Do you know that feeling when you want to start something new and are unsure where to begin? That can be especially true when creating and cultivating a brand online. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but there are some great tools at your disposal.
An online community, in particular, has the power to help you build a stronger brand. According to the Global Web Index report, 36% of users believe they can have meaningful conversations in online communities.
So, how can these communities benefit your brand and reputation? The answer isn’t as simple as it seems, so we made this quick guide to help.
Here’s what we’ll discuss:
- What an Online Community Is
- Various Types of Online Communities
- Benefits of Building Your Online Community
- Online Community-building Tips
What Is an Online Community?
If you’ve ever been in a Facebook Group or a Subreddit, you’ve already seen an online community in action. These communities are online spaces where people with similarities can come together to share information and discuss the following:
- Solutions to Problems
Online communities can be public or private, with different features, activities and perks that members can use to improve their experience.
Tim Clarke, Rize’s Senior Reputation Manager, noted the application of reputation management principles to online communities:
“In sites such as Nextdoor and TikTok, brands should have staff monitoring conversations, trends and mentions without injecting content or clearly commercial comments,” Clarke said.
This means that community reputation is a special kind of reputation since it can’t be easily handled by advertising and paid promotions. Instead, organic efforts like replying to comments and keeping users engaged should take precedence.
Types of Online Communities
Just like physical communities, there are several types of online communities today. Some communities are geared toward customer acquisition, while others aim to improve customer retention.
Regardless of their purpose, the most popular types of online communities are:
Type 1: Brand Communities
While most people don’t immediately detect what is a brand community, it’s actually quite a popular tool for retail, eCommerce, SaaS and service-based brands. A large part of what is a brand community so useful is that it’s a one-stop resource for expert advice and customer support.
Take this Facebook group by Elementor, a SaaS tool for building websites, as an example. According to their About section, the group is managed by volunteers and an employee.
Screenshot from: Global Elementor Community
Brand communities like Elementor strike conversations (like sharing your latest projects and best practices) and help each other with issues such as contact form spam and UI/UX delays.
This brand community makes knowledge-sharing easier, sparing the team from repeatedly answering the same questions.
Type 2: Groups With Similar Interests
If brand communities are for specific brands, then interest-based groups are for people with the same interests: places, projects, hobbies and so on. If you’re a graphic designer, it doesn’t matter if you’re using Adobe Photoshop or Canva.
Similarly, this subreddit for stargazing and astronomy enthusiasts doesn’t care what tool or brand you’re using to get some cool snapshots of the universe:
Screenshot from: r/Astronomy
As you can glean from its name, Redditors share pictures of nebulas, galaxies, star explosions and more in this online community.
Interest-based groups can also become pseudo-learning communities since users often share guides, tutorials and advice on how to get better at a certain activity.
Type 3: Professional and Networking Circles
Whether you’re exploring career opportunities or expanding your job network, professional groups are helpful forums to post questions, share business updates and even make job offers.
Here’s a LinkedIn group for startup businesses:
Screenshot from Startup Specialists Network Group
Because the group covers several industries, many professionals gather here to find business opportunities and partnerships, making these online communities valuable for networking.
Some of these communities even organize meetups and conferences to bring professionals closer together. In terms of customer acquisition and business reputation management, this can be a great way to reach the right people and build relationships with them.
Type 4: Learning Communities
Have you joined an online course with a dedicated group or website for its members? These are called learning communities. A learning community is almost always membership-based, with leads generated from free communities based on brands, interests and even networking groups.
A typical learning community may be composed of:
- Online students
- Discussion boards
- Video and audio tutorials
- Online group projects and activities
Unlike other types of online communities, learning communities focus on providing educational materials and resources to members. It is also vital for them to promote discussion around the topics being studied and any related research areas.
4 Reasons You Should Build an Online Community for Your Brand
Building an online community takes some time, and you’ll even spend money on it. However, the benefits of making such a platform can outweigh any costs. Here are some reasons why building an online community is a brilliant idea.
1. It’s a Treasure Trove of Feedback and Ideas
Whether it’s a learning community, a brand-focused group or something else, all members inside (when given the freedom) are excellent resources for campaign ideas, optimizing your processes and even building new features.
