The Growing Importance of Digital Communities
Today’s marketing community undoubtedly revolves around the customer. This is because customers these days are constantly striving to enhance their engagement with the products they’re drawn to.
In fact, a popular study showcased customers are likely to spend as much as 19% more after joining and engaging, with a brand’s online community.
Through the usage of online networks and higher accessibility, consumers have begun to play more of a proactive role in their purchases, rather than being just another passive user. As such, they want to see visible product improvements following the feedback they’ve made- they want to know their feedback, and engagement efforts, are valued.
In turn, marketers are able to improve their products, and services, in order to better satisfy their targeted audiences. Brands using online communities to do so are now able to leverage customer engagement in a manner leading to business growth through higher sales, more conversions, and increased traffic.
Moreover, communities based on social media are growing to be the norm for brands across the globe.
As of 2020, statistically, 81% of businesses stated they had support channels which were community-led.
The Difference Between an Audience & a Community
Essentially, both your community and your audience comprises people who are interested in your products/services, and your brand. Once again, both of these could include your prospective customers, your employees, your present customers, and other vital stakeholders.
The key difference between a community and an audience can be noticed when you monitor how your brand communicates with each, alongside how these interactions are tracked and measured. To put it simply, your community refers to the group of people who reach out and talk to you, whilst an audience refers to the people to who you reach out and talk to. In turn, as a brand, you can purchase an audience but a community would have to be earned. We can look at the differences between an audience and a community like this:
Audiences consume your brand’s content while acting independently from one another. Whether they have a relationship with each other is entirely irrelevant to a business. Moreover, when referring to your audience, you could talk of its follower volume, list size, actual size, or subscriber count. Typically, you’d be looking at factors based on quantity, or size.
Building a high-end, large, engaged audience is definitely challenging for any business. And yet, you could simplify the process by simply purchasing an audience for yourself. Brands often do so by purchasing a list, or funding an event, in order to acquire a new audience.
In comparison to an audience, a community of a brand brings people together for a mutually shared experience. Rather than a one-way conversation as with audiences, your community would typically involve multi-way, dynamic conversations among several people. Of these, communities based on social media are the most prominent.
Of the brands today, 53% believe that social media tops websites and emails as the optimum choice for enhancing customer engagement.
In addition, members of a brand’s community are quite aware of one another and often engage in conversations. They act as a resource for one another and the growth of a community makes its members feel like they’re part of something far bigger than themselves.
“It's a collection of people connecting through a shared interest on a common platform, engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue. When the people in your audience come to a specific place to engage in a discussion about a topic of collective interest — and do this consistently — that’s a community.” -- Stephanie Baiocchi, author of ‘The Definitive Guide to Online Community Management’
Important Differences to Note
All in all, the most prevalent differences between an audience and a community are:
Audiences care about what your brand has to say; communities both care and connect the people who care
An audience can be purchased while the community cannot
Brands have to engage with an audience; communities engage with brands on their own
Audiences are largely impersonal; communities alternatively recognise individuality
Audiences are ruthless and fickle; communities are forever supportive of their brand
Importance of having a community in a digital-first world
Having engaged and active online communities comes with some very important benefits for brands.
Quite notably, 77% of companies surveyed in a global study stated that having a digital community increases both credibility and brand exposure
Some of the most prominent advantages of an online community are:
Immediate Knowledge of Customer Satisfaction
Before the utilization of social media communities, collecting and gauging results regarding customer satisfaction was a tedious, and long, task. However, an active online community allows companies to instantly monitor the frequency of customers through the usage of qualitative surveys and online polls. In addition to the same, brands can further assess customers’ reactions, to new product features, via their digital communities.
Permits Customer Advocacy
Online communities surpass traditional customer support by ensuring a customer is actually content and in turn, chooses to become an advocate themselves. This is in comparison to the simple resolving of customer issues by customer support. If a brand possesses effective digital communities, they’ll be able to transcend towards customer advocacy in a highly lucrative manner.
New customers often stick with a brand when they find a supportive digital community. This is because digital communities help new customers by introducing them to features, and different ways to use the product, coupled with answering their queries. This automatically enhances their customer experience which can avidly be seen in brands such as Masterclass and Airbnb.
Improvements in Products
Digital communities further allow consumers to express their lack of satisfaction, or grievances, almost immediately. Brands make use of this feedback by reducing their innovation cycle and quickly making product improvements. Overall, the product improvement process revolves around the customer experience.
How to build highly engaged communities
There are a couple of essential steps to follow when trying to build a highly engaged community. These are:
1. Ease of communication
Communication dictates the efficiency of your community.
Studies showcase that 57% of consumers stay loyal to a single brand if there is more human interaction and communication.
As such, in order to build an adequate community, you need to make your interactions, such as your message, mirror a resourceful and considerate human conversation.
