By Adriana Rocha
A few years ago when we started building private online communities for our clients, many of them used to ask “Why should I build a private online community, when I have my own Facebook Fan Page”? Well, it was not that difficult to explain the reasons why, but their priority was still to focus building a “strong” presence in Facebook, getting thousands or even millions of “fans”, I mean “likes”. Now that companies realize it is hard to build a true brand community in Facebook, engage their customers, or even assure that their message will be delivered to their followers and fans without having to pay for it, private online communities are returning to the agenda of CMO’s around the world. According to IDC, online communities will continue growing to support business innovation in all areas of the company, representing a 30% increase of investment in 2015 compared to 2014. Forrester also predicts that, as public social networks keep growing, private online communities will gain strength in 2015 and beyond.
Essentially, building an online community means that your company will work with an extended marketing arm, sometimes reaching hundreds or even thousands of customers ( or other stakeholders ) acting as motivated contributors. So, additionally to being a source of innovation and inspiration for marketing, online communities can benefit your business in many other ways:
- Increase Customer Loyalty
A recent Forrester survey shows that online adult audiences, who want to stay in touch with your brand, are three times more likely to visit your website than following it on Facebook. Both, B2B and B2C industry companies found in branded communities a greater opportunity to create more loyalty and lifetime customer value than through social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Community adds a sense of belonging to a Web site. This can encourage repeat visits and more interest in the site as a whole. Often, there is richer and more varied content, as you don’t have just one moderator creating content for the site, but rather many people joining in with their opinions and feelings.
- New source of Brand Advocates
An online community can be used to create a program of brand ambassadors, and add customers who are brand advocates systematically through word-of- mouth. Co -creators of content as well as other users and influencers in their own product category can then share content in other social networks. A positive comment about a brand is more reliable coming from a “consumer like me” than a TV Ad. Developing customers as brand ambassadors and defenders is a new medium of mass communication.
- Control of your Data and Customer Experience
Building private online communities means that you will be in control of the communication and relationship with your customers. Besides that, the data generated by your community will be just yours, and not available to your competitors.
- An Extended Reach of your Message
Many brands try to get word of mouth by publishing content in public social networks, hoping to become viral, but this method of “send and pray” often does not work. What is the best way to create a viral effect? How about inviting a few hundred of your most satisfied customers to a single space, classify and recognize them for their cooperation and see the word-of- mouth multiply?
- Increasing Sales
When people are searching and considering their options for products and services, usually they end up visiting the website of the brand. The inclusion of ratings and reviews on your website can generate more sales. By adding a Q & A or a customer community on your website, you can generate more sales opportunities with new customers and more satisfaction among existing customers.
- Feedback from Stakeholders
It is very powerful to have a dedicated online community capable to open a window to your customers’ lives and invite them to join your internal marketing team. This idea is not limited to customers; it can also be used to include employees, shareholders, opinion leaders, and other audiences.
- Reducing Market Research costs
Especially when the target audience is difficult to achieve because of the low incidence; owning an online community and being able to invite customers to participate in research projects provides significant cost savings for both, quantitative and qualitative studies.
- New possibilities of Consumer Insights
An online community with video and photo tools allows consumers to easily upload video clips or photos from their smartphone, tablet or computer. The benefit of ethnography online (or ‘netnography ‘) is not just financial; the quality and quantity of information gathered improves dramatically, especially considering that before we could only send a team of researchers to the consumers’ homes on a day and time previously scheduled. In addition, the gathered data may be more realistic, since nobody is watching in their home to record the video. It also creates many opportunities for insights, as consumers can share their experiences with the brand or product, from anywhere, at any time, including point of sale.
- Contribution to Brand Equity
Agile, Modern, Dynamic. Are these image attributes you would like be associated with your brand? A vibrant online community can help. See Starbucks Ideas, for example.
- Keep up with the Competition
Brands building their own online communities are not just the pioneers adopting new technologies, either for co -creation, social marketing, market research or loyalty programs. If you have not started building your online community yet, you are been part of a small group that can be left behind. Consider this, in the area of market research in the US, according to the last GRIT (Greenbook Research Industry Trends) report for autumn 2014, 56% of respondents said they already are using online communities for market research purpose (also known as Insights Communities). Another 26 % said they are considering building a community, 14 % did not yet have interest or were unsure, and only 4 % said they would never use an online community for market research.
- Agile and Better Decision Making
Having a few hundred clients in private online communities, eliminates the need for having to search for them each time you want to hear them as usually happens in traditional research projects. You can reduce in days, or even weeks, the time spent on recruiting and re- contacting. In co-creation communities, for example, customers can contribute on numerous occasions, not only when they are there to listen to an interviewer, but rather, they can actually become an integral and continuous part of the marketing team and business innovation process.
- Engage your Board of Directors
Directors and general managers love to watch and listen to customers talking about their needs and experiences with their products and brands. However, usually they are far from consumers in a day by day basis. So, to bring a group of clients or potential customers to the meeting room increases the understanding of the final consumers and helps the board to make decisions better informed.
Finally it is time for companies to focus their efforts and social marketing strategies on what really works to attract and engage customers. Do you have experience in building your own online community? What are the strengths, challenges and actions that work and do not work? I would love to know your opinions and experiences, so we can use this space to share knowledge and best practices for those still going to venture into the world of online communities.
Forrester: http://blogs.forrester.com/nate_elliott/14-11-10-as_social_media_matures_branded_communities_will_make_a_comeback_in_2015, http://blogs.forrester.com/nate_elliott/14-11-17-facebook_has_finally_killed_organic_reach_what_should_marketers_do_next
Greenbook: http://www.greenbook.org/grit ,