Spot.IM is now known as OpenWeb.
I’ve written before about the idea of online communities and the power they have to build relationships with brands and websites (and if you didn’t see that article, here is a chance for me to self-promote). Today, I will try to condense the many benefits of an an online community to seven dominant benefits.
Some say the difference between a great company to an okay company is the way they approach their customers. Jeff Bezos said about the Amazon customer experience: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.” Building a strong online community, can differentiate your brand from your competitors. Some companies like Coca Cola for example owe a lot of their success to their loyal communities. Coca Cola built communities like Coca Cola Fans United and Coca Cola Collectors. Every community that Coca Cola creates has a campaign that is built around it. By doing something that is different than the usual marketing methods – press releases, advertising, brochures and conferences; an online community lets brands rise above the competition.
Do you trust me?
Online communities build a relationship of trust between the brand and it’s customers. The more familiar the customers are with the brand, the more they grow to trust it. The idea that you can have a direct discussion with brand or company representative, allows you to feel more connected to the brand and this builds trust. By creating a community, and investing time and effort in your community, you are developing strong relationships with your users that you will never be able to develop through a Facebook page or a tweet on twitter. A community presents the opportunity to have a dialogue with your audiences instead of the usual monologue. This familiarity build trust that is oh so very important for your brand relationship. Check out the Lady Gaga community, littlemonsters.com – Lady Gaga built an online community around her brand, and she interacts with her fans on a daily basis. Being part of the Little Monsters community builds loyalty which in turn builds trust. This familiarity that we feel towards Lady Gaga as members of the community really strengthens our sense of commitment and loyalty towards her. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga gains “super-fans”.
Make some money!
92% of consumers say they trust the word of mouth above all other forms of advertising. When you build an engaged community you can promote sales through your existing customers. These customers will old school promote your brand through word of mouth. A strong and loyal community can increase sales dramatically just by talking about your product. On another note, your community is more likely to return to your site and buy your product again and again. The Sephora community, Beauty Talk, gives beauty advice to shoppers while they are searching for their next buy. According to their research, members of the community spend twice as much as regular visitors, and “super-fans” spend 10 times as much as non-community members.
The idea of a community is that people come together to discuss shared interests. These discussions, or user generated content, drive your organic reach by pinpointing topics that many people are interested in. The bigger your community is, the bigger the reach. Google values user generated content and adds it to their search engine results (and into other Google properties like Google Maps or Hotel Finder). A community promotes user generated content like no other format. Users begin to engage and discuss favorite products, likes and dislikes, recommendations, and much more. This content is indexed by Google as they follow user behaviour online. According to Social Media Examiner “UGC platforms literally speak to, attract, and entice action from social audiences, in a way that maximizes overall search visibility… Optimization takes place when audiences actually interact within a given environment, and create content through dialogue, interaction, and other reactive behaviors.”
Through the discussions taking place in your community you can gather ideas for your product development or for new products. Customers reviews are one of the most common user generated content, and those help provide insight about your product and your target audiences. Requested features by audiences can also provide ideas as to what can be developed next. There is so much insight that can be gathered from the voice of the customer, which is by the way, the most important voice to listen to. Bottom line – your community buys your product. A community is also a really good place to test potential prototypes or get feedback on your product from people who are familiar with what you’re trying to achieve. In a research done by Get Satisfaction, 800 managers were interviewed about their communities or the potential of a community – 72% of the managers use or plan to use their community to get feedback and gather ideas.
The main and current use and benefit of online communities is support. Online communities allow companies to have a direct connection with their customers and understand their support needs. One such community is the Skype community for example – a community of Skype users that discusses Skype features and issues. Another similar community is the Apple community – there thousands of iOS devotees gather to discuss the different features of every product made by Apple. The Apple community is very user friendly and is divided by product and topics. These communities allow for a direct connection between the brand and the user and much more accurate support responses. The discussion in the community helps the Support team pinpoint issues and solve them quickly. The solutions are then informed to all of the community, saving you the need to notify each customer individually. This is a new social format of support, that puts you as a brand ahead of the game.
An online community brings together all of your dedicated and loyal audiences from all over the world. It is a community filled with rich data of user behaviour and interests. By promoting an online community, you can gather a lot of information about your community, their interests, their dislikes, their favourites and their expectation from the products. This information is not found in social networks, and Facebook for example intentionally does not divulge that information to business owners and brands. By having a community that is connected to the brand or website, and not through social networks, you can discover your customers and build a stronger relationship with them, and a powerful product based on their preferences. You can’t beat that!
As you can see, there are many benefits to having an online community. Each and every benefit I mentioned here can stand on its own, and is already a good enough reason to build an online community. A sense of familiarity is needed if a brand is to succeed in this world of social media. Where everyone has a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, you really got to find your way to rise above the clutter. Be ahead of the game and create your online community today.