THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE COMMUNITIES WHITEPAPER PRESENTED BY SHARETRONIX

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1 THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE COMMUNITIES WHITEPAPER PRESENTED BY SHARETRONIX

2 ONLINE COMMUNITIES ARE A COMMON STARTING POINT DURING THE BUYING JOURNEY TODAY, AS PEOPLE CONDUCT RESEARCH, READ PRODUCT REVIEWS, AND SEEK OUT RECOMMENDATIONS. INTRODUCTION

3 WHAT IS A COMMUNITY Your customers are searching for your products and services. And the way that people buy has fundamentally changed over the past ten years. Online communities are a common starting point during the buying journey today, as people conduct research, read product reviews, and seek out recommendations. It is essential that your business invest in building and maintaining online communities of customers and employees to stay relevant and sustain a competitive edge in your industry. In this whitepaper, we will dive into the various types of communities, analyze data trends about community engagement, discuss the new digital buying journey that your customers go through each day, and present case studies and examples of how successful businesses have built and leveraged communities to drive trust, sales, brand advocacy, and employee experience. A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Seth Godin, Author, Entrepreneur 3

4 WHAT IS A COMMUNITY Online communities are not a passing trend. They are a real transition in the way that people interact and communicate with one another and with businesses. Definitions and Datapoints: Before we dive into the value of engaging brand communities, it helps to define some terms. First, what is a community? This definition is broad, but crucial to understand. A community is any grouping or tribe of people, either online or offline. This grouping may be based on demographics, psychographics, interests, industries, purchase behaviors, or any of dozens of other points of differentiation. Communities may exist organically across the social web, on platforms like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter; we call these traditional social communities. Communities may also exist on owned channels, like a corporate blog or branded microsite; we call these branded communities. Online communities of both types are not a passing trend. They are a real transition in the way that people interact and communicate with one another and with businesses. Since the launch of Facebook on a few university campuses in 2004, the social community has grow into a juggernaut of 1.15 billion monthly active users. And on average, each user in the US subscribes to (or likes ) over 70 brands, according to Socialbakers - that creates a lot of powerful and influential branded communication. Other platforms have crossed the 1 billion user mark, such as YouTube, while others approach the milestone, like Qzone in China. Being in an online community gives people a sense of belonging that s been inherent to people since the dawn of humanity, and the community technologies of the past decade have made it easier and more effective for people and brands to communicate with one another, building engagement, trust, and loyalty. 4

5 WHAT IS A COMMUNITY Traditional Social Media: Traditional social media communities, like Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and others, exist as their own entities - frameworks for people to build profiles, consume content, and connection with others. Brands have been making use of social media platforms for over a decade. The Coca-Cola Facebook Page, which is one of the largest communities on the platform, at 90 million fans, is a classic example of a community of brand advocates. Samsung Mobile, too, has a massive community - their Twitter account has nearly 11 million followers who subscribe to branded content and communications. Red Bull, arguably some of the most rabid brand advocates, tops the list on YouTube with nearly 3 million subscribers, while Disney has the most engagement of any brand, with more than 3 billion total video views across more than 40 separate Disney YouTube channels. These are amazing examples of brands who have built enormous communities across traditional social media platforms. And brands must always be vigilant, not only in the management of these massive communities of fans, followers, and customers, but also with an eye to new and emerging social media platforms, which crop up literally each and every day. For these reasons, while traditional social communities are a powerful asset and channel for a business to communicate with its customers, they lack the consistency, continuity, and control of a branded community. Which brings us to... 5

6 WHAT IS A COMMUNITY Branded Communities: Brands can actually own communities outside of the traditional social community platforms across the web. These branded communities provide businesses with an opportunity to connect with, engage, and offer support to groups of customers, potential customers, and decision influencers. And while there are an ever expanding number of social media communities, there are, however, only two main types of brand communities; the customer engagement community, and the business collaboration community. In a customer engagement community, the goal is to both nurture potential customers to the point that they re ready to make a purchase decision and to also provide ongoing support and engaging content for existing customers so as to turn them into brand advocates over time. In a business collaboration community, the main priority is operational in nature. By creating a community where employees and internal stakeholders can connect and communicate, the business is providing a streamlined form of interaction between employees, teams, and departments. These communities for ongoing operational communication can create efficiency, transparency, and alignment much more effectively than can endless threads, weekly or monthly meetings, and memos. 6

7 ONLINE COMMUNITIES ARE A COMMON STARTING POINT DURING THE BUYING JOURNEY TODAY, AS PEOPLE CONDUCT RESEARCH, READ PRODUCT REVIEWS, AND SEEK OUT RECOMMENDATIONS. THE IMPORTANCE OF CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES

