One of the greatest narratives of modernism was the disintegration of communities. Instead of communities, mechanical, individualistic, rational, urban and consumer societies occured. With the damage of group bounds and the individualization of identity construction, communities gradually lost their importance.
However, today we are back talking about masses who search for a sense of community and want to develop a belonging relationship with what they consume on a daily basis. Consumers are more and more bonding emotionally with brands. They do not buy products or services that they don’t agree with the value proposition. They are also ready to take action and contribute to the brands they love.
Since people are in the need for a community with the desire for belonging, loyalty and interaction; brands have been making efforts to build their own brand communities and manage community relations correctly, especially for the past 25-30 years.
In today’s world, businesses in different niches and sizes should focus on building their own brand community as their competitors do so. In this article we will focus on how communities developed, become popular, why they are important, and how to build online brand communities.
What Is Community?
Personal feelings and values; such as the feeling of belonging to a group, matching a brand with your personal identity are at the heart of communities. Because of the subjectivity of these emotional expressions, it is not easy to draw boundaries and sharp definitions of communities. Yet, we can seek community in the sense of friendship that occurs when a group of people is bound together with a shared identity, interest, story, goal or passion.
If we were talking about communities in ancient times, almost all of us would give examples such as countries, neighborhoods, schools. We would define communities emphasizing the sharing of common spaces. But in the 21st century, as emphasized in this Atlantic article, communities are now formed by the qualities we choose in the process of personal discovery.
The word community is still commonly misused and people using the same space or digital channel are expressed as a community, and connectedness and feeling of belonging are ignored. We can simply talk about a “Twitter community” that includes everyone with a Twitter account, but being a community in the current sense requires much more than a single partnership.
Pfortmüller, who searches for an updated community definition like us, expresses community as “a group of people who care for each other and feel belong to each other”. With this meaning, community occurs by getting 3 factors together; people, relations and shared identity. Actually, what we should do for managing communities will not be more than these three. We will monitor relations, direct them if necessary and create value for developing shared identity.
What Is A Brand Community?
Feeling of belonging, which is important for communities in general, creates the core of brand communities too. The conditions for being included in a brand community are to feel connected with other members of the community, to see yourself as a part of the brand, and see brand as a part of personal identity.
According to the first studies which focused on brand communities, brand community is a community with its own rituals and traditions, structured by social relations that develop through admiration for a brand, without shared geography.
The people who make up a brand community are beyond being the customers of that brand; they are willing to spend their time and energy to feel part of the brand. It’s also possible to express brand communities as a group of people who share a brand’s value proposition. Although groups of people who meet around the brand’s value proposition and establish relationships with the brand and each other beyond being customers, may prefer various communication channels, we can say that online channels are the most common way to accomplish these today.
Brand Communities’ Past and Present
Considered one of the earliest commercial virtual communities, the video game Habitat was released in 1985, and the online bulletin board The Well (Whole Earth’ Lectronic Link) was released in 1987. Rheingold published the article Virtual Communities – Exchanging Ideas Through Computer Bulletin Boards in 1987 and the book The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier in 1993. According to Rheingold, virtual communities could be defined as decentralized, eclectic public spheres dominated by horizontal equality in those years.
Over the next 15-20 years, there have been dozens of developments in the field of online communities. With the number of people participating in online communities in the United States increasing from 31% to 56% in 2015, there were predictions that online communities would become more widespread and gain importance for businesses.
In the current online business ecosystem in 2022, brand communities are now more than an advantage, they have became a part of the basic customer relationship management. While the time we spend online is increasing, the number of branded content we encounter during the time we spend online is increasing as well. We become desensitized to the messages around us, as digital marketing efforts are now the norm for businesses in addition to advertisements concentrated in all communication channels.
In such an atmosphere, a brand that wants to be successful and maximize its relations with its audience has no choice but to focus on online communities. We’re seeing a growing number of brands add the community manager position to their teams. As we mentioned in this article where we talk about strategies to build and maintain customer loyalty, loyal customers mean a higher ROI opportunity for the brand, more than any other effort.
Brands which don’t focus on community management, lose audiences who love the product and the brand, who are ready to take action, produce content, educate other customers, give feedback, and contribute to the brand. While virtual communities and online community management have 25 years of history, building massive brand communities that generate value and reward engagement still involves changing cultural and technological habits.
