At the end of 2019, I wrote about the benefits of online communities, which ranged from a genuine alternative to social media, to increasing customer loyalty and engagement.
These benefits still stand of course but 2020 was obviously a year of enormous change. A year in which the benefits of online communities are more apparent than ever, as we all relied on technology and online spaces to connect with each other.
Here are 5 of the biggest benefits of online communities today, with real-world examples.
One of the most significant benefits that owning a branded digital space can bring (one that unites your customers, followers, experts, event attendees, members, and more) is the ability to weather instability and navigate the unexpected alongside your customers.
In hard times, trust and relationships with customers is vital and online communities play a huge part in this. There is always a direct route to deliver value and an unmediated channel of communication. In both directions. As our CEO Charles recently said, “The organizations that survive will be those that listen to their customers, partners, and every other stakeholder in their universe that sustains their business.”
In an online community, customers are empowered to tell you what they want, and what they don’t. This kind of insight can provide a framework for short-term decision-making and long-term thinking about the role that your organization plays in your customers' lives.
2. Virtual and hybrid events
The events industry has seen a reckoning in 2020. But it has forced event organizers to innovate. Virtual events are able to reach audiences that were never before accessible due to geographical or financial constraints. As Colin Morrison of Flashes and Flames pointed out, "the impact of the shifting events model will depend on the skills and resources applied to creating high-value digital experiences for global audiences - beyond those people who might once have readily flown to an event."
One of those organizations creating high-value experiences is the simplycommunicate community. Their goal was to create a ‘digital venue’ that enabled members to explore different rooms based on their interests, and engage directly with speakers and peers. It proved a particularly successful move.
Instead of attracting 300 attendees (as was typical at their in-person events) the virtual event had 700 people register and over 560 people attend. Engagement remained high throughout and the event hashtag even trended on UK Twitter. The team is now working on growing the online community and integrating it with their future events strategy. The organizers then went on to nurture this engagement, and turn it into a 365 online community of internal communications professionals.
3. Flexibility and agility
To adapt to the unknown you have to be flexible and fast. You need to be able to pivot quickly. C-suite membership organization Winmark experienced this exact challenge during lockdown. Its portfolio of in-person C-suite communities needed to shift rapidly onto an online space, with a consistent approach in delivering value to its members. This meant delivering content regularly to members, encouraging collaboration and contributions, and connecting members one-on-one.
This is exactly what they achieved with their Global C-Suite Community, which currently features 22 private rooms tailored to each C-suite function, online masterclasses, and connects members all over the world, from Amsterdam and London to Dubai and Singapore.
The flexibility that online communities allow has also been important for Springer Nature, who have nearly 30 distinct but interrelated scientific communities. When the lockdown hit, it became even more important for scientists to have a space to connect and communicate, and there was a significant rise in the number of contributions from members.
The communities were able to quickly adapt to the demand in Covid-19 related information - channels, rooms and conversations, and overall they saw a 60% increase in traffic to their communities during this time.
4. Brand authority
Demonstrating industry knowledge is not always a simple task. Sure, you can upload documents and articles to your website and then shout about it on social media to drive traffic. Is that the best approach for an enterprise level organization in 2020? We think there’s a better way.
Sharing expertise can be an exciting, interactive and dynamic process involving more than the internal researchers, writers and publishers within the organization. When you post to a community, no matter it’s size, you open the conversation up to followers, industry enthusiasts and wider audiences to engage with the content, comment and start a two-way discussion around the insights. Not only have you increased brand value through shared expertise, now you have an engaged community talking about your latest interview, your groundbreaking research or enlightening report. Over time, this is a fantastic means of improving your brand authority and getting recognised as the leader in your field.
Take IT Pack as a modern example. The IT Pack community was set up a year ago, before COVID-19, to connect current and aspiring CIOs and IT leaders with the goal of helping them learn from each other. There is a vast range of event resources that members can access (such as recordings and content) plus tools to network with peers and connect with industry experts and speakers. This delivers value consistently throughout a member’s work week, making it an invaluable platform for every current and future IT leader.
Furthermore, because it already had an online presence, IT Pack wasn’t as heavily impacted when the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed. It has already connected and engaged with over 9,000 IT professionals across 31 U.S cities and because the engagement and connections happen virtually, the organization was able to cope with such a dramatic change to the industry throughout 2020.
5. Diversifying revenue
Many organizations have been rethinking their propositions in some way this year. Whether that's reevaluating their products and services, their delivery or their marketing and sales processes. Restaurants pivoted to takeaway delivery services. Gyms pivoted to online classes. Even places of worship provided virtual services and meetings. The list goes on and on.
Online communities give the freedom to diversify revenue streams. Zapnito communities have a flexible modular feature set, making it straightforward to monetize existing expertise, from sponsorship opportunities, paid membership, to online courses, to experts-on-demand consulting.
OnMedica, a peer-to-peer network for UK GPs and specialist doctors, generates revenue via sponsorship and advertising models. Using powerful analytics, they are able to work with vendors to deliver targeted sponsorship to physicians based on their specialisms and online behavior, therefore serving the most relevant and useful content to members.
The Oystercatchers Club is another great example of a thriving, revenue-driving community. Oystercatchers is a marketing consultancy that brings together senior marketers at leading brands with world-leading marketing agencies. The network allows member agencies to register and publish their own case studies and latest work, as a showcase, but also to elicit feedback and create discussion. Access for these member agencies has payment levels tied to community access and promotion.
How online communities will benefit you
This is just a snapshot of what gains you can expect from an online community. Naturally, it will differ according to your business, event, and audience.
If you would like to learn more about the value and benefits of online communities, we’d be more than happy to give you a quick call at your convenience. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help.