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Once the value that brand communities can contribute to brand development and success was realized, “community” became a big buzzword in the digital marketing world. Not too long ago, social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and many others took over the online space for people to interact, share their knowledge, opinions and other content, as well as to collaborate and learn from each other. Now history is repeating itself, but in reverse; forums and online communities are taking over the online space and proving to be more valuable for companies and businesses than ever. So why is this happening?

First of all, everyone is on Facebook nowadays – private persons, celebrities, big companies, small- and mid-enterprises, freelancers and self-employed professionals. With the changes to the Facebook algorithm regarding ads exposure and feed preferences towards friends and groups, it is getting more and more difficult for companies to reach their exact target groups. Furthermore, according to the study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in September 2018, there has been a big shift in the behavior of Facebook users. In 2017, 42% took an active break from Facebook, whereas 74% of the users have adjusted their privacy settings, reduced the amount of time they spend on Facebook or even deleted the app from their phones.

It's no wonder that Facebook is trying to gain back the spotlight among brands and companies by claiming to be THE space for communities. And Facebook is not kidding, the word community is everywhere – there is a whole Facebook community page and in February 2018 there was even a Facebook Communities Summit, where outstanding Facebook community builders such as group or page admins were invited to London.

However, something has to be made clear: Facebook groups are not communities and they hardly replace brand communities. Let us break down the myths and assumptions about the impact of Facebook groups and brand communities on your brand.

Communication vs. Sales

The reason why Facebook decided to change the algorithm was the realization that paid ads were taking over the entire feed. At the same time another process was noted, namely the uprising and popularity of groups. So officially the groups were made into communities. However, the advertisements in the feed did not disappear completely – they were moved into the groups and, according to Digiday UK, Facebook groups have been actively pitched to advertisers since then. Therefore, the whole idea of turning users to co-creators and influencers instead of consumers simply failed. The power is basically centralized, because even though the members feel ownership for the content, there are still strict rules and regulations on the content, and the main organization and exposure to advertisement is run by the brand or company itself.

Monologue vs. Dialogue

We must remember that the core idea of communities is transparent communication that offers value to each community member. In this way, brands can benefit within their marketing and sales department and create long-term connections with their audience, which eventually can generate new customers and contribute to a positive corporate image (see our post Why communities are the best fuel to drive customer-centered marketing). In Facebook groups, the main communication happens in the form of a monologue. We all remember what happened to Google+ back in 2012: the low activity levels on the channel made it look like a “ghost town”. Taking into consideration Socialbakers statistics from August 2018, it is clear that German brand interaction on Facebook is far behind a real dialogue. Brands are inactive when it comes to two-way communication and they focus more on paid advertisement and content sharing.

Facebook does not make communication in general particularly easy; private chats between group members have to be on Messenger, and are only possible if the group members are connected. Also, admins cannot create sub-groups for different topics within one community, which would offer more structure and clarity. So the group members do not feel involved and turn to observers, whereas the conversation is mainly led by the brand itself or not at all.

Needs of the audiences vs. Marketing hypes

As we already stated in our article How to build your brand community in 6 steps, it is vital to find the appropriate channel with appropriate tools and options for the brand community, because people are different and they have different needs. Audiences and community members of Starbucks might have very different needs from Lego fans. Facebook is only one of the possible community channels, so it depends on your marketing format and engagement strategy, as well as your budget, as to whether Facebook is appropriate for you or not. Considering the fact that communities are not a group of random people who come together and are motivated by incentives (Facebook ads, campaigns, apps) in order to communicate, it should be well thought through as to which channel is the most appropriate for the brand’s community.

Community managers vs. Group admins

Taking the perspective of the brands, it is also important to define the role and responsibilities of the community moderator. By fostering a real brand community, it is not about bringing a big number of people into one group. Community management requires doing the homework before the creation of the community. It is about researching and defining the audiences, developing the community strategy and structuring the engagement indices. It is also about defining the added value to the community members first, and finally selecting the communication channel. Then it is about content creation, which matters and which can be mainly continued by the members themselves. So bringing people with the same geolocation and same age into one group and entertaining them with content would be rather a group admin task, mainly managing the people instead of leading them.

Facebook as a social media channel has many qualities; it is great to promote your company and your products, increase conversions and sometimes also to engage customers and solve issues. However, for building a community around your brand it is important to understand what a community is, the needs of your audiences, and to consider strategies and communication channels.

