Brand Communities, the value of connecting with the customer

Luis Jiménez Penick

24 February 2016

When we successfully lead the consumer to associate a brand’s shared values and common attributes with a motivation to want to improve and lengthen their experience with it, we achieve a positioning in the consumer’s top of mind, and it stays there. When this happens, our projects and people aligned with these motivations come together. But, how do we materialize this affinity? How do we make the contributions they want to share visible to create a shared space related to the brand? The answer lies in brand communities.

But this is no easy task, studies from Gartner conclude that 70% of online communities could fail and Feverbee’s estimations are even more pessimistic: 95% of online brand communities close during their first year of life.

In most cases, failure occurs when the brand launches a community without having a clear value proposition, or without defining the underlying motivator for users to participate and want to be part of the community.

But is having a clear and differentiated value proposition a sufficient guarantee of success? Evidently, that’s not the case. Community managers need to also work on to areas of action:

  • Content: what will the user find in the community and how it will be invigorated.
  • Contents: how, technology, will the solution that powers the community leads to a pleasant and straightforward experience for the user.

Concerning content, we can highlight four key success factors:

1) Define a Business Plan

Communities don’t sustain themselves for free; the associated costs are numerous (technological infrastructure, hosting, staffing, boosting actions, etc.) makes it that most brands do not give support if the community isn’t able to finance itself, although even at minimal levels.The community’s long-term sustainability goes through finding revenue channels (membership fees, third-party sponsorships, advertising, paying for activities…).

Establishing a paid membership model, for example, can create barriers to entry but can help increase the community’s perceived value and communicate it as an exclusive platform. They can also establish meritocratic mechanisms that give access to some functions when certain actions get completed.

2) Offer a relevant experience

In line with creating a differentiated value proposition for our community, we should have various individual motivating criteria to work with to emotionally influence and gain a greater bond:

  • Purpose (mission and values).
  • Identity (sense of belonging).
  • Socialization (need for sharing).
  • Development (call for learning).
  • Challenge (desire to overcome).
  • Recognition (fame and reward).
  • Leadership (ability to transform).

3) Plan your boosting strategy

Another key aspect for the success of our community is how to make users come to our site frequently. The user’s first contact with the community is critical: if what they see at that moment doesn’t lead them to participate or interact in some way, the chances that they come back again will be scarce.

For this, we should plan a dynamizing calendar with actions geared towards gaining visibility and fostering loyalty to the community: welcome activities, contents that cater to individual interests, user-generated content, interaction plans, generating nodes of shared interests, co-creating opportunities, direct benefits for participating or being a member, etc. Although the community is born online, we shouldn’t disregard breaking physical borders, de-virtualizing those involved through in-person events or activities to make knowledge and direct contact among all easier.

It’s also paramount to create a personalized communication system for every user (via email, mobile alerts, etc.) that can send notifications (direct mentions, events, news, updates…) so the user doesn’t lose touch with the community.

4) Continuously analyze results and know the user

Finally, we must measure our community’s health regularly and check that our objectives are being met:

  • Community size.
  • Activity levels (performed actions, published topics…)
  • Vitality (interaction: most-seen themes, time spent reading, threads created, comments,…).
  • Influence (recognition and prescription).

The way we can extract individualized knowledge of our users we’ll also be able to direct our communicative and dynamic actions in a more accurate manner. This way, using the initial registration or subsequent incentivized surveys we can get to know our users (based on the type of community) personal details (age, geographic location…), the professional interests, passions, etc.

Also, through the use of login information from Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn we can get social media information from every user. Exploiting user analytics can indeed become the primary asset a brand has with the community.

What do we consider regarding contents, the technology that will make the brand community materialize?

1) Be Mobile-first

In the current mobility context, with a sustained growth rate of the user of mobile devices and a consolidated rate, we have to consider our platform from all points of view.

  • We’ll design our platform with an adaptive (based on access) and responsive style (based on size).
  • We’ll respond to those micro-moments, defined as those brief periods when the user, due to their divided attention, can focus on our content through notifications or alerts.
  • We’ll integrate the latest techniques to make mobile use more efficient, like Google Accelerated Mobile Pages with accelerates mobile reading by 80%.

2) Utilize an Agile/SCRUM methodology

For planning, execution, and implementation processes to respond to proposed objectives, the precepts need to be agile to facilitate that all development meets the needs and prove that the expectations are met step by step.

We’ll have to iterate and evolve the projected based on sprints, working, testing, and quickly modifying them in a controlled and structured way, facilitating communication between all parts involved in putting the community together. This will ensure an improved productivity when it comes to meeting deadlines and coming up with new functions.

3) Take advantage of distributed and open technology

We must think about the community when it’s time to design the user experience conscious of conventions and standards. Existing leading technologies like Lithium and Jive can serve as the base on which we develop it, but there are also consolidated open software solutions like Discourse, a platform that we’ve been using at Good Rebels since 2013 and has been evolving in significant steps.

Besides that, it’s recommended to user distributed technology that allows you to display and integrate APIs and external services that let us combine various tools on one site without having to start from scratch.

A path to follow

Although building and maintaining a brand community is a quite complicated challenge, the effort can result in a handsome reward for the brand. This reward could come from the degree of bond that it achieves with its members, its innovation proposals, improvements in their product and/or service they can deliver, and the information they can get through the use of customer analytics models.