As consumers’ expectations around the customer experience continue to evolve, so does their desire for deeper, more meaningful relationships with the companies they support.
In the wake of the previous year’s events, topics like sustainability, social justice, diversity and inclusion and voting with your dollar have taken center stage in mainstream consumer conversations—and these consumers are looking for brands that stand for similar values.
The most successful brands communicate their values through their actions and within the communities they cultivate on social media. In a world where customers are four to six times more likely to champion purpose-driven companies, providing a great product and a seamless transactional experience is not enough to lock in lasting customer loyalty.
In order to build an effective, enriched and authentic brand community from scratch, companies need to understand a few fundamentals. A brand community is a group of people who share an emotional attachment to a company and actively engage in conversations directly and indirectly related to this company, its products and its values. It’s also a customer-centric growth strategy that enables businesses to increase brand awareness, collect information about target audiences, nurture leads, improve outcomes and grow brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty plays an important role in customer retention, and 53% of Americans who follow a brand on social media are more loyal to that brand versus companies they don’t follow. In addition to driving customer loyalty and providing a cost-effective alternative to paid media campaigns, brand communities award companies with valuable customer-driven feedback, product ideas, user-generated content and increased SEO benefits.
How to build a successful brand community
1. Understand your brand’s mission, values and personality.
Your brand is at the core of its community. Its mission, values and general ethos need to be well established in order to provide a rock solid foundation for a brand community. Before creating a brand community, invest the time needed to ensure your brand’s personality and values are effectively communicated throughout the customer journey.
2. Don’t try to be all things to everyone.
Once your brand values and personality are well established, avoid diluting your brand message by championing other causes outside the scope of your brand mission. For example, an electric scooter rental service that aims to make cities more livable by reducing car usage will align itself with values like micromobility, climate change awareness and hiring a diverse team. However, the brand will not align itself with values like protecting endangered animals, because that is outside the scope of its mission and will detract from its core messaging.
3. Create a community content hub.
Community members will need a centralized place to gather, trade information and share their experiences. Consider your audience’s preferences, behavior, and desired community interactions (e.g., sharing photos, participating in contests, or creating conversation threads) to determine if your brand should leverage a social media channel or build its own forum from scratch.
4. Create high-quality content.
Leverage customer research to create content that your customers will truly enjoy. Create helpful tutorials, publish interesting articles, host live digital events and co-create content with the influencers your community loves. Encourage community members to participate by inviting people to share their opinions and perspectives. Creating a space where customers can find helpful, interesting and highly relevant content that emotionally appeals to them will ensure they return again and again.
5. Encourage user-generated content (UGC).
UGC is a highly effective method to grow and engage a brand community organically. Customers talk about brands casually 90 times per week, and 70% believe opinions from other consumers.
This means getting customers to post content about their purchases in your brand community space is key to influencing the purchasing behavior of other community members. Incentivize community engagement by liking and commenting on UGC, hosting challenges and inviting brand ambassadors (passionate customers who serve as micro-influencers) to partner with the company.
6. Use all of your channels to drive people to community pages.
To reach as many people as possible and increase community size, ensure all marketing channels drive audience members to community spaces—whether those are onsite forums or social media platforms.
7. Be responsive.
While it’s recommended to let the community shape itself, it is critical to appoint a community outreach team to monitor the space, respond to questions, and help customers feel heard by the company. Brand communities provide organizations with the unique opportunity to engage with customers on a more personal level and helps humanize the brand in the eyes of the consumer.
8. Include charitable calls to action.
Aligning your brand with a cause isn’t just a socially responsible thing to do, it’s a sound business move. Consumers are looking to support brands that lead by example and give back to the community—and they’re willing to abandon the companies that don’t. According to a recent consumer survey, 75% of millennials want companies to contribute their profits to a cause. Once your brand chooses a cause it believes in, message your partnership and related charitable events across all digital platforms. This will empower your customer audience to make an impact in the community, improve positive brand awareness and motivate purchases.
9. Embrace conflict.
While brand managers might want to avoid conflict within their community spaces, embracing the inner conflicts of a community can help it thrive. For example, if a member of a community for a large technology company posts about purchasing a phone from a competing brand, this will generate a potentially heated-yet-substantive conversation about brand rivalries that will keep community members engaged.
Allowing community members to create reasonable conflict, contrast and boundaries within the group will further enrich the community culture. Brands can still maintain responsibility for the community by appointing brand stewards to serve as community co-creators that facilitate and guide conversations to maintain a safe space for consumers.
10. Highlight relatable people.
Although it can be helpful to partner with well-known mega-influencers, brands that spotlight relatable people (i.e. employees and customers) can further strengthen the bonds within their communities.
Celebrating the voices of employees demonstrates a healthy, positive, vibrant work environment. Co-creating content with loyal customers demonstrates that the brand values and celebrates its patrons.
Is your brand ready?
Building a strong and engaged brand community will earn your company customer loyalty, improved products, increased brand awareness, and overall growth—but it requires hard work, diligent research, and a desire to listen to your customers.
If your brand is willing to put in the effort and create content beyond simply selling products, you’ll have an audience of passionate brand advocates and an impressive reputation that will serve you well into the future.
Allison Roy is the content strategy manager, digital marketing at Capgemini North America.