In an age where consumers are increasingly seeking out experiences and brands that they can relate to, the standard models of advertising and marketing are fading. Whereas brand loyalty used to be based primarily on a product’s quality, today consumers are more interested in interacting with brands that they feel share their values.
In place of standard branding strategies, companies are starting to move in the direction of branded communities. These online (or offline) groups are usually formed around interest in a product or brand, and although they’re not always initiated by businesses, companies have a deep interest in engaging with and managing these groups.
Branded communities are hardly “corporate,” helping consumers feel like their voices are heard, appreciated, and considered. Even so, branded communities require attention, care, and upkeep, making it vital to understand exactly what you need to do.
Follow these easy strategies to build a strong foundation for your branded community and gain the most from your online interactions.
Build your funnels ahead of time, and manage them centrally
Creating an online space for your brand’s tribe to gather and chat is awesome, but without the right foundation, you’re basically just building an empty chat room.
The biggest question mark for branded communities is how to instill a desire amongst consumers to join your community simply after they’ve heard about your brand. The key to success in this area lies not in just building a space to gather, but also the roads that lead to it.
Your first focus, before you open your community, is to design your funnels and pipelines ahead of time. Unlike sales pipelines which are solely aimed at driving conversions, branded communities cultivate longer-term commitments. Luckily, there are tools online that help you accomplish this feat easily.
Membership and e-course platform Kajabi, for instance, provides solutions to drive consumers to the right place. This includes building landing pages, lessons, and online events that connect all your services together. For solopreneurs interested in monetizing their thought leadership, Kajabi-hosted forums are likewise compelling solutions.
Most importantly, however, you need to make sure your pipelines and funnels are all centrally managed. Instead of using multiple services for email, chat, social media, and more, centralizing your services gives you a better ability to react, adapt, and improve anything you see affecting your branded community’s reach.
Devote the right resources to your community
Once you’ve built your pipelines and created your community, it may seem like the right time to take a victory lap. After all, studies have found that online communities can reduce your support costs by nearly 10% to 25% while also improving your engagement. Yet, these cost reductions don’t mean that you can “set it and forget it,” but rather that your communities require a different kind of support and care.
One major problem online communities face is a lack of direction and maintenance. While online interactions are great and easy, leaving communities unattended can lead to the wrong type of content and discussions being shared, potentially toxifying a community’s interactions.
Instead, focus on building your community by establishing a team with clear directives and real moderating power. It can even include volunteers, akin to those featured in Reddit’s communities.
Focus on building a community that is moderated, attentive, and positive. By dedicating the right resources to your community and community administrators, you’ll be able to handle an expanding user base, tackle any issues that arise, and continue providing a better experience for your loyal consumers.
Build the right communication channels
Now that you’ve built your community and dedicated resources to supporting it, the next step is to give people the right channels to reach you. More than anticipating what your consumers are going to say to you, it’s important to know where they’re saying it as well. Nearly 97% of adults are on social media today, though the specific avenues they utilize may vary widely between different demographics and specialty communities.
For instance, the cryptocurrency crowd, notorious for their privacy concerns, uses Telegram extensively as a major channel for communication. Cryptocurrencies and related projects build large Telegram channels to keep customers and investors informed and inspire communication. Similarly, older adults may use Facebook more extensively, while younger users migrate to platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
Knowing where your community gathers helps you build more effective communication channels and gives your community members an easy avenue to reach you as well. Most importantly, however, make sure that the channels you use—be they on Slack, Telegram, Reddit, LinkedIn, or anywhere else—are also frequented by your community.
Give your community real value, and real attention
It may seem like branded communities are ready-made destinations for constant advertising blasts and marketing campaigns, but that is missing the point by a wide margin. On the contrary, the goal is to give your customers a space to talk about your brand with you and others without them feeling like they’re being exploited.
The first step in this process is to ensure your community knows exactly how to find you and that they believe you’re listening. This delivers value in two distinct ways. One, it reduces your need for specific customer support and even market research. For instance, tool maker DeWalt discovered that it saved nearly $6 million in research costs once it constructed its brand community.
One of your community manager’s primary roles is to both listen to consumers and effectively report back what they’re saying. In this role, it’s vital that they can easily reach customers, and that customers trust your moderators enough to share their experiences or viewpoints. Most importantly, it’s crucial that when you give them communication channels, you’re also providing them with honest, legitimate answers instead of canned responses or corporate speech.
Build your community the right way
As consumers increasingly avoid traditional advertising and marketing channels, uncovering new ways to engage and excite them is absolutely imperative. Branded communities are an invaluable tool, but you need to ensure that you develop them appropriately to avoid hostile responses and negative reactions down the road.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO and PRmention, a digital PR agency. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at 80th Annual Conference of Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting & Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee and other major events. As a passionate SEO & content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory and Inc42 to name a few.