As social media platforms have matured, the ability for brands to easily reach prospects and create customer communities evolved. As you all know, the Wild West days when it was easy to reach thousands of customers for free are over, but that's not to say there are no longer opportunities and benefits to social media. These platforms are still terrific channels that can bring you opportunities to engage with customers and generate leads, but instead of just chasing down customers and leads via social media platforms, some smart marketers are building their own branded communities.
A branded community hosted on your website or its own dedicated URL isn't subject to the pitfalls of traditional social media. You have control over the user experience, and you aren't fighting for the user's attention. Of course, there's more to it than just control over experience and limiting distractions. With an online branded community, you can build customer loyalty, discover cost savings, and uncover sales & marketing opportunities.
1. Build Customer Loyalty
Social media is a good way to reach your current customers, but what happens when something goes awry with the social media platform where all your customers gather? Remember a social network called MySpace? According to Bloomberg: at MySpace’s peak in 2008, it attracted nearly 75.9 million unique visitors per month. By May 2011, that number sank to 34.8 million. Ouch. A more recent example is with Facebook and organic reach. Social@Ogilvy reported, “Organic reach of the content brands publish in Facebook is destined to hit zero. It’s only a matter of time. In 2012, Facebook famously restricted organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16%. In December of 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more.”
A branded, online community for your customers can complement your social media strategy by providing a dedicated home online for your customers. Use social media to reach out to your customers and grow your branded community. Once they are aware of and active in your customer community, you can take bigger steps it connect and collaborate with your customers to build loyalty.
A strong, branded, online community can foster collaboration and cooperation between customers themselves and customers and your brand. This collaborative atmosphere is especially attractive to millennials. As they continue to mature and amass decision-making and purchasing power, it will become essential to develop this type of cooperative environment. According to Alex Castellarnau, head of design at Dropbox, millennials feel a strong sense of ownership in the brand experience: “a new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it's finished by the customers. Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge,” Castellarnau told Forbes.
2. Save on Costs
How about this for a reason to create a branded online community? An effectively run branded online community can save you money in the long run when it comes to customer support and service. As mentioned above, millennials are all about collaboration and cooperation. That collaborative and cooperative spirit pushes them to help one another with issues they may run into when using your product or service. This spirit of helpfulness can take some of the load off your customer service and support teams. They can focus on critical issues while the community works to support one another with lower-level issues.
An indirect savings comes when you consider the risks associated with customers posting their support requests and complaints to social media. Wouldn't you rather have some of these issues addressed in a private community? Let social media be the gateway or invitation into the private community. A private online home for customers can limit the ability of competitors from seizing upon a public customer service issue (when posed on social media) and leveraging it for their own benefit.
Over time your customer community can become a constantly updated and SEO-friendly knowledge base. All this crowd-sourced support can help reduce the need for additional overhead and allow your support team members to focus on critical and high priority support tickets.
3. Uncover Sales & Marketing Opportunities
When you create a branded online community, you have done more than simply create a centralized meeting place for customers. You've just created a goldmine of opportunities just waiting to be uncovered by Sales & Marketing. An effectively run customer community should . . .
- Support lead generation and sales (including upgrades and cross sells)
- Give brand and product managers access to product feedback and new feature ideas – as well as a great source of beta and product testers
- Be a source of new product and service ideas
- Work to maintain and improve your brand’s reputation
- Act as a customer relationship building tool
A branded online community primarily consists of people who are already fans of your product or service. They are highly likely to buy again, and they are very likely to advocate on behalf of your brand. Their devotion to the brand also means they probably have a strong desire to provide relevant feedback via an online community.
Are You Ready to Build Your Own Branded Community?
A branded community isn’t built in a day. While they take a lot of work, online branded communities do bring many benefits. According to The Social Business Journal: Community Playbook*, brands can realize the following benefits from investing in their own online community:
- Strong and lasting customer relationships
- Reduced costs through crowd-sourced support
- New sales and lead generation opportunities
- Fast, honest feedback on products
- Access to new product and marketing ideas from the community
- Improvement of the brand’s reputation
In the past year, Forrester predicted that branded online communities will make a comeback. Will you be part of the owned online community renaissance?
*Disclosure: I work with Find and Convert, the company that owns socialbusinessengine.com
Bio: Stacy Jackson is a digital marketing specialist with a passion for helping clients optimize their online presence to drive awareness and leads. Her expertise includes development and execution of content marketing and SEO strategies, pay-per-click (PPC) account optimization and management, and social media marketing. Connect with Stacy via LinkedIn or Twitter.