Mary Napoleon

Branded online communities aren’t just marketing tools. They offer value for market researchers, product strategists, customer service teams, and sales teams. As a result, their potential is causing a shift in how organizations align their social marketing strategies and budgets.

When advocating for a branded community initiative inside your organization, the first step is articulating how an owned community platform drives value for your company or organization.

The best approach: put yourself in the shoes of your critics. When getting buy-in for a branded community, you should be prepared to answer these questions for internal stakeholders.

In what ways will customers benefit from this community?

Branded communities exists to serve their members. When customers get faster answers to questions, they are empowered to use your product more fully to solve their problems.

Communities give customers a voice in the future of the organization or product. They offer a perfect opportunity for members to discover more about the organization, and for you to create experiences that engage visitors. This could be in the form of exclusive content, branded contests or giveaways, or access to experts or influencers in your niche.

What’s the value in owning our own platform to build our community? How will an owned brand community support other areas of our organization?

Brands leverage unowned community platforms by creating accounts, answering questions, and addressing customer complaints. But they do so as participants rather than owners.

They don’t have a full view into the conversations that take place. They don’t have access to the analytics to know what conversations are actually worth following. And they don’t have access to more powerful tools like surveys or notifications – the kinds of tools branded community platforms can provide.

Owning your community means you have consistent access to feedback on product features and other customer insights. Companies that have invested in branded communities regularly use insights from the community to inform product or marketing decisions.

Communities are excellent places to indulge in exploration tactics, such as asking fans to submit their stories and photos about a product, getting members to review, and sharing new products within the community. Owning your community provides a more efficient way to identify brand advocates as well.

Why do we need “another” marketing platform?

When it comes to your customer engagement strategy, there is no silver bullet. Social networking sites are just one facet of a community strategy, they are not an entire strategy. Taking a diversified approach will always yield the best results.

Plus, social isn’t what it used to be. Not only are brands forced to acquire users for their community, but when you’re renting space from another network, you have to pay to reach your members every time. For this reason, social networks are longer reliable as the hubs for organic conversations or supporting customer communities.

A branded community has the ability bridge the gap between your social media channels and your customer database, serving as a powerful brand touch point for your customers.

How will a community engagement platform add value to my business? Does it help me be more productive, gain market share, etc?

  • A strong brand community improves customer retention because brand evangelists are less likely to leave. According to a study by Harvard Business School, increasing retention rate by 5% can increase profits by up to 95% over the long term.
  • Brand advocates are highly likely to share the community with others, bringing new people in to experience the brand. By taking customer support one step further, your community has the potential to lower your customer support costs in a scalable way.
  • Insights from the community can help your organization make better decisions and reduce spend on market research.
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How does an ‘owned’ brand community deepen our relationship with customers?

Your community is more than just a forum for answering questions. It offers your members a place to share ideas and help each other, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Your branded community is a great way to get your organization to prioritize customer-centric initiatives over brand-centric ones. When customer communities are successful, they drive brand loyalty because they help customers meet their needs.

In fact, according to Information Age, a recent study shows that users who engage in online communities spend 19% more than those that don’t. This increase was attributed to a willingness to pay a premium for goods and services as well as the increase in buying intention.

What does success look like for the community? How will it be measured?

The more you can connect the community’s purpose to a business strategy or organizational goals, the better. Decide how you’re going to measure against your organization’s goals.

If one of your goals is to increase brand awareness, you might track the number of social media mentions about your community or traffic to your other web properties. According to Hubspot, 80% of marketers indicate that building brand communities has increased traffic to their website. By including links to resources on you website or other web properties within your community engagement platform, you can leverage the members of the community to engage with your web content.

If your goal is to attract a certain number of power users (because you know that active community members translate to brand advocates), then make sure you’re tracking this metric on a regular basis.

Other metrics to consider might include new revenue from product or service launches impacted by community insights, and customer “stories” that can be used to amplify the brand. Cost savings to the business as a result of better recommendations from the community or decreased costs for market research are also metrics your stakeholders may find valuable.

Ultimately, the growth of the community shouldn’t just mean new members, it should mean better decision-making at all levels of your organization based on a deeper understanding of customers’ needs.

Understand your internal audience and anticipate their needs

While every organization will have different reasons for building an online community, your branded community should ultimately exist to develop a longer term relationship with your customer. When your brand has an owned community, you can set a monthly cadence for analyzing backend data to update customer personas. When customers are continuously deriving value from your brand and love what you’re doing, they’ll want to share it with others.

Getting support for your community strategy from your stakeholders comes down to knowing what makes a community engagement platform right for your organization. Building your case around these questions will help your stakeholders see the value an owned community can have on your business.