Online communities can get pretty crowded, though. In fact, some Facebook Groups have more than 100,000 members, making it hard to spot genius feedback. That’s why you should hone your community management skills, such as:
- Creating discussions that generate opinions
- Regularly scanning the community for interesting conversations
- Introducing polls and surveys to gather more ideas
However, don’t plan to remove negative feedback to improve customer retention and repair your reputation. People would know something is amiss, especially if the issues pointed out were left unaddressed.
2. Access a Wealth of Social Proof
Those who know how to build an online community know it’s an evergreen generator of reviews and testimonials. What’s great about online communities is that you no longer have to implement “official” customer feedback schemes, as members can leave unbiased, genuine reviews in a non-promotional and free-flowing setting.
The advantages are twofold: you don’t have to spend time gathering customer feedback, and those who read the reviews get to hear real experiences from someone they can relate to. All you have to do is check their authenticity and display them on your website, social media and promotional materials.
3. Increase Your Social Media Engagements
All of our previous examples leverage social media platforms when building an online community. For most brands, building an online community is a strategy to solidify their presence in social media.
On Facebook, getting more likes, shares and comments means higher organic visibility for your post. For LinkedIn, getting more reactions and comments from authoritative professionals will increase your credibility.
No matter your platform, these engagements are essential for success. Responding to these engagements shows your audience that you are listening and engaging with them, as well.
4. Produce More Brand Advocates
A great community contributes to a great customer experience. And the better your experience, the likelier you’ll recommend a brand to someone else.
Online communities are a powerful force behind word-of-mouth marketing. They foster conversations, spark debates and provide a platform to voice opinions. Of course, this only happens if you have a decent community. If you don’t know where to start, investing in community management services can help.
You can also use the section below as a resource to help you build an advocate-producing community.
5 Tips on How To Build an Online Community
If you’re convinced about the power of community, then it’s time to build one. Follow these five tips to build a thriving online community for your brand:
1. Define Your Community
Let’s start with knowing what your community looks like. Do you need a community dedicated to your brand, or are you framing this community as interest-based? Maybe you’ll want to foster learning or networking.
Defining your values and goals helps people understand what your community is all about.
Let’s circle back to the Elementor community. Their goal is to “Help each other grow as Web Creators.”
This clarifies who their community is for and what each member will get when they join it.
2. Set Some Ground Rules
Online scams, cross-promotions and spammy content can quickly ruin an online community. So, it’s essential to set rules to protect your members and maintain your community’s integrity.
Here are some of the most basic rules to get you started:
- Respect each other’s opinions and feedback.
- No spammy or inappropriate content.
- All questions should be related to the topic of your community.
Of course, your rules will depend on what kind of community you’re managing. However, Clarke recommends giving enough freedom to your community to create more meaningful experiences.
“Think of Subaru car owners or Peloton users, for example, that have really strong customer loyalty,” Clarke said.
“I think they should create spaces for the communities to grow but not control them or appear too heavy-handed.”
Online communities reflect your business reputation management, so make sure you have rules to keep the place tidy.
3. Customize Community Elements
Online communities are about letting people feel they’re a part of something. That’s why customizing elements across your community is essential.
Group banners are a crucial component of online communities across social media platforms that support them. It’s the most prominent element users will see when checking out your community, so make sure they look engaging, on-brand and memorable.
You can also customize community notes, policies, welcome messages and other content that help make your users feel part of the community.
4. Let People Know About It
After setting up everything, you can finally invite your audience to join. You can use your email lists, client databases or post about it on your accounts.
Be sure to include this information when encouraging people to join:
- A brief description of the community.
- The benefits of joining the community.
- How to join and what they can expect from you.
The more information you provide, the better the chances people will be interested in being a part of your online community.
5. Monitor Community Conversations (and Engage!)
As we’ve said, online communities offer insights about your brand and how you can improve.
However, he also points out that it’s also crucial to reply to negative comments if it makes sense. People must see that you’re listening and considering their opinions.
However, these insights will take longer to track and respond to as your community grows. To tackle this issue, you can use community management services like monitoring tools and responders to save time and track conversations more efficiently.
Introduce Business Reputation Management To Your Communities
Your online communities impact your reputation in a big way, so you can’t fumble when it comes to staying on top of conversations. An excellent online reputation management strategy helps you keep track of brand mentions and respond appropriately.
With Rize, you can monitor community feedback and respond to them promptly and professionally. Communities are the new places of reviews, and Rize’s tools and services are here to ensure your reputation looks good at all times.
Get your free demo now and see how we can help!