As a marketing strategy, building customer loyalty online seems straightforward enough. You can engage with customers through your brand’s social media channels, get them to participate in your brand’s contests and comment sections, and make sure they have a good experience when they buy from you. But all these relationships exist on one level: an engagement between brands and consumers.
What is an online community?
Generally speaking, a “community” as it relates to online marketing is simply some means for users to interact with each other. A Facebook Group could be considered a community, as could a forum or a meet-up site. But what makes these communities valuable? When they’re focused on a specific brand, or hosted by a brand, all the engagements in that community instantly pass value to that brand. The advantages are numerous:
- User-generated content curation. First, by allowing your users to submit their own content with each other, you’ll have built a self-perpetuating content engine. Get your users active enough, and they could almost handle your entire content marketing strategy for you.
- Greater propensity for social sharing. When people discover interesting content from other people they identify with, they’re far more likely to share it. Simply having an online community can increase your social shares.
- Higher brand visibility. An online community can also serve as an extension of your brand’s visibility, giving people more ways to engage with you.
- More personality. Because each user will have a distinct voice, personality and opinion, your brand will seem more human and welcoming.
- More engagement. People are more likely to engage with other people than they are with brands.
- Ideas and direction. You can monitor your users’ interactions with each other to generate new ideas and directions for your brand’s marketing strategy.
How to build the community
All of these advantages seem nice on the surface, but how can you actually achieve them? These are some of the easiest and most effective approaches you can take:
- Get people using and talking about your products. First, you can get your customers to talk to each other about your products or get them all using them. You could organize in-person meet ups between people who are passionate about your products, or simply open a discussion platform to connect people. For example, bicycle brand Six Three Zero features a “Journey Club,” which encourages avid bicyclists to get together in their local communities and explore new locations.
- Organize a community forum. Depending on how locally involved your company is, you could launch a local forum for your community members. For example, if you’re a local business invested in your neighborhood, you could establish a platform for your regular customers, partners and other entrepreneurs in the area to get together and plan events or work together to improve the area. This also has the added benefit of showing how much your brand cares about your local community.
- Encourage more guest posts. You can also encourage more of your users to offer guest posts or their own creative content, either on your existing blog or in a dedicated area of its own. For example, Kraft offers a specific site called Kraft Recipes, where users submit their own creations using Kraft brand products. It’s an easy way to generate more content and raise awareness of the brand.
- Offer training or education. Depending on the complexity of your product or service, or the nature of your industry, you may also be able to offer community-based education and training platforms. For example, most programming languages (like Ruby on Rails) offer their own communities, which are full of people willing to help newcomers and help each other through more difficult coding problems. The only caveat here is you’ll need a big enough user base to support such an education-focused endeavor; you’ll need enough experienced people to give back to the community and enough newcomers to actually appreciate it.
- Recognize customer achievements or creativity. If you’re in the market for new ideas, or if you want to see what your customers can do with your existing lineup of products or services, offer a platform for users to get creative. Incentivize them to come up with new product ideas or use your existing ones in some creative way. For example, Starbucks offers the My Starbucks Idea platform, where users can offer ideas for the brand to use in exchange for rewards and recognition.
These are just some of the ways you can cultivate an online community that revolves around your brand. Consider implementing one of these, a modification of one of these, or create something entirely new from scratch. The only requirements are that it gets people participating with one another and features your brand prominently.
Done correctly, you’ll earn far more customer loyalty — and a host of other benefits.