Last week we ran the Community Marketing Bootcamp webinar with our friends at Bright Innovation. Together, we covered the importance of connecting with customers in an age of extreme digital noise, and how online communities can play a key role in forming these connections.
Many of you put your questions to the panel during the webinar, creating some fascinating discussions and allowing some real insight to be shed on the role online communities will play in our future. We’ve taken some of these questions and answered them below.
How can marketers use online communities to build an emotional connection with clients?
A growing trend over the last 5 years has been customers wanting brands to reflect their values. People want to feel engaged with the companies they buy from and feel personally involved with brands. Online communities provide a great way of bringing this to life.
Opening up this kind of direct channel between you and your customers means you can engage in a two-way conversation with them, as opposed to merely broadcasting your message as widely as possible. This is the modus operandi for companies on social media, and this volume play can work well for B2C. In B2B the relationships are fewer and the value is higher. Therefore the relationships need to go far deeper.
What online communities offer is a window directly into the motivations of your customers - what they like and dislike, their feelings towards your company or service. The overlaps and synergies between products or topics. The accessibility flows both ways and makes discussion feel easier and less formal. This kind of emotional connection with your customers is invaluable, as it will make them far more likely to recommend you to other people and do so with enthusiasm.
How can you harness collective intelligence with an online community?
The dialogue opened up through an online community allows you to harness collective intelligence. From experts providing their insight in an easily accessible way, to the needs of your customers being more clearly communicated, it has never been easier to track the content and behaviour which will inform all parts of your business.
By turning the relationship between you and your customers into a two-way street, you are able to gain more insight into what is expected from your organization. Bringing experts together in one space allows for greater collaboration and sharing of ideas, speeding up innovation and turning your community into a go-to destination for expert knowledge.
We’ve written extensively on this topic of late, publishing our Collective Intelligence eBook earlier in February.
How do you keep people interested and engaged and what role does tech play in that?
To keep people engaged in your community, you need to continue providing content that is helpful and relevant. Eventually, when your community is successful and thriving, you may find that a lot of content is generated organically by users - however, you don’t get to this point without working hard to dictate the kind of content you want to see on your platform.
Zapnito offers a phased approach to building its communities, adding features and value over time. This allows your community to become established gradually, earning a reputation for its solid foundations of data and information before bringing in more complex features such as events and one-to-one consulting at a later time.
Throughout this process, you can continue to engage your members by asking questions within your posts. Gauge their feelings towards what you’re doing and what you could be doing differently. Keep your members intimately involved in this process of innovation, allowing the community to be built in accordance with their needs.
Another way of engaging potential customers is to offer them a glimpse of what would be available to them as paid members of the community. Paywalling certain content provides an incentive to sign up, but people will want to know what they’re getting for their money. Drawing attention to these features via social media and posts in your community will let your members know that there is more great content they could be accessing.
So what role does technology play in all this?
To put it simply, the tech serves as the enabler. It is the means, not the end. Having a functioning community with useful features is key, of course; people will be more likely to return to a community that provides a good user experience. But the key to keeping people engaged all comes down to the content, and whether it truly serves the people using your community.
What do the most successful communities have in common? What are the musts and must nots?
The most successful communities have a clear purpose in mind and are meticulously developed to meet the needs of the user base. The decision to set up a community like this cannot be half-baked or treated as a side project; it requires support from across the business, with everyone involved fully buying into the process.
Having staff dedicated to the maintenance of the community, such as a community manager, is essential. Without having people whose sole focus is engaging with members of the community and ensuring their needs are met, your community will never truly feel like a priority instead of a vanity project.
How do I know if a community is what my organization and audience need?
What you will often find, particularly in industries with a great deal of intellectual overhead, is that communities have already formed around them in one way or another. People are out there with questions, while others have the answers - all they need now is somebody to pull them together.
Creating a community allows you to keep track of the conversations happening within your industry and find the answers you need more efficiently, rather than letting the discussion take place in various far-flung corners of the internet.
How long does something like this take? How much time do I need to create a successful leads channel via an online community?
Launching your online community can take a matter of weeks, and you may even be able to start generating leads within the first 2 to 3 months. But building a thriving community which sustains itself through organically produced content takes time and a great deal of cultivation.
You must be prepared to be patient as you sow the seeds of your community - nobody becomes a go-to destination for expertise in their industry overnight. It is important to lay the groundwork in order to demonstrate your community’s value, and understand that the benefit to your organization’s revenue and growth will only come as a reward for this hard work early on. Getting contributions to your community from guest experts will provide you with credibility in these early stages, allowing you to gradually establish yourself as a home for expertise.
This sounds quite "create content, people will come and communities will form" - but how do you reach and attract these people in the first place?
Building and assembling a community can seem daunting from the outset. But you will likely find that you already have the basis of a successful community available to you. These could be contacts in your email list, or people who have attended your events in the past. Though this may only amount to a fairly small group, getting them engaged in your community from the get-go will allow you to begin creating a dialogue.
These people are key to your success - get them onside early on, and word of mouth will see your community grow over time. Nurture this small group of core members by providing content and opening up room for discussion so that they can give you a clearer idea of what they’re looking for. Your community needs to be something they would recommend to others in their industry, making their thoughts and opinions pivotal in the early days of building it.
How do communities fit into the existing marketing funnel?
Over the coming years, communities are set to play a key role in shaping the world of marketing as brands look for ways to create a more personal journey for customers. Marketing will become less about broadcasting and more about appealing to the needs and desires of the individual.
Communities are crucial for your prospects in the consideration stage. Yes, they will support awareness as you create more content, as well as hosting events and webinars. But the real magic is in the showcasing of expertise, demonstration of brand authority and providing a wealth of touchpoints for prospects to engage and get value from your brand.
The other crucial stage is the Advocacy stage. Communities are an essential retention tool, providing access to other customers, customer education tools and a route to communicate directly with your brand. This allows customers to feel heard and understood, a key part of building trust and positive relationships.
Analytics provide insight into the behavior of customers - the patterns extrapolated from these analytics mean that you can tailor your marketing activities to the needs of your customers at every stage of the process.