The world is full of communities, both online and offline. There are communities for gamers, crochet enthusiasts, language learners, and new parents. While being profoundly different, they have the same core principle – they all form around a common interest. And brand communities form around, well, the brand.
A brand community unites people who are no longer mere consumers of the brand’s product or service. They have something to say about it and they want to share it with others. Others want to learn something about it and seek information. For brands, communities are an amazing channel for getting closer to their customers.
Benefits of communities for brands
A strong community makes tons of difference in the brand’s relations and connections with customers. It builds emotional bonds and helps to learn more about the customer audience in general. On the other hand, in a community, the brand can show its openness and transparency building higher customer trust. Building a community can become an effective supplement to your eCommerce marketing strategy.
Let’s look closer at the benefits brands get from building communities.
Higher customer loyalty
When your customers become members of your community, their loyalty to your brand increases. Their relations with you get beyond the simple buying process and develop a more emotional side. In a community, customers get an opportunity to see the brand not only as a website, a logo, and a mission statement but as a team of people behind it.
A community is a wonderful source of improvement and innovation ideas. You never know where you can get inspiration for a product facelift – a thank-you message or a complaint.
Alternatively, you can ask your customer community to test your new idea. Show a sample of a new website redesign, ask their opinion on a new feature you are planning, or offer two product versions to choose a better one. This way, your decisions will be based on customers’ preferences and may find better acceptance in real life.
Understanding your customers
In a community, you as a brand have an amazing opportunity to learn more about your customers. Live communication can yield insights that no market research can. You can find out what customers want from your product, in which ways they compare it to your competitors’ products, why they choose you and stay with you.
On the one hand, you can adjust your production to fit customers’ expectations armed with this knowledge. On the other hand, it’s possible to avoid some eCommerce marketing mistakes.
Word-of-mouth advertising opportunities
Use the community to advertise your products and announce upcoming events or campaigns. If you are running a member-only community, make it an exclusive deal for your subscribers, thus raising the value of membership. At the same time, your members will be sure to tell about a new offer to their friends and relatives inviting them to join, too.
This way, you are hitting two birds with one stone – getting advertising that people are going to trust and growing your subscriber base.
Creation of a positive reputation
Live communication is a great chance to build and improve your public reputation. First, you can respond quickly to any critical feedback that customers might have about your product or service. Quick and constructive response, especially to a negative review, earns you points with customers and improves their opinion of you.
Second, a community allows you to establish yourself as an industry authority. The community may discuss not only your products but the industry in general or any related issues. Voice your professional opinions on the subject with a subtle ad for your brand and earn a reputation among your customers.
How to build a community around your brand
From theory to practice – let’s build an eCommerce brand community.
Find an optimal platform
When you think of communities, the first thing that comes to mind is a Facebook group or a Slack space. True, these are popular community platforms, but, in fact, your options are much wider. You can have a community on Reddit, which hosts all sorts of communities or Mobilize, a special platform for hosting private communities.
On the other hand, people that discuss your blog on your website are a community, too. You can expand and promote it by inviting more subscribers and followers. Alternatively, you can launch a discussion forum on your website. Using your own resources to host your community allows you to establish your rules and maintain your corporate style.
When you choose a platform, think of the features you want it to support. If you expect user reviews and unpacking videos, choose the resource that supports image and video uploads. If you plan to hold live presentations or webinars, look for a platform that allows live streaming.
As an example, check the Facebook community of Instant Pot. This kitchen appliances seller has over 3 million followers on the most popular social network. They share recipes, exchange their Instant Pot experiences, and ask for recommendations. The brand posts regularly offering recipes that use Instant Pot appliances and sharing links to other resources where the brand is mentioned.
Make your team your first community members
Invite your team to be the first to join your community. With this move, you can tackle multiple goals:
- Meet your first customers with a non-empty forum. When your real customers start joining, they will see a community with some discussions already going on. Even though these discussions may concern the forum rules and brand news, customers have something to browse.
- Have your team ready for customer communication. When your support team and helpdesk software operators are also your community members, they can quickly answer any inquiries that customers may post. The key thing about a community is to respond quickly, so it’s best to have your agents ready.
- Test the forum features. Your team members are your first community users who can report any bugs and malfunctions. When the community is not large, it may be easier to fix any errors that are detected at the initial stage.
Leverage social media
Even if you host your community elsewhere, you can still make the most of the social media outreach. Your community members are sure to have an account or two on social media, so use that to your advantage.
Offer incentives for sharing, liking, or subscribing to your brand on social media. This way, your community members will carry your brand further building awareness in their circle of friends.
This is the way that Trailcampro chose to increase its community of subscribers. The business selling trail cameras awards bonus points to its subscribers for following the brand on social networks. With this technique, Trailcampro not only attracts new followers and customers but also boosts loyalty in the existing ones.
Welcome new members
Make it a rule to greet new members personally. When people join a brand-organized community, they seek personal communication, so give them that from the very beginning. Instead of a faceless cookie-cutter welcome message, send them a personalized letter.
Call new members by their names. Suggest hot discussion topics that newbies may like to join. Offer a short guide to your forum to help them get started.
Such a personal welcome will make the newcomers feel that they made the right decision when they signed up for your community. They will be motivated to browse further, take part in ongoing discussions, or start ones on the subjects that are of interest to them.
Create appealing and engaging content
Content is what makes your subscribers return to the community and participate in discussions. By sharing links to your blog posts, adding interesting videos and images, creating polls and surveys, you can engage more members in a discussion. As a result, they repost it on their social media accounts making your brand even more recognizable and bringing new members into your orbit.
Encourage user-generated content, too. It is known to be trusted by people much more than that generated by brands – 60% of consumers find it authentic. Invite users to share and post their opinions, reviews, usage suggestions, improvement recommendations, and maintain the discussion, too.
For example, Airbnb’s Twitter account with over 800 thousand followers is a mixture of Airbnb’s posts and user testimonials. The company’s own posts are not boring ads but interesting pieces with competition announcements and destination pictures. Such content makes the account interesting to follow and share.
Set clear rules
Designing rules of community use and enforcing them can help you maintain a healthy and friendly atmosphere. It’s best done before a community is launched because it is much more difficult to start introducing rules when someone has already broken them.
Most brand communities have more or less similar rules for community posting: no swear words, no nude images or videos, no advertising. At the same time, implement rules of discussion aimed at keeping a friendly and polite tone.
Adherence to rules creates and maintains a positive image of your community. New members will be happy to join a friendly and civilized group. On the contrary, the first impression of a rude and ill-behaved community might discourage new users. Besides, if the overall community culture deteriorates, you may lose even your loyal members.
Reestablish your mission
Your online store is not just a place to sell things. When you first thought about it, there must have been a core idea that became the foundation of your entire business. A clothing store may be focused on offering luxury or affordable items, use only organic materials or support local manufacturers. A fitness website may be designed for at-home or outdoor exercise.
Whatever your mission statement is, make it loud and clear. Include it in your welcome message to community members and repeat it once in a while. This will allow your followers to be on the same page and determine the topics of discussion.
Ready to start a community?
Starting an eCommerce brand community is not as difficult as you may think. Once you got the ball rolling, your members will do a lot of the work themselves – promote your forum in their circles and invite new members to join. Your job is to keep them interested and engaged. At the end of the day, it will be fun.