Fundamentally, business is all about the relationships that you create with others. No matter your industry, or if you market to consumers or other businesses, you need to forge genuine connections with your customers for your business to stand the test of time. That’s why community marketing is a powerful way to grow your customer loyalty, referrals, and revenue. Core to building a successful community is having a well-thought-out community marketing strategy.
Why community marketing is powerful
Communities tap into our need to socialize and learn from our peers. They can create tight-knit associations between an individual’s identity and the brands they align with. Especially with younger generations (Gen Z specifically) who are more purpose-driven than their predecessors. Community-based marketing connects customers with a brand, in a more authentic way than traditional marketing and advertising efforts. The best communities provide a space for people to communicate, network, exchange ideas, learn, and create mutual experiences.
The three components of a brand community
Brand communities can be identified broadly by three key characteristics. Understanding these components can help you when starting to develop your community marketing strategy.
- People: A group of people with common goals and interests come together and differentiate themselves identity-wise from those outside the community.
- Acts and behaviors: They carry out specific acts and behaviors that solidify their culture and the meaning of the community.
- Belonging and accountability: People understand the need to help other community members and work together to achieve goals. This fosters a sense of belonging to the community.
It’s worth noting that the above characteristics describe all types of community (in-person, local, and online). Whereas in the past, a community would develop around a neighborhood, local small businesses, or events, the growth of online communities has expanded the potential of community marketing beyond geographical limits. An online community can create relationships between members no matter their location. It can increase access to knowledge and resources for members in remote areas and connect people who otherwise wouldn’t meet in real life. Brands can reach customers never before possible.
Community marketing strategy tips
Community building is a journey. Like any smooth journey, it can help to have a route planned out. That’s where a community strategy comes in useful.
Consistency and care will get you far. Remember, people feel like they’re part of a community when they meet like-minded peers through it, when they have goals to work towards, and when they can carry out specific acts and behaviors. Based on this, we’ve come up with six community marketing ideas that’ll help your community get started and grow quickly.
1. Create a trusted space
As the saying goes, build it and they will come. A powerful thing happens when you give people a community-owned space to connect and share knowledge. They will organically begin talking about their experiences with your brand and product. This can lead to customer recommendations and higher word-of-mouth marketing. Which is known to be highly effective with 90% of consumers trusting a brand more if a peer recommends it.
At the start, community building requires you to focus on creating the conditions for the community to grow. That is, establishing opportunities for people to forge connections (by setting up rooms, discussions, or community events), and then making common goals and behaviors that reinforce a sense of belonging.
Engaging people with a strong social experience in your community will encourage them to check in with it regularly, participate, and will grow their brand loyalty. They will become loyal to each other too.
Take, for example, Wilmington Healthcare's OnMedica community. This offers GPs and specialist doctors a trusted space to network and learn from their peers. It features clinical reference material and expertise, education, news, views, and comments. Through it, members get a one-of-a-kind community experience that improves their clinical knowledge and patient care. And Wilmington Healthcare benefits from an engaged expertise source to inform its market understanding and services.
Each community experience will differ depending on what members like and respond to the most. For some, an on-the-go lifestyle means short conversations, videos, and snappy articles work best. For others, more in-depth written pieces and longer discussions might help them dive into their interests and challenges. Over time, you’ll be able to use data generated by the community (as they post or interact) to understand what topics and content most resonate with them. At the start, there might not be enough data — so engage with focus groups of your target members and gather their feedback through one-to-one or group sessions, looking at their marketing and social media habits, or polls and surveys.
2. Share community expertise
What will differentiate your brand community from competitors’ offerings? Expertise. Members will interact with a community that gives them an edge, whether that’s in doing their job better, understanding the market more, or even knowing how to use your product effectively. All engagements within your community need to come from a space of adding as much value as possible. So experts (both from your organization and from the wider industry) can help you add a lot of value to members, with relative ease.
For instance, you could invite a well-known speaker to do a fireside chat during a community event. Alternatively, an author could provide a first look at an upcoming book chapter. You could interview industry influencers for unique perspectives on challenges your members are having. Existing customers can provide insights on their journey with your product and anything innovative they’ve achieved through it. And, of course, experts can join your community to regularly engage with members.
As for your internal experts, you might have a product manager who can contribute ‘insider secrets’ on using your product better. Or your CEO might wish to do a series on their perspective about sector trends and the brand’s future trajectory. This still helps to market your brand and products, just in a more informative way. Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s exclusive to the community so people feel like they’re missing out if they don’t join.