If your followers are unable to have a conversation with you, or are unsure of how to approach you in the first place, you likely won’t have any community at all. And because communication is the foundation of your community, you’ll need to ensure your followers are able to converse with you.
However, it is also important to alternate the way you communicate as per the channel you’re using. The way you communicate on one channel, perhaps Facebook, will incite a different response than if you’d tried the same method on Instagram. Followers, in turn, are always looking for the easiest methods of communication. Some of the most notable ones you can use as a brand are:
Launching a Facebook group
Using Instagram Stories
Installing a live-chat feature on your website
Getting more involved with your Twitter community
2. Provide your customers with value
Some brands confuse the process of building an engaged community by thinking it involves grabbing your viewers’ interest. However, that’s primarily a waste of effort since it serves to provide short-term gains only. After all, shamelessly self-promoting yourself on social media is certainly bad for business when people only tend to engage with a brand when said brand is providing them with something of value.
Essentially, the primary way to provide value to customers is by problem solving. If you truly wish to build a sense of community among your viewers, you need to start solving their problems. This can be done by utilising social listening skills to uncover the pain points of your audiences. You could also use methods such as hosting Q&A sessions via Instagram to discover what your community members are struggling with.
The goal here is to gather as many pain points as possible before addressing your community through your content. As a brand, you can create blog content that educates your community and helps them overcome their respective obstacles. Moreover, you could utilise influencer marketing to better do so by collaborating with an influencer who’s an expert in your niche. You could co-create content that directly addresses the issues in this manner.
You should also remember that when providing value, your brand always comes second to your community. Instead of focusing on content that promotes your brand, you need to indulge in creating content that assists your community members. You could do so in the following ways:
Explore important key points from your Q&A sessions
Reuse useful content from other channels
Share things from your own life which could add value to that of your customers
3. Give to your community
Once you start to give products/services to people, they’ll start to care about your brand in a more proactive manner. As such, you need to be generous with your community since these people are commenting, posting, and sharing your content with other members in order to enhance your engagement. Some great ways you can give to your community are:
Providing your top contributors with coupons
4. Let your community be a part of your passion
If you want to build an engaged community on social media, you’ll need to make sure your passion is equally shared with them. The easiest way to go about the same is user-generated content. This is when customers generate content for a brand by acting as brand advocates and micro-influencers. Moreover, it's a brilliant way to increase your organic reach and construct an engaged community. User-generated content also provides your brand with credibility and authenticity, thereby increasing your social proof.
Aside from the benefits, it provides a brand with, user-generated content is quite fun and exciting for followers as well. Here are some excellent ways you can utilise user-generated content:
Share content of customer using your products
Use Instagram Stories to post user-generated content
Create BTS (behind the scenes) videos of how your brand does what it does
Romanticise everyday aspects of your business such as an average day
Introduce your staff to your customers
Brands with a strong community
A notable brand with a diverse, global community within the beauty industry is Sephora’s Beauty Industry Community. Members are free to ask questions, join various fun challenges, and even get recommendations from like-minded people. The community possesses thousands of people across the world and is stated to be an ‘’evolved ecosystem that helps shoppers easily connect with people who share [their] beauty interests so they feel supported throughout their beauty journey. The sky's the limit in terms of finding inspiration, asking questions, and connecting with other people.”
The RedBull Gaming Community often highlights female gamers in order to bridge gaps such as language barriers and distance. A popular article, by RedBull, from 2020 highlights the following
‘’Consider that 46 percent of gamers are women, yet they compose just 22 percent of the industry’s workforce. The overwhelming perception is that gaming is primarily straight, white and male. But increasingly, those from other backgrounds are combining their love of gaming with their talents and drive to create a far more inclusive community’’.
The Adult Fan of Lego Community is another popular, global community. “AFOL stands for Adult Fan of LEGO. The discussions happen in a lot of places. By joining it you'll likely make friends, become a better builder and collector, and have a whole bunch of fun. A small caveat though: you probably need to be about 15+ to fully enjoy most of these resources”. With more than 1 million members worldwide, it transcends race, gender, and age in order to bring together people who just want to have fun.
The world’s very first all-girl community launched in 2006. Sunsilk's Gang of Girls, the community, has since gone global with over 200,000 members in just three months of its launch. “Vipul Chawla, Category Head – Hair Care, HLL says, "Sunsilk Gang Of Girls" is the first-ever concept of its kind. It is a very unique manner of making a difference in the lives of Indian girls. This online world of Sunsilk is aimed at providing a retreat to them wherein they can connect over shared passions.”
So what do we know now?
After differentiating between the essentials of a community and an audience, we explored the growing importance of an online community in the digitized world of today. Following the same, we dived into the several lucrative benefits of a digital community for brands worldwide. Lastly, guidelines on how you can effectively build a highly engaged community yourself were provided.