Building an Online Community for Brand Advocacy
In this age of online media, connecting with the customer base has become relatively easier than the times before. A community of your users on the web (including social media) is a loyal group of followers who are active on your platform and refer new people to join it. They write reviews and share feedback on the products and services which they have experienced first-hand and give out the details and specifications of it as well.
Since the web has connected people across the globe, one person can connect to millions amplify your product's reputation. Their words and views are open to being viewed by anyone and this is a boon as well as a curse. This is why building a strong community becomes an important part of building the image of the product.
With authentic people and their recommendations and positive views, a product can sell itself. The reliability of the words of the public builds up the trust and reputation of the brand among others who are not a part of the brand's community. A bad image can only be avoided by the positive reaction of people and response towards your product. The community collectively works towards establishing the brand as an upstanding product with a stellar performance and something to count on.
Most of these people who act as advocates of the brand are the loyal customers of that brand. The reason why they are enthusiastic about the growth of the brand is that they had a wonderful experience with the products and they want the brand to expand because of its good performance.
As a brand community, we are referring to an online space where customers of certain companies congregate because of their attachment to the brand and they want the right resources to help them make the most out of the product.
Now we'll cover the two foundations to build an online community for brand advocacy.
Achievable goals and targets for brand community
Goals are the end result of any effort which is expected to be met and must be aligned with the branded community. For example, you would want to gain media mentions from popular news outlets, attract thought leaders, and present your brand as a leading player. Also, you should set a target for the number of backlinks to the community you would gain from the user-generated content.
This will help you understand if you are able to generate enough buzz around your product and other websites are picking up the discussions originating from your community. Another important metric can be the number of branded search queries for your community or concepts shared in the community, made by people in search engines. Google's Search Console can be a great place to track these search keywords.
Know your superfans
People try to become a part of a community when they feel like they can relate to their shared passion. This starts from understanding the target audience -- knowing what they want, what they prefer, what they are looking for and what is likely to catch their attention is how they can be turned into true advocates of the brand. However, not every community member can be an advocate; only those who are satisfied with your product can promote your product.
Consider the example of Starbucks; consumers go for it because it is synonymous with getting the day started and keeping people energized throughout the day. The loyal fans go for it and recommend the same to others because of the experience of coffee and its near-perfect stance as the go-to coffee shop.
No wonder, the fans have created own unofficial blog and content around Starbucks coffee culture.
It is essentially a reciprocative relationship. People will only respond to the needs of the brand when the brand takes the expectations of the people into consideration. It should also be taken care of their personal goals and beliefs should be at par with those of the brand for a long-standing harmonious relationship.
Online community as an advocacy tool
While a solid product or service can be the corner-stone for brand-building and activating the word of mouth to generate more sales, an online community can truly amplify the whole process by tapping into a powerful network effect.
Coming to the example of an online community, Sephora's branded community is a well-orchestrated space where users can discuss, post questions, answer, share tips and help each other by solving doubts.
Irrespective of the nature of the business (B2B or B2C), the buyer often checks the reviews and uses recommendations made by peers to zero in on the product and gain confidence in the buying decision. According to Esteban Kolsky, 72% of customers will share a positive customer experience with 6 or more people. However, if your company makes a customer dissatisfied, 13% of them will share their experience with 15 or even more.
So, how can a company channel all the effort put into delivering superior customer experience into actual feedback that can influence other buyers? That's where the online community comes to the rescue by helping you identify and gain positive reviews at scale based on the customer's experience, valuable relationship with the brand and other members.
The online community does this by engaging with the customers, boosting loyalty, rewarding and providing the right platform to keep them motivated. The online community for the brand advocates must have the following:
- A white-label community that matches brand guidelines
- The members must be active, welcoming, and respectful of each other
- The uniqueness of your business and the culture must get reflected
- The content must be thoughtful and give practical help to other members
- Superior user experience
The key here is to understand that just like every brand is unique, the ensuing community is must also be unique and reflect the company culture and personality of the brand.
Keeping the brand advocates engaged and motivated
With different kinds of people coming together in the online community, it is imperative that different kinds of conversations would come up. There are certain basic rules that should be defined in order to enable free-flow of conversations based on the agreed community guidelines. This also needs a solid implementation of a moderation plan keeping the ultimate benefit of the community on sight.
Now that your community guidelines, onboarding blueprint, and moderation plan are in place to reflect the brand guidelines and deliver superb customer experience, the questions remain -- how to engage the future brand advocates? The lack of customer engagement would result in lack of action from the customers.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, it boils down to figuring out the needs of the audience. For instance, in B2C space, the members might want a fun time in the community to connect with others for tips on getting the best value from the product. In the case of a B2B audience, they might have more emphasis on faster response rate to solve any kind of issue.
However, at the end of the day, it is H2H (human to human) and as a brand, your community is a great place to open up straight-forward two-way communication. Allocating time and resources to answer the queries individually and recognize others for the feedback is a great way to motivate them and their peers. This acts as a stepping stone for brand advocates. As community managers, it is crucial to become a formidable bridge between the brand and the members with an empathetic and emotional touch.
While content seeding and connecting with members is important, goes without saying that as community owners must also facilitate the discussion around certain topics and drive the connection in the right direction. Some examples can be inviting the right people to answer unanswered questions, directly asking people for feedback, ensuring that there is always enough topic for the members to discuss.
Gamification and rewards for brand advocacy
The self-motivated community members' decision to promote your brand must be appreciated and rewarded. It can be anything from actual incentives like a coupon to getting mentioned on social media or newsletters. This motivates the other members to follow the suite and brings the members closer.
Gamification has been a tried and tested method to keep members engaged and influence behavior in any type of community setup (both public and private). It originates from the concept of game design, but get applied in vastly different situations. The primary objective in the case of an online community is to use gamification techniques to create high-quality content and build strong networks. The ability to include a higher number of members via these tools can directly increase the number of brand advocates.
Popular social media sites like Quora, Facebook, and Reddit allow you to upvote or downvote content. This also directly tied with the quality of content posted by the member based on the value perceived by the crowd.
Similarly, your community can also have a reputation system based on points that would be linked to the actions you want in your community. It can be submitting helpful content, solving other member's issues, sharing high-quality ideas, etc.
Ranks and Badges
Ranks and badges showcase the special accomplishment of the members. Especially when these are shown on the member profile, they add lots of weight to the content.For example, Quora might show "Top writer of 2018" for the authors with high-quality or most upvoted content to showcase the credibility. This keeps the users engaged and influences the peers to take the action.
It is highly desirable for the members to have some special power in comparison to the other members. This can be done by enabling certain features when the members perform desired actions and contribute to the community. For instance, a common tactic is to let the members customize the signature in the content.
Apart from appreciating the members with badges and points, it can also be a great idea to offer something they that practically use. Offering money for promoting your brand won't be right strategy here -- other methods like an opportunity to meet a celebrity for a community, run by a movie production house can be a powerful reward.
Brand advocates can be one of the strongest assets of marketing. When your community strategy lets you unleash the potential of the members promoting your product on third-party sites, your own discussion forum, and simply via word of mouth, it would significantly save you marketing budget. At the same time, it will increase trust. It all begins with building a community that truly helps the members with their needs.
At Betermode, we understand the importance of authenticity and its importance in building loyalty. As authenticity and honesty demand customization to reflect the true essence of a brand, Bettermode helps the clients not only fully customize the online community, but add the community touchpoints in the buyer lifecycle as well.