"Why would a brand launch an online community if they already have a social presence?” This question, or something very similar, has to be the most common one we get when we are introducing our platform to prospective partners. It’s a great question, and as a leader or contributor interested in launching or improving a community, you might be wondering the same.
Social is Your Broadcast Channel - Community is Your Engagement Channel
While social media is a powerful broadcast tool for sharing information with the masses and advertising to the right people, its focus on promotion and sales often falls short of true customer engagement - this is where community comes in.
Imagine a conference. Your social media accounts function as your keynote speaker. They come well-prepared with exciting content, new information, and a strong message. They nailed the presentation. But, was anybody listening? You saw heads nodding, but weren’t sure how engaged the audience truly was. Now, think of an online community as the workshop that follows. People get to connect, dig into content, ask questions and give your speaker valuable feedback. And, if your online community is really doing it’s job, it will feel a lot more like the happy hour after the conference has ended. This is where your audience is relaxed, engaged and truly themselves. You get to know them on a more personal level - the stuff that really matters.
Four Key Ways Community Differs From Social Media
Online communities act as a gathering place for your customers - a space that’s yours to manage. You have the power to do four things:
- Shape the Conversation
- Guide Participation
- Maintain Security
- Put Data to Work
Let’s dig into each one of these in a bit more depth.
Shape the Conversation
Online communities give you the power to manage the conversations that are happening about your brand, and they allow you to celebrate the important voices who are a part of those conversations.
Across social media channels members of the public, from your biggest fans to your toughest critics, are talking about your products or services. Rather than simply chiming in on Twitter/Facebook/Reddit/etc, a dedicated online community gives your brand a safer space that you are able to manage. Erica Kuhl and Brian Oblinger address this idea on “In Before the Lock”: “There are a million channels for people to say things. Do you think that they're not just going to go somewhere else and say all of those things on some other channel? Why not actually respond in a realistic and logical and thoughtful way and almost always that changes the perception immediately.”
Additionally, the people that are talking about your organization are incredibly important to brand building. Communities are often filled with thought leaders and super fans - extremely valuable individuals who act as early adopters and advocates. These are individuals that join communities with no other motive than a genuine love and appreciation for your brand, association, or mission and a desire to connect and share with other like-minded individuals. GlobalWebIndex found that users felt as if they had more meaningful conversations, were more respected, and could truly be themselves within an online community compared to on social media.
Finally, content posted by your brand on mainstream social platforms needs to work its way through an opaque, evolving algorithm. When you manage the community, you can highlight and prioritize the messages, activities and discussions that have the most impact.
As a community owner, you’re also able to serve up custom-designed challenges and activities that satisfy the objectives of your business. This challenge functionality is a key differentiator between online communities and social platforms and allows you to unlock the real value of community by managing what community members participate in, and how they participate.
With numerous ways to encourage participation, you get to decide how much effort is required by community members to engage in different types of activities. Lightweight activities include quick questions, polls and quizzes. Medium-effort activities often resemble surveys or discussions. And finally, involved challenges allow you to structure participation through multiple steps over a period of time. Online communities allow you to satisfy members' varying preferences through these diverse sets of participation options.
As privacy breaches and scandals like Cambridge Analytica showcase how social media platforms can be utilized by bad actors, concerns over data protection and misuse of user information have grown among users. By owning and controlling your own brand community, you are ensuring that your consumers’ data is being safeguarded and protected. There’s no risk of the misuse of information or third party involvement because you manage the community and own the data. Allowing your customers to willingly participate and choose the data they share with you, and guaranteeing them a secure space for valuable interactions, allows your brand to build trust and reliability, fostering organic engagement.
Put Data to Work
While social media platforms have expanded their capabilities to include interactive polls and instant messaging plugins, most of the interactions between a user and a brand stay at a superficial level, often manifesting as a simple ‘like’. Although brands are able to encourage participation through social media, it’s challenging to do anything significant with the information collected through these activities.
Online brand communities are created with the express purpose of adding value for your customers and your brand. Owning a community means having visibility on a granular level, right down to how each member participated in an activity or answered a poll question. This level of visibility is extremely valuable for brands looking to better understand and engage with their most involved customers. Top tools like our Community Platform can integrate with major CRMs like Salesforce so you can make the very most of all your data.
Online brand communities also give you access to detailed analytics that are more in-depth than the data and analytics available through the social platforms you are already using. Community managers can pull reports to learn about each individual user, and cater the experience to each, targeting activities and messaging based on user behaviour through the use of smart groups. This allows your brand to gain deeper and more valuable insights than would otherwise be possible through using social media alone.
So, Why do Brands Need Both?
While social media remains the ‘go-to’ for many customer interactions with brands, both customers and businesses are searching for platforms that offer more comprehensive engagement.
Remember the conference? Even when your speaker nails the presentation and everyone is listening, the audience is still looking for ways to connect and engage with the topic and those around them. On its own, social media isn’t enough to deliver the deep engagement your audience desires. Social media platforms also do not allow you the capabilities you need to drive business objectives. But used together, social media channels can drive brand awareness, and communities can drive business results.
- by Chad Neufeld
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