Why Are Brand Communities So Important?
There are dozens of reasons why brand communities are becoming more and more important. Some of them can be listed as follows:
- Consumers now want to be included in business decisions and to shop from businesses with which they can establish a bond beyond the ordinary consumer-business relationship.
- Brand communities reduce operating costs. For example, a problem that customer service can solve with great effort can be solved much more easily by your community member by showing himself as an example.
- Your brand community can be a constant source of feedback and insight into the business and its products.
- Every business is looking for different ways to be customer-centric. Brand communities mean the opportunity for dialogue with customers who are directly end users and who know the brand.
- When brand communities are built and managed properly, you can accelerate the achievement of business goals and reduce the cost or effort spent on goals.
- You can gain a competitive advantage in product and service innovation by learning market needs directly from the end user.
- Thanks to your community, you can recognize and reward the value created by your customers, employees and other stakeholders in a short time.
- You can reach more customers with word of mouth marketing.
- You can access user-generated content.
- You can get social proof, user reviews and comments through voluntary participation.
- You can turn new customers into loyal customers in less time.
How To Build Online Communities?
1) Check Your Digital Experiences
Before you start building your community, you need to make sure that the ideal persona you want in your community is satisfied. Design an experience that is worth coming back to you. You can take a look at this article to learn about fast, seamless and personalized digital experiences that you can offer to your target audience in a short time.
2) Analyze Your Competitors
First, you should get an overview by examining your competitors’ brand communities. How much are your competitors investing in community management? What is the average return on these investments? What changes from business to business, from niche to niche? What are the motivations of the community members? What can you offer them that your competitors cannot? Examining your competitors’ online communities by considering all these questions will enable you to shape your expectations, determine what you must and should never do, and develop a preliminary idea of touch points and communication channels to be used.
3) Review Your Business Goals
To build online communities, you must reconsider your business goals. We’ll start by categorizing your SMART business goals. Which of your short, medium, and long-term business goals would you achieve faster, less costly, or with less effort if you had a brand community? What community contribution do you need to reach your business goals faster? What kind of contribution can your community make to reduce your costs? Is there a type of community contribution that will reduce your effort?
4) Set Your Brand Community Goals
You’ve determined from your business goals that your community can contribute. You must make these contributions measurable and define the success criteria of your brand community. In addition, are there any new targets that are not in your business’ current goals yet you can reach them with a brand community? Does your community have contributions that do not directly serve your business goals, but that can feed your business in various ways? What values can you offer your community members in return for all this? How will you reward your community when it meets the criteria for success?
5) Identify Your Brand Community Target Audience
To identify your target audience, you first need to explore your current community and review your communications so far. In fact, if you are not at the start-up stage, there is already an audience that has the potential to be your community. You should start by getting to know your current audience and identifying touch points so far. Among your current stakeholders and customers, who are the closest people to the persona you want in your community? What features make them ideal? What experiences have they had with your brand? Based on your answers to all these questions, you should create your ideal community personas. The personas you create should be transitive and feed off each other. You can use tio’s empathy map template to create personas.
6) Identify and Open Your Community Platform
What will be your first touch points with your community? Will you use your own community platform to manage your community’s communication with your brand and each other, or will you replace your communication on existing social media channels? When you direct your existing audience to these channels, is there a group enough to form the basis of your community? First of all, you can make a light opening, including your employees and relatives.
7) Expand Your Community
After gaining experience with your small group and running various tests, you can focus on expanding your community. What stage are you at in the community maturity model?What needs to change in order to move to the next stage? Which of the people in your community are close to your ideal persona, how did you reach them? What stages would a community funnel consist of that would repeat the same touchpoints? What content should be produced for these stages? In which channel, when and in what way should these contents be published?
8) Measure, Reward, Motivate
It is very important that you see your brand community not as groups that work for you, but as stakeholders with whom you create value and make sure they feel that way. To achieve this, you should not skip setting up a win-win system with your community, measuring their contribution, and rewarding them for what they have given you. Gamification items, gifts, sharing user-generated content, making space for them to take part in social media can be some of the ways to motivate them.