With organic social reach for brand content predicted to fall to zero, brands are building their own online communities to meaningfully engage their audiences. Intelligence-driven organizations, (Springer Nature, Wiley, and Ellen MacArthur Foundation to name a few), are activating expert communities to bring customers together with their experts to learn, share knowledge and collaborate.
But what exactly is the ROI for an expert community, you ask? They can broadly be separated into four areas.
- Increased revenue
- Reduced costs
- Improved retention
- Indirect ROI
Let’s dive into each of these a little more:
1. Increased Revenue
Communities help salespeople to rapidly identify a need, and build a business case for your product or services within key target accounts. It also provides a rich depth of insight to help your sales team identify cross and upsell opportunities to pursue
Founder and MD, Bright
With so much focus on generating leads and creating content, it’s easy to make the mistake of viewing communities as simply being MarTech. The value of communities extends far beyond this, particularly for publishers where the community becomes the product — providing revenue through subscribers and sponsorship.
One of the biggest advantages of owning a brand community is its ability to facilitate e-commerce; selling access to courses, premium content and events, to name a few, is a quick and easy way to make your community profitable from the outset. Expert communities give brands the ability to make courses asynchronous, meaning they can offer learning to users at scale, at a time and place that suits subscribers.
Moreover, by engaging your subscribers frequently in a space where your brand has full ownership of user data, you can identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities with greater success, extending the value of each individual.
Many media and publishing brands rely heavily on sponsorship from third parties. Expert communities make it easy to deliver value to sponsors and retain their financial support. Sponsors can be given their own dedicated area within the community, allowing them to post content and hold discussions with leads without dominating the entire site. In a post-cookie world, communities provide publishers and media brands with a direct route to generate first-party user data that can be monetized for sponsors later on.
Pharmaceutical information provider C+D built their community partly in order to retain sponsorship revenue from their C+D Awards, which had to move online in 2020 due to the pandemic. By allowing their sponsors to deliver their material virtually via the community, C+D were able to retain 95% of their sponsor revenue from the previous year.
2. Lower costs
An established online community will drive significant cost savings through reduced support and market research spend, and spotting incidents before they cause subscriber churn or cause a PR crisis.
It is 72% cheaper to answer customer questions via a community. Instead of contacting a customer support team directly, subscribers can first turn to the community to answer straightforward questions about renewals, payment methods, events and more. One community estimated that it was saving around $2.9 million annually in reducing support costs.
Exclusive content and access to experts in a community can increase retention, because the community itself becomes a reason for someone to remain loyal to a brand. The lifetime value of those customers, therefore, increases while the costs of attracting new customers are lowered.
The community itself can also be leveraged to gather feedback on everything from events and content development, to marketing and sales tactics. There’s a readily available, engaged audience base ready and waiting for questions. Particularly if they get early access or exclusive rewards for helping you. If something isn’t working well for a subscriber, they may also be more inclined to post it to the community where you can pick it up before dissatisfaction sets in and they churn. It can also help to limit any reputational damage that occurs when someone voices their negative experience on public forums and social media.
Within a community, your audience is receiving a great experience, exclusive content and perks, and a space to connect with their peers and experts. All of these things encourage them to remain with your community and, by association, brand. It can also drive revenue growth with 86% of people saying that they are willing to spend more with a brand if they’re getting a better customer experience.
There is goodwill generated through the value delivered by the knowledge sharing and peer connections fostered by the community. This can be leveraged to upsell certain things, like events or a sponsor’s products and services, and also improve subscriber renewals.
Ultimately, what your community is aiming for is to become such an integral part of a member’s life that they cannot imagine living and working without it.
4. Indirect ROI
Audiences are demanding holistic experiences from brands that improve their knowledge, networks, and expert insights. This creates more opportunities to drive indirect revenue and competitive differentiation — with people seeing anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 adverts a day, cutting through the noise with an expert community will help brands connect better with potential customers and/or subscribers.
Take education, an expert community can be a rich source of knowledge sharing between peers that help to make them better and to use a product more effectively. For SaaS companies, this might lead to better results for customers and, therefore, greater loyalty and satisfaction. For publishers, it can be an effective way to demonstrate authority and expertise from the outset.
Placing your brand adjacent to the best and brightest minds within your field will establish this authority; going one step further and providing direct access to this expertise will turn your community into an invaluable product in its own right. This is where expert communities come in, providing a dedicated hub where subscribers, staff and industry thought leaders can interact and share ideas. Over time, your community will become a trusted source of expertise, boosting the profile and reputation of your brand.
Creating authentic dialogue
An intuitive community platform which allows users to self-publish reduces the strain on marketing teams and turns the relationship between these parties into a true dialogue where everyone’s voice can be heard. Expert content can still be promoted, but subscribers and prospects are also able to offer their opinion in the form of comments, Q&As and video panels. Just by building a community, brands are able to take the conversations happening around them and use them as social proof. People are 4x more likely to buy something when referred by a friend, so having a regular source of customer recommendations can provide invaluable pipeline opportunities.
Patience is a virtue
As you can see, the ROI of an expert community is not always a tangible figure that is easily defined. It is possible to quantify ROI in some cases - e-commerce sales, for example - but since it takes time to establish a community, it can be a while before financial benefits emerge.
Investment in community marketing programmes are for the long-term, but can have a dramatically positive effect on not only reducing acquisition costs through influencers in the community helping onboard new prospects, but also in terms of increased lifetime value from increased engagement and consumption of products.
Digital, direct and data marketing consultant, Think Direct
The key to making your community a success is to focus on the long-term. You may only have a handful of members at the start, but if you make the community an integral part of their daily lives then the community will continue to grow. Those core members will recommend others and shape your community culture into something truly unique — something that aligns with their interests, values, and your brand.
An expert community has the power to establish your brand as honest, transparent and an authority in your field - traits which are as valuable as any financial incentive.
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