Every day – every hour – every minute, a new company goes online. Either for selling their products and services online, showing appearance online or increasing their brand awareness. But not all of these companies are successful with their online marketing strategy. One of the main reasons firms succeed whereas others fail is that they believe of their online customers not as “pixels on the screen” but as existing people with real pains, needs and interests. These firms understand the dynamics of online communities, how people interact online and how to build relationships with them.
Building an online community is a necessary part of being effective in the World Wide Web. The stronger your community is, the more likely your online business will succeed. Brand communities have become the holy grail for many organizations as they apparently provide a loyal base of customers who are willing to spend money. The brand community is customer-centric. That is the meaningfulness of the community inheres in customer experience rather than in the brand.
What is an online community?
As the term is relatively new, there exist a lot of different definitions. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an online community is “a group of people/ web users, who regularly interact with each other online, especially to share information and opinions on a common interest”. This definition already sums up the main idea of an online community; additionally one could add that there is also an interaction not only with other users, but also with organizations, such as companies.
Advantages and risks of online communities
They positively affect brand equity (perceived quality, brand loyalty, brand awareness and brand associations), or the market value of brands. They create a solid base of loyal, enthusiastic and forgiving customers. They create opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling.
But communities must be controlled by companies. One of the characteristic in communities is the virility of social networks such as their instantaneousness and their viral aspect. This is a characteristic that we must take into account. Otherwise, if it’s not control, it may backfire against the reputation of the company. Companies must develop a strategy of enforcement and active presence to not be only spectator of the exchanges or position statement toward the brand or the products of the company. Steps should be taken by adapting a strategy of communication. Here a framework to try to control communities so e-reputation.
Detect: observe what is saying on you. Then decide: make a decision to react to a controversy to the name of the company or by a third party. Produce by creating a good content to relay. Diffuse by relaying messages toward influencing and appropriated social network. Finally, verify how the messages are interpreted.
So companies must invest on it. Have employees who work specifically on the community. So it’s a real expense for the company but essential with the increasing of social networks and brand communities.
Business related online communities
Great online communities related to businesses not only provide a platform on which users and customers can connect. They offer a link with other social media platforms; they suggest crowdsourcing, they focus on the interaction with the customers on multiple levels, they promote special events and lot more. It’s the ability to broaden the horizon of the customers.
Look at this amazing video about a community campaign of Airbnb! It is simply amazing how they combined multiple levels to reach their followers and how the power of community made it possible to spread their spirit.
How to build a successful community
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your community be successful from day one. There are a lot of rules one has to follow while building up its community. We gathered the most important guidelines for how to build a great online community:
- Define goals
Setting clear and realistic goals is necessary for every successful online community. Think about what benefits your customer could get from using your online community! If you want to read more about this topic, just follow this link to an extremely interesting article from our colleagues on i-scoop.
- Make the content relevant and consistent
It has to be very interesting, inspiriting and educational accorded to the main goal of the community. Find something which is meaningful for your customers. Include videos, interviews, pictures, short presentations, etc. Think different! Just as David Garland from therisetothetop.com states: “Fitting in was never popular, right?” Make sure that you post on a regularly basis. Users like to be updated.
- Include share-options
Your content wants to be shared – that’s how you’ll get new followers, users, customers. Make sure that you include Facebook, twitter, etc. plugins which make it possible to share your articles or videos.
- Care about/engage the customers
Communicate with your users as much as possible. A little bit of small talk and caring for your users isn’t a lot to ask. This creates a link between you and the people on the other side of the screen. The owner of the online community needs to create a link to his visitors to establish a good relationship between each of them.
- Mind a great design
A community has to be attractive on every level. Don’t forget to care about the appearance of your community. A clear and structured design can work wonders.
- Connect with others
It’s a good way to increase the visitor’s rate. Invite famous people to interviews; ask an important person to give his mind about news and specific topics!
Wrapping it up
A great community should offer an added value to its user. The magic formula here is uniqueness. Try to be as unique as possible and your community will develop over time, as well as your online business which is linked to this community. Be patient, care about your users and follow the standard rules of community building.
Future of online communities
This is definitely an exciting topic and one that has been a long time in the making. As online communities have only recently become popular, many people don’t realize that they have been around and thriving for years! It primarily used to support virtual knowledge sharing in professional settings such as academics, IT executives and research; they have a proven strength in supporting information exchange and collaboration. So, the history of community will continue to influence our future as well. The biggest trend we can easily see on the horizon for online communities is the advent of specialized private online communities.
In our view, the specialized online community’s day has come! The last 2-3 years have been awash with social network launches and the race for dominance. For most, even the phrase ‘online community’ currently evokes mass professional networking tools, as those tend to be most professionals’ first exposure to online community. And while Twitter and LinkedIn for example, are not going away anytime soon, there is an increase in the demand for specialized private online communities that has emerged in part from the success of the broader social networks.
Instead, it is within the gates of private, smaller communities where meaningful peer connections, idea exchange and collaboration can truly take place. Not surprisingly, this mirrors the utility of a strong, intimate in-person meeting versus a large industry conference. Specialized online communities are now coming into their own because more professionals have evolved their requirements through experience with large networks. And there is certainly a growing trend of organizations to create private gated online communities to service the specialized needs of their customers.
What did we forget? Of course there are some more important points about communities – which ones would you add?
Authors: Fatoù Diop, Lionel Tchokouali, Duc Vu, Pia Froehlich
David Garland: “12 keys to building your online community” https://therisetothetop.com/davids-blog/12-keys-building-online-community/
Christoph Pantel: “Online-Community: 10 Tipps für den erfolgreichen Aufbau” http://t3n.de/news/10-tipps-fuer-aufbau-517934/
Oxford Dictionary: online community https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/online_community
Sean Winnet: “The power of online communities and crowdsourcing” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140707181112-49279963-the-power-of-online-communities-and-crowdsourcing
Dion Hinchcliffe: “Twelve best practices for online customer communities” http://www.zdnet.com/article/twelve-best-practices-for-online-customer-communities/
iScoop: “Online communities and social communities: a primer” http://www.i-scoop.eu/online-communities-social-communities-primer/