In today’s interconnected world, the traditional marketing approach of talking at customers no longer cuts it. Customers want – and expect – to be part of an ongoing conversation. This is what makes community marketing such a powerful tool.
In this article, we’ll cover:
But first, let’s kick off with a definition.
First, let’s back up a step and ask: what exactly do we mean by a community?
Communities are social groups connected by something in common. Traditionally, communities existed geographically – as in your local community. Today, communities also exist virtually, unbound by location.
People from across the world form online communities connected by shared interests, beliefs, values – even products and brands.
Community marketing is the process of connecting and engaging with customers, building relationships, and providing value through meaningful, non-intrusive communication.
Today, businesses have to work harder than ever to meet customers’ expectations.
The modern consumer doesn’t just want top-quality products and services, they also want
a sense of connection with your brand. They see the products they purchase as an extension of their personality, values, and identity.
Customers also want real human interactions with your brand – interactions that go beyond the traditional touchpoints of marketing, sales, and support. According to a Salesforce report, 84% of customers claim that being treated like a person, not a number, is critical to winning their business.
Finally, communities tap into powerful psychological needs. People have always congregated with like-minded people. Why? Because we have a strong, innate desire to be part of a group.
Traditional marketing strategies focus on telling rather than interacting. The customer plays a passive role in communication and is there as the receiver of information. Think traditional advertising, websites, blog articles, and brochures.
This type of marketing is losing its potency. People are now much more skeptical, discerning, and to an extent cynical than they once were. Simply telling them why they should buy your product doesn’t work anymore.
This is what makes community marketing so powerful. It represents a complete change of direction, turning marketing communications into a two-way street. It aims to form strong bonds with customers, start conversations, and seek feedback and ideas directly from the people who know your products best.
At its heart, community marketing is non-intrusive. It’s about relationship-building and connection, not hard selling or old-school marketing tricks.
For marketing purposes, there are broadly two types of community: communities of practice and communities of product.
A community of practice is a group of people who come together organically because of a shared interest or common goal. There is no official hierarchy in a community of practice, although members naturally organize themselves into certain roles based on various factors.
While there are many overlaps between the two types of community, a community of product is less organic. When you decide to grow a community around your product, you have a hands-on influence on the way it grows, where it exists, and how members communicate. You grant roles to key community members, outline community guidelines, and in some cases act as a gatekeeper to new members.
That said, communities of product should feel natural to their members, and to some degree, they should be left to grow and evolve organically. But unlike communities of practice, they serve a wider purpose – whether that’s increased customer loyalty, retention, or any other business goal.
Product communities aren’t just a fad. They should be seen as central to your marketing efforts, providing real value for both community members and your company. For example, members gain:
While for your business, an effective community marketing strategy can:
But unlike traditional sales and marketing strategies that aim to directly influence customers to buy a product or service, community marketing achieves all of these benefits indirectly. For example, community-building leads to customer trust and loyalty, which leads to customer retention, which leads to increased sales.
Of course, no strategy is without its challenges. While community marketing is an incredibly powerful brand-boosting tool, to be successful, you’ll need to understand the following issues and work around them.
Community marketing takes time to play out. Unlike old-school marketing and ad campaigns, you can’t expect instant results or impact. If you want to build a community that adds real value, you’ll have to be willing to play the long game.
Community marketing is a relatively new idea that’s different from traditional marketing. You can’t expect to apply the skillsets and mindsets of the latter to the former and yield results. Community marketing requires a much more sincere and authentic way of communicating, for example. Approach it with a hard-selling attitude and you’ll put people off.
If you want to allocate time and resources to community marketing, you’ll need to get approval at the executive level. This can be tricky for a number of reasons. First, the idea of online communities can seem nebulous and hard to pin down. Second, the long-term nature of success may put key stakeholders off, who might be looking for instant wins.
Understanding community marketing on the surface level is one thing, putting it into practice is another. Let’s look at some specific ideas you can implement to help boost your community efforts.
Once your community is up and running, you can identify long-term active members and bring them into ambassador programs that provide rewards and recognition for their efforts. This is an excellent way to build strong and lasting relationships, build trust, and spread the word.
Customers often take company values with a pinch of salt. All those ‘About Us’ pages blur into one after a while. The truth is that unless you follow through in a meaningful, tangible way, your values can come across as empty marketing talk.
A community gives you ample opportunity to put your words into practice. By supporting social causes, not only will you be doing some good in the world, but you’ll also get countless socially aware customers on board with your brand.
Look at companies like Lush, for example. The UK-based cosmetics business has aligned its values around ethical buying and fighting animal testing, which has turned an army of young, impressionable customers into loyal, dedicated fans.
But a word of warning: if you are going to put your name behind social issues, you need to do so with authenticity. The modern customer has a keen eye for hypocrisy or insincerity.
Communities are a great channel for creating a buzz around your brand. The marketing campaigns you implement should motivate people to get involved, share ideas, and have fun.
Whether it's encouraging people to share pictures of how they use your product or asking them for ideas for new product features, you should appeal to their need for purpose, belonging, and status.
While you should always provide your community with a steady flow of high-quality content, you should also encourage community members to create and share their own content. After all, people trust what other people say over what you say about your own products.
For the best or most active content creators, you can grant them official content creator roles and liaise with them about future ideas and strategies.
Unlike traditional marketing strategies that yield instant, tangible results, community marketing efforts can be more difficult to quantify. Success takes time to play out and can be measured in different ways, depending on your specific situation and underlying business goals.
For example, a company just starting out on its community journey might look to metrics that measure community growth and engagement, such as:
Companies with mature communities might look at how their efforts are playing into wider business goals around sales or support, such as:
Most community platforms have some kind of built-in analytics capability. Some, like Slack, require you to upgrade to a paid plan to unlock insights, while others may be available for free.
If your community is spread over multiple platforms, keeping track of user and engagement-related data can be a complicated, time-consuming process, however. This is where dedicated community management platforms like AhoyConnecft come in.
By collecting data from multiple platforms and combining them on one easy-to-read dashboard, AhoyConnect unlocks powerful community insights, allowing you full visibility of metrics associated with community size, growth, engagement, and success.
Before we wrap this up, let’s look at some real-world examples of how powerful community marketing can be.
You’ll find this one at the top of many community marketing lists. Lego Ideas is a website where people can submit their own Lego creations. The community can then comment and vote on the ideas they love.
Lego then takes the most successful ideas and turns them into real-life Lego sets, with the designer receiving 1% in royalties from sales. Pretty amazing, right?
This is a perfect example of a company using its community to bring people together in celebration of its product, tapping into their sense of creativity, fun, and competition.
Sephora, a multinational seller of beauty products, connects its customers via a website called Beauty Insider. Community members can ask questions, spark discussion, share ideas, and get feedback on their cosmetic efforts.
Organized as a forum with multiple separate groups, Beauty Insider is a vibrant community that adds real value for customers, while acting as a giant advertising portal for Sephora’s products.
SaaS startup Productboard has been carving out an entirely new software category with its product management platform. Their community, Product Makers, is a place where Productboard customers can share ideas, ask questions, and get feedback and support.
Product Makers is also a hub for Productboard’s excellent content, with a steady flow of newsletters, webinars, interviews, and workshops designed to give product managers the tools they need to make outstanding digital products.
Product Makers serves the product community as a tool for learning and growth, positioning Productboard not only as the market leader in their software category but also as the go-to experts for all things product management.
Before we finish, let’s quickly sum up the key takeaways from this article.