Online communities and the types of interactions they foster are why the branded online community has become a critical marketing channel for many. According to Wikipedia, an online community is an online social network of individuals who interact with one another to pursue common interests. Among companies that have online communities, the reported benefits include improved customer support quality, a better understanding of customer and prospect needs, higher user engagement, a more loyal customer base, and better cross promotion effectiveness. Research from Forrester indicates 60% of those surveyed have a branded online community and 15% were planning to add one in the following 12 months (1). Why has a branded online community become such a strategic aspect of marketing? We asked clients, partners and industry leaders what are the primary drivers for their companies. Here we share the top five reasons why a branded online community is so important.
1. Hit the Bottom Line
Anything that drives revenue or increases the bottom line is a popular marketing tactic. Branded online communities address both these objectives and more. The most direct way to impact bottom line with forums and other types of branded online communities is through reduced support costs. When you provide a forum for customers to interact with your brand, they can come directly to you with questions and concerns. Not only can your support team respond directly to the inquiry, but so can other users whose responses often resonate better with the person asking the question. This peer support coupled with a searchable knowledge base in the forum eases the burden on your staff and reduces support costs. One of our Fortune 50 clients told us bluntly, “we don’t worry about counting the dollars saved; we have a corporate mandate to provide forums because we know it reduces support costs.”
2. Drive Customer Retention & Engagement
Customers also love to be able to interact with your support staff (and the rest of your team) to get insight into future products and enhancements you will be releasing. This helps them feel more connected to the brand and builds loyalty. Customers buy from people they like and people they trust. Tim Vogel of BUX, a company focused on the game development market, says that forums are really helpful for retention. Tim says, “If players are getting bored with the game, they could still stick around for the community, which buys you time to add new features and content before they churn.” This is not just focused on consumers; research indicates that 85% of B2B buyers believe companies should present information via social networks (2). Forum users also like to know that their concerns and ideas are being heard. Even if their ideas are not adopted, they will be more loyal to the brand when they get a direct response from the company. Here’s a statistic that will get your attention - in online communities that influence 16% or more of revenue, 64% have strong community engagement; in communities that influence 15% or less of revenue, only 26% report strong engagement (3).
3. Get Customer Insight On Your Products
Many forum visitors are happy just to read along with the dialogue, but others want that interaction; they want to share their ideas and are often the source of some fantastic product enhancement ideas. Companies can spend their time and resources brainstorming for product ideas, but it pays to have customer insight. The cost of obtaining customer insights through surveys, market research and direct calls is expensive and time consuming. These activities are often well worth the effort, however, the same result can be obtained by creating and cultivating an active online community. Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.com said “You’ll learn more in a day talking to customers than a week of brainstorming, a month of watching competitors or a year of market research”.
4. Cross Promote Your Other Products
One of the most significant benefits of the traditional marketplace is the ability to cross sell a variety of products. Traditional social media platforms enable a company to broadcast new product releases and promotions, but their individual reach often amounts to a mere whisper. For example, Ogilvy reported that in February 2014 large brands’ Facebook posts reached just 2% of their fans (a number that was falling by .5% per month) (4). By building a branded online community, companies are able to establish a virtual marketplace where they can engage customers on the topics that interest them most. When providing value through support activities, useful content, or direct interaction with other customers and prospects, the brand earns the right to share information about its other offerings. Such promotions are met with greater acceptance. Acquiring new customers can be very expensive, yet cultivating repeat customers is much easier – they have already bought into your brand.
5. Build Brand Equity
One of the most beneficial aspects of a branded online community is a better overall impression of the brand. The community serves as a platform for communication and information sharing. Whenever clients and prospects visit, they see the company logo and reaffirm a positive impression. Customers may have a concern with a product or service, but when addressed quickly and publicly the concerns are assuaged and a positive association with the brand is maintained. The brand also benefits from the enthusiasm and support of customer advocates. These are typically the most active participants in a forum and they are also the most loyal to the brand. Consider the lifetime value of a customer, and how building your brand's representation can affect the long-term of your service.
The branded online community is the perfect platform for companies to build real and meaningful relationships with customers and prospects - Lasting relationships that foster continuous engagement. It creates the opportunity to sell without the “sell” and place the company into a real, approachable position. People buy from people. In fact, 18% of participants in a recent study indicate that over 30% of their organization’s revenue is influenced by their branded online community (5). For these reasons, branded online communities have become an integral part of a sound marketing strategy.
This blog post was co-authored by Mike King, COO of Inversoft, and Jon Butterfield, Co-Founder at GetSocial.
(1) Benchmark B2B Social Marketing Efforts. (2014, January 13). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.dnnsoftware.com/Portals/0/Whitepapers/Forrester Benchmark_B2B_Social_Mark.pdf
(2) Marketing Trends 2013 for B2B Content Marketing. (2012, October 24). Retrieved March 26, 2015, from http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/2012/10/2013-b2b-content-marketing-research/
(3) New Study Reveals How Organizations Are Driving Revenue from Branded, Online Communities. (2014, October 14). Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://www.dnnsoftware.com/about/news/press-releases/new-study-reveals-how-organizations-are-driving-revenue-from-branded-online-communities
(4) Nate Elliott's Blog. (2014, November 17). Retrieved March 31, 2015, from http://blogs.forrester.com/nate_elliott/14-11-17-facebook_has_finally_killed_organic_reach_what_should_marketers_do_next
(5) New Study Reveals How Organizations Are Driving Revenue from Branded, Online Communities. (2014, October 14). Retrieved March 31, 2015, from http://www.dnnsoftware.com/about/news/press-releases/new-study-reveals-how-organizations-are-driving-revenue-from-branded-online-communities