8 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY Today, with all of the content on the web, the buying journey for your customers has never been more complex. There are so many channels, websites, blogs, social networks, and more vying for their attention - how is your businesses supposed to be seen and heard? Brands must join the conversation on traditional social media sites to have any influence over their customer s new buying journey. Better still, businesses can own the conversation by creating branded customer communities, then engage with customers and prospects throughout their journey. All online communities for businesses are not created equal. Sean Engmann, President of Sharetronix 8

9 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY No longer will your consumer simply reach out to a salesperson or buy from your website. The Buying Journey: The natural question for a business to ask before creating a customer community would be, Why do I need to engage with my customers online? Most all businesses have a corporate website, but for those who are not actively building and nurturing communities online, any current sales success will be temporary. This is because of a massive shift in consumer buying behavior over the past ten years. Decisions are no longer made in isolation. When consumers make purchase decisions online, they go through a number of stages - from awareness, to consideration, to comparison, and to their decision - and these stages may occur across a near infinite number of digital properties. No longer will your consumer simply reach out to a salesperson or buy from your website - according to Forrester, 70-90% of the buying journey is done in a self-guided fashion. That means that if you re not creating communities where you can communicate with your customers at each and every stage of the buying journey, you are actually only influencing less than 30% of your buyer s decision. 9

10 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY Keep an eye out for these opportunities, prepare for them, and embrace them. The Buying Journey: If building your branded communities is your launchpad, then engaging in those communities is the rocketfuel. By creating content that your customers want to engage with - click, read, download, sign up for, buy, etc. - you are effectively nurturing them along the buying journey to a purchase decision. Once you create the type of content your communities are craving, then you can begin to promote and communicate it, which ideally, your community members will consume and then share with their connections, too. As members of the community begin to connect with you and with one another, there will be many opportunities that will present themselves for your brand to inject itself into the conversation. Keep an eye out for these opportunities, prepare for them, and embrace them. A community member (i.e. potential customer) may ask a question about industry trends; have your brand jump in and provide valuable information for them in their time of need. If this is done in a public forum, rather than in a private message, then other community members will also see that your brand is a resource for people just like them. This builds trust, and eventually leads to brand advocacy. 10

11 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY Education and Entertainment: Your customers are actively researching your industry, your products and services, and, of course, your competitors. Two ways for you to stand out through your communities are through education and entertainment. By providing educational resources about them, rather than about your products, you are able to help your potential customers earlier in their buying journey, and therefore have more influence over the eventual purchasing decision. For example, if your brand creates bookkeeping software for small businesses, then your communities and content may revolve around not just the software s features, but why the software is important, and, even better, how to run a small business efficiently and effectively. American Express does just this with their OPEN Forum. This is a branded community focused on creating value for their potential customers through educational resources and co-created content. 11

12 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY When people share things online it creates what s known as earned media - that is, impressions that your company doesn t pay for, that your community members create, and that further your brand s message. Education and Entertainment: The other way to differentiate from your competitors communities online is through entertainment. When people share things online it creates what s known as earned media - that is, impressions that your company doesn t pay for, that your community members create, and that further your brand s message. When we find entertaining content online, we have an inherent desire to share that content with friends, family, colleagues, and connections. We want to make someone laugh or feel good, and we also want the credit for finding it first. Your brand can leverage this innately human desire to share by creating and sharing brand- or industry-related content in your communities that is entertaining. Dollar Shave Club does this through hilarious TV commercials and short web videos. They are contagiously funny, while also communicating the brand value and message, and community members share them over and over again with their connections online. This earned media pulls new members into the Dollar Shave Club community and steals market share from much larger and more entrenched competitors. 12

13 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY By having real community members share their story of why your brand was the right choice for them, you provide social proof for other community members who are earlier in the decision journey From Subscribers To Customers: Once you have a thriving community of subscribers to your brand, then the goal should be to turn those subscribers into customers and brand advocates. This can be accomplished in several ways. Strategically, you want to foster an environment within your community that encourages sharing of success stories. By having real community members share their story of why your brand was the right choice for them, you provide social proof for other community members who are earlier in the decision journey and have not yet purchased from you. If it was good enough for them, maybe it s good enough for me. You can also graduate members of a traditional social media community into a branded community of customers, or from an existing branded community of subscribers to one of customers. This not only helps you quantify your subscribers and customers, but also creates some exclusivity to your buying community, incentivizing subscribers to buy so that they, too, may join that new community. This can be done through monetary or emotional incentives, and once you have a community of buyers, your ability to leverage them to support your other marketing initiatives grows substantially. 13

