How to drive growth during a recession with your online community

An online community has the potential to be a powerful tool in a recessionary environment, keeping your brand front-of-mind amongst your members or subscribers and offering value that can take you from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘can’t do without’.
How to drive growth during a recession with your online community
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There are storm clouds on the horizon. The threat of recession is in the air, and it’s a difficult time for every organisation. Yet recessions have been and gone before, and we’ve seen organisations across every sector either sink or swim – with some emerging stronger than ever before.

Your online community has the potential to be a powerful tool in a recessionary environment, keeping your brand front-of-mind amongst your members or subscribers and offering value that can take you from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘can’t do without’.

Here, we look at 4 ways your community can influence decision-making and revenue generation in a downturn.

Engage customers around your product or service  

During a downturn, the last thing anyone needs is to lose customers or subscribers - you can’t grow if with every new member or customer, you lose an existing one. An online community can help you to retain your customer or user base, before you take the next step to explore growth strategies with that well-developed community as a springboard.

In subscription businesses in particular, growth can’t be achieved without retention: if you have 10% churn, for instance, your growth needs to be higher than that 10% in order to make a difference, which is a tough ask for new business teams, especially in a saturated market. Engagement through communities is the first step to growth, creating a strong foundation of loyal and satisfied members who understand and value your product or service.

Examples of you using your community to drive growth via retention include: 

  • Generating Reviews. We all know how important reviews are - and how hard it is to get customers to give them. Your community can create a buzz around generating reviews, highlighting benefits and driving a sense of purpose.
  • Creating referrals. A recommendation from a peer will have more impact than any advertisement, and your community is a great way to engage your members and boost peer-to-peer referrals. 
  • Developing product usage. Your community acts as a two way conversation. It enables you to listen to what your customers want and expect from you, and make changes to improve their experience and increase your value. 
  • Upsell/cross sell. Once someone becomes part of your community, it becomes easier to cross sell services and products in an environment where a) you have their trust and b) they are open to discussion. Combine that with those referrals and reviews, and you have an even stronger proposition.

Communicate your brand’s value proposition

When money gets tight, the first things to be cut from the expenditure are non-essentials: those things that you can, really, do without. So how do you turn something that isn’t essentially a ‘need’ – a subscription, a paid-for publication, a software – into something that people, be it consumers or businesses, really don’t want to let go of?

For intelligence-driven organisations, online communities can be the key to turning your offering from a ‘nice-to-have’ into a ‘must-have’ by showcasing real, tangible value. An online community can become a lifeline for its members, providing them with support, knowledge, connections and collaboration that they couldn’t get elsewhere – but it needs a clearly identifiable value proposition. If your community boosts a paid-for service – a subscription, a software, a publication – it can be invaluable for driving that sense of necessity amongst your members and increasing the value of your offering. For example:

In STM, if your community delves deeper into content, sparking academic discussions around an article, it delivers more than passive reading and offers collaboration.

In membership organisations, if your community actively brings members together for events or discussions, it becomes a tool to connect with peers and experts.

In technology and software, your community can unlock hidden capabilities or use-cases that enhance your product’s value.

And across all organisations, online communities are known to be a great force of engagement, helping brands to retain customers for longer.

That’s just the start. None of the above examples are restricted to those sectors: with the right platform, the value of your community is unlimited, allowing you to be creative in how you deliver value and usefulness to your members.

Create a sense of exclusivity

If something feels exclusive, people are more likely to want to be a part of it – and less inclined to give it up easily. During a recession, your community needs something that sets it apart from other platforms, competitor communities and social media: especially if it is part of a paid membership or an addition to a paid subscription. You can promote exclusivity by creating restricted areas, private and invitation-only rooms. Not only will they keep peer groups together, focus conversations and allow for better networking opportunities: they will also form that ‘club’ identity for members, setting your community apart from other online opportunities. It’s also a good idea to explore niches within the wider community, allowing people to sign-up to smaller groups with shared interests.

Exclusivity can also be achieved by inviting high-calibre authors: people in your field who are recognised experts and influencers that add gravitas to the content and the community.

Unlock new revenue streams

While the purpose of a community isn’t solely as a revenue generation channel, it can be a route to explore new income streams for your organisation. Advertising, sponsorships and partnerships can be lucrative, but it’s important you strike the right balance between partner expectations and your members’ needs. A successful community has to maintain that sense of exclusivity and foster trust between your brand and your members: it’s vital that any paid opportunities don’t encroach on that relationship and feel like a seamless extension. If you have the right functionality on your community platform, you should be able to generate revenue without alienating your members, subscribers or authors. 

A good example of this is how simplycommunicate balanced sponsorship with virtual attendee experience during their community-hosted live event, simplyIC. Working with Zapnito, simplycommunicate were able to offer sponsors value for money, while protecting the integrity of their community for members. The key was seamless integration and robust community management.

Springer Nature took a slightly different approach with their partnership with Dior Science, creating a branded area within their community that empowered their members and the sponsor – you can see how they did it here.

Access data – and use it effectively

Last but by no means least, one sure-fire way that your community can generate growth is to explore how first-party data helps increase personalisation.

What’s more, by building a thriving community that people want to be a part of, your members aren’t just consenting to their data being used – they are entering into a reciprocal engagement, providing information willingly in return for the value they receive from your platform. Your community provides an excellent way to engage with your audience with data, maintaining a two-way conversation. 

With recession looming, how are you planning to weather the storm ahead and emerge from it stronger? Meet other organisations in the same boat at an exclusive Executive Breakfast, taking place October 20th at The Hoxton Hotel, Shoreditch. Join Zapnito’s CEO and Founder Charles Thiede and other CEOs to discuss how to become more agile, efficient and responsive in a difficult market – with help from online communities.

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