Brand communities are proving to be a powerful engine for building brand recognition and authority. As the online marketplace grows and fills with digital data, it’s becoming a daily challenge to reach your target audience. In addition, you have to deal with algorithms that limit your reach. As a result, your consumers may never see the content you are publishing. But beyond these issues, there is a deeper one. Our idea of engagement has morphed into something that no longer serves your marketing goals.
In a recent Forbes article, “It’s Time to Reimagine Engagement,” author Charles Thiede, CEO of Zapnito, discusses the pitfalls of the concept of engagement.
What comes to mind when you think of engagement?
Likes, shares, thumbs up, emojis—these have become the defining measure of whether our posts are successful or not.
We want to strike it big. We want that viral content that generates 1 million views and tens of thousands of shares and likes. And, it doesn’t matter if you’re posting photos on Instagram and Pinterest or a thought piece on LinkedIn to generate leads. The end goal is the same—high engagement that will grow your online audience and keep them coming back for more.
Everyone is Not Your Customer
Thiede suggests that “engagement” has strayed from its original intent. He means that over time, the initial goal of engaging with a customer to bring them to the point of making a purchase has become overshadowed by the desire to influence everyone. As a result, brands have become conditioned to think that higher engagement metrics mean that they’ve affected more customers. But, are you selling products or services? Are they signing up for your webinar, email list, or buying your ebooks?
“Our brains have been rewired to seek engagement with our every waking moment.”
Thiede says the concept of engagement has been warped and is in serious need of a reset. He suggests that brands need to “reimagine” engagement in a way that capitalizes on the digital-first economy while meeting their chief marketing goal—making a sale.
Engagement Metrics can Mislead and Deceive
The way we measure high engagement—likes, shares, comments, is misleading. And, as we are learning, algorithms have tremendous control over what content shows up in users’ feeds. Furthermore, algorithms often boost harmful, controversial, or negative content because it will garner ‘higher engagement.” So in the race to compete in the crowded digital market, it might be tempting to start creating content that looks and acts like the posts going viral.
And let’s say you succeed and get those engagements—does it help you reach your marketing goals?
Are you acquiring new customers, building brand ambassadors, making sales?
Redefine Engagement With Brand Communities
According to a 2020 Community Industry Trends report, 83% of consumers say word of mouth influences their purchasing decision.
Consumers engage in casual conversation about brands 90 times per week.
Brand communities are safe spaces for consumers to connect with each other and share how they’re benefitting from your products or services—word-of-mouth. As a result, you’ll boost brand exposure and authenticity, making future pitches more successful.
Online communities are consumer-centric—the focus is on your community members. It’s a place for conversation, education, sharing, and interacting, not for pitches and advertisements.
The community might be on an online platform, but it has a radically different feel. You might not see engagement metrics, such as shares or likes. The most significant measure of success will be if your community grows and members invite their friends and family to join.
Benefits of Building a Brand Community
Communities allow you to create a “we experience.”
The people in your brand community are loyal customers. They’re emotionally invested in your company—not only do they buy your products or services, but they’re excited to tell their friends and colleagues about you.
You can reach your consumers.
Every member of your brand community has access to every piece of content that you publish. As a result, you don’t have to deal with constantly changing and limiting algorithms.
You increase authentic engagement.
Brand communities increase authentic engagement and grow your customer base. In addition, being part of a brand community strengthens the emotional connection between your consumers and your brand.
53% of Americans who follow a brand on social media are more loyal to the brand. Customer loyalty leads to repeat business.
Test ideas, new products and gain insights.
67% of businesses use branded communities to test new products and services and gain consumers’ insights.
You can take what you learn in your brand community and incorporate that knowledge into your service or product design, future articles to publish, or podcast topics. With the constant exchange of feedback, you’ll learn your consumers’ needs and interests and how events in the world impact their thoughts or emotions.
Remodeling Engagement—Building a Brand Community
Building a brand community is a powerful way to remodel engagement. You’ll have the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with your customers that go beyond your products or services. As a result, your customer acquisition and retention rates will improve, and you’ll see a noticeable increase in your bottom line.
- You might hear that running a social media group takes time, and this is true.
- It takes time to converse with your community members regularly and respond to all questions/comments.
- You need to create discussion posts and other ways to stimulate conversation, generate excitement, and encourage new members.
- But, the investment is worth it. In your brand community, you can be sure your voice is heard.
What do you need to do to build a thriving brand community?
Building a thriving brand community requires the same strategic thinking you used when creating your brand and marketing strategy.
What is the purpose of your community?
The purpose can be simple, such as recruiting brand ambassadors or getting customer feedback on new products/services.
Why should consumers join your community?
Invite your consumers to become brand ambassadors. Create rewards, such as coupons, cash rewards, free products, or services.
Define goals with measurable outcomes to help you assess your community’s performance.
Look at your brand community as a long-term investment. Find where your objectives and the needs of your customers intersect and design your brand community around that middle point.
Strategize around the types of content you want to publish in the brand community.
Encourage consumer-generated content (CGC). 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over brand ads. (Neilson study)
Make it easy for your consumers to join, share content and encourage their friends and family to join your brand community. In this way, you nurture organic growth with little investment on your part.
How Do You Build an Online Community?
It’s easy to create communities where your members can explore and start conversing.
First, select your platform.
- Launch your brand community on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media platform.
- Or use third-party platforms, such as Mobilize or Slack.
Facebook is popular. Just about everyone is on there, so you’ll be able to recruit members quickly. Those members will have an easy time reaching out to their friends to join.
- Focus on brand awareness
- Educate your customers about products or services
- Share helpful information and resources
- Provide a space for your customers to interact with other team members, such as sales managers.
Are you a B2B brand? LinkedIn groups offer convenience and simplicity, and just about every B2B brand is on the platform.
LinkedIn is one of the most trusted social media platforms. Your potential customers are already there, so why not invite them to a brand community, where you keep it low-key, focused on educating and sharing. By using specific hashtags, your audience can easily find your brand community.
An Inspiring Example of a Brand Community
Traditional Medicinals, a herbal tea brand, uses its online community as a learning center. Consumers learn about teas, where the herbs for the teas are grown, and the stories behind them. Community members have access to DIY ideas and can share recipes and stories about drinking their tea. Traditional Medicinals’ online community encourages conversation in an easy-to-navigate, thoroughly enjoyable forum.
In an interesting article in Exhibitor, a trade journal for brands in the trade show and event marketing business, author Brad Falberg notes that the key to success is customers. Without customers, you won’t stay in business, no matter how great your product is. Therefore, your ultimate goal is to build your customer base and develop long-term relationships with your consumers.
Face-to-face meetings are still the best way to build trust and mutual understanding. When you meet in person, you learn your customers’ needs, concerns, and goals. But, today, there are fewer face-to-face encounters. Today, technology is king, and marketing interactions have become digitized.
Brand communities are one way to recreate the feel of those face-to-face encounters. Promote your community, show up consistently, be responsive, friendly, and social. Think about it differently than you do with your social media platforms. It’s a long-term endeavor, but remember, you’re developing authentic engagement, not likes.
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