As part of Springer Nature’s communities, various experts are invited to share their thoughts and experiences. Research paper authors share their personal stories behind their latest findings or offer insights on what happened after they published their research. Editors tell members about their work and what it takes to be published in a Springer Nature publication. This builds trust between editors, researchers, members, and the Springer Nature brand.
3. Hold (and take part in) events
Events are a straightforward way to create shared meaning and traditions within your community. Physical events can provide a space outside of an online community for members to meet face-to-face and strengthen their connections. Online events can complement communities by uniting people at a specific time, around a specific topic, in a shared experience. Communities are an ideal partner for events as they spur discussions and ideas long after the event day has passed.
You can choose to partner with events that attract your target members, host an event yourself, or do both. Bear in mind that events are quite resource-intense to plan effectively, so make sure you do your research beforehand on what would attract members to take part and how to engage them afterward. Your existing community can be a fantastic resource for this. Ask members about events that excite them, what event formats they prefer, and speakers they want to see. Plus, go through community analytics to understand popular topics for your event track.
4. Use your community to direct your business
The more your members get from your business and product, the more likely they are to remain with you and recommend others. So, asking them for feedback on what they like about your products and what could be improved is a useful way to design your products exactly around their needs and build customer loyalty.
Your product development team can communicate directly with members to better understand how they use your products and to gather insights for future iterations. Customer support can look at the most common questions posted to your community to see where common issues are occurring. This can improve your product, but also feed into FAQs and knowledge bases.
Tapping into your community of existing customers can save on market research costs as you have a focus group already there and waiting to provide feedback. Community data can also provide insights on customer sentiment based on member discussions or questions about your product and brand. Feedback from members can be gathered through discussions, polls, and surveys posted to the community. You could even offer exclusive access to early product launches and beta testing to gather more community feedback.
Community feedback can additionally influence sales outreach efforts and marketing ideas. You could even test new community marketing concepts before rolling them out to wider audiences. Topic data could inform your content marketing, discussions could pinpoint specific challenges for the sales team to leverage, and members can directly tell you what attracted them to your brand in the first place.
5. Find your community’s niche
For many years one of the main goals for marketers was to gain mass-market appeal through widespread, general campaigns. But now, to cut through the noise, niche is best. A niche is broadly defined as a product, service, or area that is specialized for and highly relevant to a particular audience. In a community sense, this may look like a community of specific individuals like C-Suite executives or marketing professionals, or focus on a key topic or purpose like bioengineering or wildlife conservation.
Having a community built around a niche subject will increase the relevancy and value of your brand. It builds deeper connections with your target audience. A community can also act as an incubator and test for more general marketing concepts. After all, if something doesn’t resonate with your niche audience then it probably won’t speak to larger audiences either.
6. Value and monetization
Your brand community must add value to your organization and be able to prove this to wider stakeholders. This ensures buy-in from senior leadership (and wider afield in the company). It also makes it easier to get investment for future community marketing efforts.
Business value comes when your community is highly aligned with your business goals. Building your community marketing strategy on this foundation ensures that every key performance indicator (KPI) directly ties with bottom-line growth. For some organizations and communities, value may come from leads generated, event attendance growth, customer support efficiencies, or optimizing a marketing strategy. For others, a community can be monetized to become a new revenue stream for the business.
Monetization can take many forms from subscriptions, where members have the option to pay for exclusive access and perks, to store links that drive traffic to purchase products and services, or sponsorship and advertising within your community. If you choose to go down this route, it's worth testing a few monetization ideas with members first to make sure your community remains valuable to them, trusted, and authentic.
In the Springer Nature community, for example, additional monetization opportunities have arisen through sponsored content marketing campaigns with Dior. Meanwhile, for internal communications brand simplycommunicate, having an online community running alongside its annual event ‘simplyIC’ led it to reach a wider, global audience, trend on Twitter, and almost double its attendance figures.
Ongoing community growth
Building an effective and trusted brand community that grabs your audience’s attention takes time. No successful community is launched in a single event. Instead, it takes multiple prompts with community members, many different topics, and lots of interactions to build a thriving community. Over time, the community itself will become a unique value proposition for your brand, helping to set you apart in the market and becoming a major influence for your marketing, sales, and operations.
If you're ready to learn more about what community marketing could do for your brand, request a demo today or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.