. Let them advertise the group to show the values and perks (recommendation programs, early access to tools, etc.).
Get excited about your community building!
Remember that building a brand community is a living process. The whole marketing and business environment are constantly changing, so it's all about experimentation. But setting the foundation for those experiments is essential.
Whatever happens, try not to get discouraged quickly. There will definitely be worse days without any activities, comments, or participation in your discussion prompts. The key is to bring energy to the group constantly and stay excited.
But keep in mind that you can always come to us for help - we are here for you and your community.