Operations

The Value Of Community Engagement

the-value-of-community-engagement

When trying to scale a subscription commerce brand, there are no silver bullets. Your overall success depends on the business plan and subscription model, but a handful of strategies employed together can help you stack the deck when scaling a brand.

Some of those strategies are things like curated subscription boxes, cross-selling and upselling, and content marketing best practices. There’s also utilizing headless commerce and paid search to amplify your online presence. And now, even things like SMS for subscription interactions allow you to have multiple touchpoints with your customers.

However, you can do all of those things right, and yet still miss the mark with building community engagement. The often overlooked strategy, especially when it comes to subscription businesses, is investing in your community members.

Who Are Your Community Members?

Understanding who qualifies as your community is as simple as looking at not only who buys your products, but also at who engages with you from a social media standpoint. Your vendor partners also count as members of your community, allowing you to optimize your business so you can better engage with your customers.

You can use your analytics and market research to clearly identify your community, and you can also break them into categories. As an example, your community categories may include: current customers, previous customers, engaged, non-engaged, tech partners, future customers, niche customers, etc.

But why is community so important, and why does building an engagement community matter when scaling your business?

The Psychology of Communities

From a psychology perspective, people crave belonging, and want to be a part of engaging communities. That is why things like peer reviews, user feedback, and user-generated content (UGC) are so popular. While people generally trust companies and the claims of their products, more and more consumers are relying on the voices of the community members to inform them if the investment or purchase is worth it. Refersion, a referrals-focused company, notes that “74% of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influence in the purchasing process.”

Subscription businesses are naturally set up to take advantage of those community referrals. Traditional ecommerce brands spend significant marketing dollars trying to attract and retarget potential customers for return purchases. Subscription brands can repurpose those “retargeting” dollars and channel them into things like upselling and cross-selling because their subscribers are coming back already.

So what is the psychology behind subscriptions and the community involvement within them?

While often referred to in a negative sense, there are plenty of instances where the psychological phenomenon known as groupthink can be a positive thing. For example, a new hire recognizing positive company culture often results in that person assimilating seamlessly, forming strong relationships, and contributing to overall goals.

From a community engagement perspective, brands that can get their customers bought into the overall value proposition of the company and its mission are likely to be positive promoters and attract other potential customers to join the movement.

Picture yourself scrolling through social media. You come across a targeted ad for a swimsuit, a product you’ve been interested in with summer coming up soon. Which are you more likely to click on?

  • An ad with hundreds of reviews and plenty of comments from customers, or
  • An ad with no visible reviews or comments?

The Role of Influencers in Community Engagement

Think about the ever-present role of social media influencers. As they have positive experiences with a brand, they often share that to their followers, resulting in a huge lift for many ecommerce brands. That particular community member is using their influence over others who then feel that they want to be a part of that same community. 

This also leaves brands open to the greater potential for those influencers to become detractors. If the customer experience doesn’t live up to the expectations of the community using the product, brands have to work that much harder against those negative biases to “make it right” in the eyes of social media.

That’s where the power of psychology comes into play. Customers want to feel validated that they’re not the first person to buy this product. If lots of people before have purchased, and taken the time to leave a real review, that leads to confidence that more people will buy in the future and become members of your brand community.

Using the Engagement Community for Growth

All that being said, building a community doesn’t directly equate to revenue growth. You’re playing the long-game. As mentioned above, there are countless ways to monetize a business based on revenue models, overall strategy, and more. If community engagement is not the route to revenue, so be it, but it should play a role in overall growth of your brand.

Social Media Opportunities for Community Engagement

Facebook groups are a great place to start building your presence within a community. Odds are you’re doing some level of advertising on Facebook. Invite every customer who subscribes to your product to a shared group where you can discuss exclusives, engage as the brand, and facilitate organic engagement between community members. Those customers will interact with each other and explain the value prop of the company in ways individuals hadn’t thought of, which provides opportunities to grow retention.

Just as with influencers, there is flip-side to being present on social media. It is important that you have a dedicated member of your team to maintain a pulse on the sentiment within the group(s). Groupthink can drive things forward for a brand, but a few shared negative experiences can also highlight issues. Engaging with community members when issues arise publicly will show that you are present and available to provide exceptional customer experience.

Twitter is another great place to ask for feedback in a public forum. This, as you already know,  may open the door for negative feedback, but most customers would be happy to give you honest and genuine feedback about your brand in a public forum. If you can interact with those community members on a personal level, they’re much more likely to try new products leading to increased average order value and serve as an organic referral for you.

Keeping Your People at the Forefront

A closing word of advice: Be authentic! Your customers are smart. After being shut out of public places for over a year, they have taken a masterclass in authenticity. When brands promote their services or products selfishly, only delivering value to themselves or simply looking for sales, they lose. 

The brands that figure out how to deliver content with purpose, advertise creatively, and drive joy and confidence within their community will win. And with a huge boom (91% growth, in fact) in subscribers to the overall pool, showcasing your amazing community, or starting to build one, will draw new customers to your door.

Special thanks to our friends at ReCharge Payments for their insights on this topic.

About the author

Steve Hutt

Steve has entrepreneurship in his DNA, starting in the early days of online commerce when he achieved Power Seller status through his eBay store. This propelled him to become a co-founder of VisionPros.com, a contact lens and eyewear retailer. With a successful exit from his startup, he embarked on his next journey into agency work in e-commerce and digital strategy.

Currently, Steve is a Senior Merchant Success Manager at Shopify Plus, where he helps identify, navigate, and accelerate growth in the complex world of commerce.

To maintain his competitive edge, Steve also hosts the eCommerce Fastlane Podcast and Shopify Founder Stories, a top-rated twice-weekly podcast where he interviews Shopify Partners and subject matter experts who share the latest marketing strategy, tactics, platforms, and must-have apps, to help Shopify brands improve efficiencies, grow revenue, profit, and lifetime customer loyalty.

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