Branding

How to build an engaged online community

- March 11, 2024 6 MIN READ
community

 

Nick Brogden, the founder of Earned Media, shares advice on why building an engaged online community can help turn your brand from a simple startup into a household name. 

Community building has always been one of the main factors determining a brand’s success. While the structure of a brand community has clearly evolved through the years, gatherings have only moved from face-to-face focus group discussions in boardrooms to Facebook groups and Telegram threads. 

What are the benefits of building an online community? 

Many of today’s businesses can attribute their success to the strength of their online communities. Brands like Hoka, Gymshark, and Allbirds achieved massive growth because they focused on community building. 

If you’re looking for more ways to grow your brand consistently, you must tap on your existing customers. Here’s why you should start building a community for your brand: 

1. It’s a more affordable way to market your brand 

Instead of focusing all your marketing efforts on ads, which could cost a lot of money, having an online community is a cost-effective way to target a community already interested in your brand. It costs more to acquire a new customer than to get an existing customer to make a repeat purchase. 

2. Increases customer retention and engagement 

An online community is a great way to keep your existing customers loyal, giving them a sense of belonging and a deeper connection with your brand. 

3. Gather user-generated content (UGC) 

A study on UGC revealed that 78% of millennials and 70% of Gen Z consumers are influenced by UGC when purchasing. An engaged online community gives you a deep well of valuable UGC that you can use to draw in new customers and also increase your brand authority.  

4. Connect with your customers 

Having an online community allows you to have conversations with your customers and gather valuable insight you can use to improve your products and services. 

If your customer supports you enough to join a community all about your brand, it means they have already built an emotional connection with you. Use the community to strengthen that connection and turn them into brand advocates. 

5. Test concepts and ideas before launch

It’s always tricky to gauge how customers respond to a new product or marketing idea. Still, using your online community for market research doesn’t have to be a guessing game. 

You can send samples to community members in exchange for feedback or include them in brainstorming sessions for future campaigns. 

How to build an engaged online community?

Building a brand community might sound like a privilege built for legacy brands with an established following. But as long as you already have people who love and support your brand, you can create a space for them. Here’s how: 

Step 1: Know your audience

Before starting your community, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of your audience. This means knowing what motivates them, their likes and dislikes, pain points, and hobbies. 

Knowing your audience allows you to create a community they want to be part of. For example, suppose you’re a food brand whose customers are mostly university students and young professionals. You can create community content that specifically appeals to their needs, such as dorm-friendly recipes or easy meal-prep ideas. 

Not knowing who you’re building a community for means your members might not engage with the group and feel out of place. 

Step 2: Determine what problem you want to solve

While your ultimate goal for creating an online community may be to grow your business, you must be more specific with what problem your community can solve. For example, 

  • Are you trying to collect more user-generated content? 
  • Do you want to increase the reviews on your page? 
  • Do you need to improve repeat purchase rates? 
  • Are you looking to identify possible brand ambassadors? 
  • Are you trying to reduce customer service costs? 

Answering these questions can help you align your community content with your goals. It’s also essential to have measurable metrics to help you track and assess your progress. 

Of course, your community can work to solve multiple business problems, which in turn gets you closer to every business owner’s primary goal: growth.  

Step 3: Choose the right platform

Many platforms are available today, but how can you determine which one works best with the community you’re trying to build? Here are some factors to consider: 

  • Features you need: Are you planning to host livestreams? Post videos? Chats? Before choosing a platform, identify what type of features you will need. 
  • Scalability: The platform you choose must be able to adjust according to your changing needs as your community will likely grow. 
  • Pricing: Budget will always play a massive role in determining the best platform. Using the cheapest platform available may be tempting,  but ensure you’re not compromising the community experience. 

Of course, knowing what platforms your customers already use is also important. Investing in an excellent platform may be wasted if your audience is more comfortable staying on Facebook groups.  

discord

Image credit: Discord

Aside from Facebook groups, Many businesses host their communities in Discord, Patreon, Slack, and Telegram. Find out what your competitors are using to help you narrow down your choices. 

Step 4: Start small

Don’t pressure yourself to hit big numbers as soon as you launch. Keep it small and intimate, and nurture your initial members until you gain momentum. Starting your community small allows you to interact more with members and understand what community content works best. 

By starting small, you can polish out the intricacies of creating an online community and be prepared to manage it effectively as it grows. 

Step 5: Create an inclusive and welcoming environment 

People love being part of a community precisely because of the sense of belonging it provides. While creating an exclusive community reserved for a special few may be tempting, letting your customers feel welcome is essential. 

Encourage discussions, allow members to start their own threads, and encourage them to share their thoughts about your products. Once your members feel comfortable in the community, your group will flourish. 

Step 6: Start discussions

It’s natural for most members to start cold and be mere observers at the beginning. It’s your job to get the ball rolling and start discussions in the group. You can begin by asking each member to introduce themselves, and then you can inject questions, such as “What is your favourite product, and why?”

To keep the discussions in the group as free-flowing and natural as possible, always keep it casual. Talk to community members as if you’re talking to a friend. Avoid using sales-forward language and marketing jargon. 

pepper

Philippine-based Food content studio Pepper hosts its community group on a Telegram channel where they start polls, ask questions, and get members to share their thoughts on relevant topics. 

Step 7: Give exclusive benefits 

Give your customers a reason to join your community. What makes being part of your community different from following you on social media? It can be anything from a rewards program, the opportunity to be the first to know about upcoming sales and product launches or an invitation to all your future brand events. 

Community benefits must be exclusive to community members only. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time recruiting members. 

Image credit: Lululemon

Take inspiration from athletic apparel brand Lululemon’s highly successful Sweat Collective community. Qualified members get discounts, special invites, and the opportunity to collaborate with the brand on product development. 

Step 8: Appoint moderators 

Moderators can either come from your team, and someone handpicked from your existing members or a combination. Interacting with the group as a moderator rather than posting as the brand makes the interaction appear more natural and human rather than transactional. 

Moderators can also keep things orderly, ensure that everyone follows community rules, and maintain the quality of the group. As the group grows, moderators can help protect the integrity of your community and maintain a positive environment for all members. 

Step 9: Host events and activities 

While most people will be content with experiencing everything online, having special face-to-face events or big activities can help boost community engagement. This gives members something to look forward to and can strengthen community bonds. 

sephoria

Image credit: Sephoria 

Makeup and skincare retailer Sephoria invites Beauty Insiders to special events such as masterclasses and the annual Sephoria. 

Step 10: Promote your community 

Building a solid community is a long-term commitment that may take time but is incredibly rewarding. Once you create a strong community, growth will come organically through word-of-mouth, but before that, you must promote your community like any of your products. 

Invite customers through your social media platforms and email marketing, and send exclusive direct messages to critical customers. 

Make sure to include the benefits and highlights of joining your community, and while you’re still starting, make joining as easy as possible. 

Are you ready to start building an online community for your brand? Building a brand community can help you form a deeper connection with your customers, promote brand loyalty, and achieve sustainable growth. Use these tips to help you grow your community and recruit your first members today. 


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