As we already found out in the previous article, building a strong and loyal community has various benefits for a brand and can simplify various processes within different business departments such as marketing, sales and customer support. So every business should practically aspire to provide maximum value to their fans and audiences and engage them on a deep, emotional level. This kind of connection is the key to success with any audience, whether from a small, mid or big business.

Now it is time to talk about how to build, develop and nurture the groups of like-minded people for a successful brand community.

Step 1: Define your brand position

What is special about your brand? What does it stand for that differentiates it enough from others? Who are your audiences and what are you offering them that has the potential to engage them and to capture their attention? Before you dive into building a community around your brand, you need to know what the brand is, what it stands for, and who should be a member of it (and also who shouldn’t).

According to Hadari Oshri, founder and CEO of the fashion tech company Xehar, it is important that the brand share the same values with the audiences. Therefore, the goal of the community can focus on a common cause or value – it does not have to be directly tied to the brand products. Hadari Oshri's company produces, for example, fashion for women of all sizes and life situations and its mission is to give women confidence and support positive body image. So the community message will focus exactly on this; fashion products are at this point secondary.

Make sure to follow your mission, so the right people will be drawn towards your potential community.

Step 2: Have the guidelines set up

You now have a clear idea of your brands “USP” and you know what kind of community you want to create. Now it’s important to define your brand's communication code. How will you address the community in a way where additional value will be generated for its members? This also depends on your brand's corporate identity.

An excellent example is Harley Davidson. With Harley Owners Group the motorcycle brand offers its community a platform based around shared lifestyle, interests and taste. It is hard to imagine that the language within the interaction will be formal – at the end of the day Harley Davidson “…fulfills dreams of personal freedom”, which also incorporates freedom of speech.

However, it is also important to establish community guidelines and to use moderators. Not only does this promote uniform and constructive communication within the brand community, but it also serves as a basis for transparent, supportive and respectful communication. Do not forget to communicate the data protection regulations and ensure you have a comprehensive disclaimer in order to protect your brand legally.

Step 3: Find the right platforms to communicate with your community

So you know who you want to communicate to and how you want to do it. The next step is to find the right platform for the customers to communicate among each other, which will also enable the brand to communicate with the customers – preferably in a dialogue.

Firstly, where are your target groups? Are they on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or do they prefer to engage on blogs and in community forums? When you are just starting out, think in easy and simple terms. When thinking of the appropriate platforms, do your research and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How big is your audience?

  • What are their favorite means of communication?

  • What are the tools and skills you will need in order to create and maintain the platform(s)?

  • What is the budget you are willing to invest in it?

Answer those questions and use the results for the building of your online brand community.

Step 4: Create engagement through viral content

Brand communities are all about people who have the same passions and interests and want to share their knowledge and experience with like-minded people. A great way to encourage your community to share this knowledge is offering sharable content. This should either focus directly on the brand and the products or reflect the values and the mission of the brand and the community. According to a study from 2016, which was published by Harvard Business Review, the components of content which give the potential to go viral are surprise, emotional complexity and extraordinary positivity. Don’t be afraid to take risks by incorporating these elements, if it means creating a better story.

Superdrug, a well-known retail company for beauty and health products, addressed body image issues by asking 18 international graphic designers to edit a picture of a model and bring it in line with their country’s beauty standard.

After publishing the results, Superdrug generated around 1 million social shares, among which were celebrities such as Sofia Vergara, and it also secured them international media coverage. Do not underestimate the power of valuable and extraordinary content.

Step 5: Make the membership valuable by means of rewards

Why should people want to be a part of your brand community? To inspire your community members and foster their loyalty towards your brand, make sure to create a safe space where members are valued and appreciated. This can be done by means of special incentives, such as special offers, discounts, rewards for very active members and the sending out of trial products. Pay attention to the needs of your community and change the rewards accordingly. By paying attention to this you will quickly understand what works for your community and what doesn’t.

Step 6: Be consistent and patient

Good things take time. Building a loyal brand community does not happen overnight and can take months or years. However, looking at this from a long-term perspective, having an active brand community pays off much more than paid advertisement will.

Brand communities are emerging and becoming one of the most valuable resources in marketing. So make sure to use all the tools and skills required for creating a valuable community experience. Answer questions and listen to your community members – your efforts will return to you in the form of future customers and purchases.


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