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The Importance of Online Communities

By Prasad Navase

Spot.IM is now known as OpenWeb.

So, you want to build a thriving online community?

First, it’s important to distinguish online communities from third-party social networks:

Online communities are special as they have the ability to bring people from any location and all walks of life together in one centralized place, most often based on a shared interest, background, or other commonality. Community members don’t necessarily have to know one another to share ideas and advice, and thus a sense of bonding and understanding.

Third-party social networks, on the other hand, tend to be less inclusive and less focused on thoughtful interaction between your followers. Because these titans are so complex and wide-ranging, it’s easy for your brand and the conversations behind it to be overlooked and lost in the shuffle.

A strong online community is essential for brand awareness and business development, and can easily amplify your company’s reach and credibility. Read on to see exactly why online communities are so important:

It’s all about psychology.

It’s all about psychology
As per a 2004 research showcase at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, scholars studied the behavior of the community members behind Movielens, a web-based movie recommender. The researchers found an increased level of participation by community members who were reminded of the importance of their unique input, as well as the benefits they’d receive by actively contributing to the site. It’s no surprise that social psychology plays a huge role in terms of engagement: the more a user feels prized and respected, the more he/she will be likely to take part in community discussions. Additionally, if they expect to derive important information from other users, reminding them of this benefit will drive them to pay it forward and contribute accordingly.

You’ll rise above the competition.

You’ll rise above the competition
It’s likely that your business has a range of competitors who offer similar products and/or services. A prosperous online community can position your brand ahead of the pack and significantly increase the likelihood that members will turn to you instead of the competition. When online users see that a given brand has a healthy following with active contributors, it enhances the relevancy and spirit of your brand and product. It’s all about word-of-mouth promotions—if people are buzzing around the benefits of your company’s offerings, your site will be the metaphorical honey attracting larger swarms of bees.

People want actionable insights from real people.

People want actionable insights from real people
We all know how easy it is to get lost on the web without even realizing how much time has flown by. Since the internet is the most efficient and pivotal source of information these days, your brand should take advantage of this fact by allowing users to learn not only from your site’s unique content, but also from fellow community members. Testimonials from other people are often trusted more than the messages a given brand delivers via promotional materials, so be sure to emphasize the submission of user-generated content on your site. People want to hear about the real-life experiences of others, and vocal community members can become incredible advocates for your brand with their unique backgrounds and wisdom.

You’ll have a greater appeal to advertisers.

You’ll have a greater appeal to advertisers
If your brand’s website wishes to generate revenue via on-site advertising, a strong online community is a great way to reel in potential collaborations. Another company will be more inclined to spend money on advertisements if they see that users are actively engaged and retained on your site. On the other hand, if your website appears as a barren space of no man’s land, you can kiss those potential dollar signs goodbye. Money talks, but only if your users are contributing to the discussion.

Your brand will rightly own the spotlight.

Your brand will rightly own the spotlight
Sure, social media is good and fun—but in terms of business development, by outsourcing your company’s content to external social networks, you’re missing out on a wealth of opportunities to steer the focus back to your own site. Big social networks are actually profiting from your company’s presence on their sites, as users will have a greater propensity to spend more time there than on your own company’s website. By adopting a social network on your own website, you’ll be able to shift the focus to your brand, and your brand only.

In all, branding is based upon an experiential model. If community members feel a connection to and a sense of belonging with your company, they’re more likely to contribute to discussions and champion your brand to others. It’s time to rethink your marketing model and quit outsourcing your community’s messages solely to external networks—take ownership of your brand, bring the attention back to your original content, and build an onsite community that will function as an online family of like-minded, supportive users.

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