Communities have been forming on the internet for as long as the internet has been a thing, showing just how strong the human urge is to find and bond with like-minded people.
And while some online communities (especially those with poor moderation) become rife with toxicity, others become beacons of social cohesion: offering a place where people can go to find support, advice, and a sense of belonging.
Many of the communities in that second category are hosted by brands who know the value of cultivating quality conversations around their products. There’s a lot that publishers can learn from these brands about leveraging the power of the community — whether it’s to increase reach, build reputation, optimize customer service, or source new ideas.
Here are five brands we think have nailed the art of creating an online community.
Glossier: Making space for quality conversation
The online beauty brand started out as a blog, later pivoting its readership into an engaged global customer base for its beauty products. By selling direct to consumers rather than through marketplaces, Glossier has developed close relationships with its community of fans, who it looks to for feedback on existing products and ideas for new ones.
Glossier has four principles for building a strong online community, including “make space for conversation” and “make the consumer feel seen”. Publishers can adopt both of these tactics to engage audiences and cultivate loyalty. A well-moderated comments section is an ideal space for quality conversation, and giving kudos to commenters who make valued contributions to that conversation is a great way to make readers feel seen and appreciated.
Peloton: Connecting experts with subscribers to drive engagement and loyalty
The health and wellness company has harnessed the power of the subscription economy, combining connected exercise equipment with digital subscriptions to online fitness classes. Now, as Peloton re-adjusts to competing with gyms after its pandemic-era popularity, its community of almost 900,000 digital subscribers should stand it in good stead.
One of its community-building tactics, in particular, should be of interest to publishers. Peloton’s fitness instructors have been instrumental in building connections with users — to the point where they’ve become celebrities in their own right, increasing their pull still further. Similarly, publishers can forge connections between editors and readers, ensuring high-quality conversations that increase “stickiness”.
Giffgaff: Community-based customer service drives engagement and lowers costs
The UK mobile operator turned the cellular market on its head in 2009 by introducing a community-based customer service model. Rather than running a contact center, Giffgaff incentivizes its subscribers to answer other subscribers’ questions in its online community, in return for points that can be exchanged for cash, phone credits, or a charity donation.
The model has proven to be a huge win for the company and its subscribers alike — creating an online community of loyal users while minimizing service costs for Giffgaff. For publishers, it shows that creating dedicated spaces (such as parenting forums), where subscribers can help each other out, can build community while keeping overheads down.
Salesforce: Making the community a visible and enticing part of the brand
The cloud CRM software company is aimed at enterprises, but its fun, community-focused vibe is anything but corporate. Salesforce generates buzz and loyalty by elevating its “Trailblazers” — people who’ve achieved great things using its software — and turning them into highly visible ambassadors for the brand.
Salesforce Trailblazers are celebrated at company events, showered with merch, and showcased in TV ads. Day to day, they meet, chat and help each other out in the online community. The takeaway for publishers? Making readers part of your brand can be a recipe for long-term loyalty and engagement.
Lego: Sourcing ideas from an engaged community of master builders
Lego has always been about sparking the imagination of its users — whether they’re kids or AFOLs (that’s adult fans of Lego, for the non-initiated). So it’s Lego Ideas community, where fans can enter contests, show off their builds, and vote on others’ ideas, is core to what the brand stands for.
But the community isn’t just a nice place to hang out — it’s also a source of ideas for new products. The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, NASA’s Saturn V rocket, and the Ghostbusters ECTO-1 car are all genuine Lego sets that started out as community-submitted ideas. Publishers can take a leaf out of Lego’s book and source editorial ideas from readers, too.
It all starts by creating a space for conversation
The first step towards building an online community is to create a space that promotes quality conversations. Over 1,000 publishers are already doing that with OpenWebOS, a multi-layered moderation platform that enables high-quality, brand-safe interactions between publishers and readers, and between readers with each other.
If you’ve been inspired by the brands we’ve highlighted above, find out more about turning casual readers into engaged community members with OpenWeb.