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.
Facebook is no longer a viable option for companies looking to foster a strong online relationship with their customers and prospects. In a previous blog post we discussed the diminishing reach of Facebook for companies trying to engage their users and grow their businesses. The natural next question will be – “Great, so if Facebook isn’t working, what is the solution?” Increasingly, companies are creating their own branded online communities.
Return on Investment (ROI) will be a factor to consider, as with any business decision. Building a community will take time, resources and money so a company will need to see a return on that investment. There are a variety of factors that can be measured depending on the focus of your community. For example, many companies establish a support community to reduce support costs through call deflection. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Inversoft, 46% of respondents indicated they consider ‘reducing support costs’ to be a major benefit of forums. If the focus of your online community is increasing your sales, how much more business could you gain by having your customers participate in your own branded online community versus a 3rd party platform like Facebook?
Is Facebook Doing the Job?
When many businesses think of establishing an online community the platform that comes immediately to mind is Facebook. With well over 1 billion users, that seems to make a lot of sense! But how many of those people can you really reach? Even if you get a million people to “like” your company’s Facebook page do they see your content? Recent research: Has Facebook become too big for its boots by throttling organic reach? – shows that you may only be reaching 4% of your Facebook fans. That has to be a very sobering thought for any business.
So is Facebook really the place you want to put your online community?
Branded Online Community
An alternate solution is to create a community on your company’s website. Your own branded online community. You can still do all of your regular social media interactions to engage with your community (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest,…etc). Rather than including a link to your Facebook site, replace that with a link to your company’s website.