14 THE IMPORTANCE OF A CUSTOMER COMMUNITY From Subscribers To Customers: Finally, in your communication within the community, you should consistently be sending subscribers to landing pages that offer value, and that enable you to capture contact information from them for your remarketing efforts. For example, your community may be made of subscribers doing research about your industry, products, or services. Offer up a seasonal ebook that helps them with their research through a post in the community that links to a landing page on your website. On the landing page, ask for the subscriber s name, address, and any other pertinent information in exchange for access to the ebook. Now, you have expanded the ways that you may communicate with this prospect with the goal of moving them closer to a purchase decision, effectively turning them from a subscriber into a customer. 14

15 WOULDN T IT BE GREAT TO KNOW WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS SAY ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES WHEN THE MIC IS OFF? PULLING INSIGHTS FROM CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES

16 PULLING INSIGHTS FROM CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES Wouldn t it be great to know what your customers say about your products and services when the mic is off? Surveys can only gather so much in the form of real insights because your customers are aware that it s the brand asking. Branded communities help businesses pull real insights about their customers, products, and services due to the unsolicited nature of the responses. Your customers are engaging with one another in an open forum, and the data is there for your marketing team to mine. Your brand is what other people say about you when you re not in the room. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon This feedback is one of the most valuable aspects of branded customer communities. 16

17 INSIGHTS FROM CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES For some businesses, these insights have led to changes in messaging, new marketing campaigns, changes to packaging or pricing, and even changes to the products themselves Unsolicited Feedback: Branded communities can also be huge insights drivers for your business. Your community members will be communicating with one another in what is essentially an unsolicited focus group, discussing your products, services, and industry in candid fashion. You will likely be able to derive invaluable insights from community members whose discussions you are participating in and listening in on. For some businesses, these insights have led to changes in messaging, new marketing campaigns, changes to packaging or pricing, and even changes to the products themselves. Vitamin Water leveraged the power of their branded communities to co-create a new black-cherry and lime flavor with their subscribers, all the way down to the name and packaging. Other businesses use branded communities to provide better customer service and experience. I doing so, they quickly learn what works and what doesn t, and they can efficiently and effectively make changes to their customer service process. These insights and optimizations can actually have a waterfall effect on other areas of the business, too, like the sales process, traditional public relations, and human resources. 17

18 INSIGHTS FROM CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES Internal Communities: Businesses can also build and maintain internal communities for employees, executive leadership, and other corporate stakeholders. Communities can be built that help sales managers coordinate efforts and quickly disseminate learnings. Businesses may also build communities for HR and employee experience purposes, finding ways to spotlight top performers or employees who have made a difference at the company or within their real-life communities. By creating a private digital space for employees to connect and communicate, the business brings everyone closer together, fostering a positive work environment and creating many unforeseen competitive advantages. As Harvard Business Review wrote recently, social tools and communities can have a huge impact on new employee on-boarding, potentially the most critical step in overall employee experience. More effective onboarding means less turnover, which means fewer personnel churn costs, and higher employee efficiency. 18

19 INSIGHTS FROM CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES Most businesses have online communities of customers and employees, and many of those are active and thriving. Insight Challenges: The main challenge in leveraging communities to draw insights for businesses lies in the process. Most businesses have online communities of customers and employees, and many of those are active and thriving. It is the responsibility of the community manager, a role that generally falls under the umbrella of marketing or communications, to processize the mining of community conversation, the gathering of insights, and the translation of those insights into action and real business impact. If an auto dealer knows that their buyers don t use the term pre-owned autos, but they instead communicate with used cars, then it s on the community manager to notice this trend, disseminate the insight into each relevant area of the business, and drive change that will make a meaningful impact, potentially on how the business approaches search engine optimization and search engine marketing. 19

20 CONCLUSION Customers have changed the way they buy products and services. They are doing more research online than ever before, and their trust in advertisements has never been lower. Therefore, it s critical that brands embrace online communities as forums for conversation, engagement, trust building, and the nurturing of customers. Online communities are only becoming more important in the lives of your buyers, and you need to be present and active in those communities to maintain an edge on your competition and stay relevant to your customers. For more information on branded communities for external customer engagement or internal business collaboration, please reach out to us at Sharetronix. 20

21 BUILD YOUR OWN BRANDED COMMUNITY WITH A PRIVATE SOCIAL NETWORK, AND USE IT TO STRENGTHEN YOUR BRAND AND WEB PRESENCE. CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES HELP A BUSINESS BUILD LOYALTY, IMPROVE CUSTOMER INTERACTION AND RETENTION, AND ENGAGE IN SOCIAL LISTENING TO COLLECT PRODUCT AND CUSTOMER INTELLIGENCE. CONTACT US

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