Updated March 2021 to include a bonus case!
Take a look at any conversation between marketers online, and you’ll probably see the topic of owned social media communities at the forefront.
The reason for this is simple – as social media enters its teenage years, it’s becoming a bit of a handful, just like its human counterparts.
From the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal to Jack Dorsey’s seeming unwillingness to truly tackle hate speech on Twitter, more users are looking at alternatives.
These alternatives aren’t necessarily still online, either, given that the lack of trust in Facebook and its ilk is making current users question the motives behind these networks and their move to more encrypted, one-to-one solutions.
So, as a business owner, what should you be doing? If your business success is heavily skewed toward online communities on social media, how much is this going to impact you in the years ahead?
We’ve already discussed what owned communities look like, and why your business needs to start taking steps now to create yours.
But just in case you need a little help in determining what you should be doing, here are 5 examples of owned social media communities doing it well.
Tiny Buddha – Building an Owned Social Media Community In-House
With almost 3 million visitors per month, the website Tiny Buddha has become one of the leading resources online for living a meaningful life.
Their articles talk about happiness, minimalism, self-love, and letting go of the unimportant things in life.
While they could have built this community solely on Facebook (and they do have a popular community there, too), the fact they own their own community, on their servers, just adds to the value that almost 40 million visitors per year bring.
It’s not just the fact that their traffic is attractive to advertisers – they also have a successful e-commerce section on their site that sells everything from clothes to books, and even phone cases!
Tiny Buddha’s approach to their community ensures that nothing seems like a hard sell:
- Readers can submit their own stories to be featured on the site
- There’s a very active forum that offers peer-to-peer advice for others looking to simplify their lives
- The founder of the site, Lori Deschene, ensures all the messaging informs visitors the site is not hers, but everyone’s, building immediate inclusivity
This approach means in the 10 years since Tiny Buddha launched, the site has continued to grow not only fans, but loyal ones who have become powerful advocates for the brand.
Nike Run – Build Your Community on a Mobile App
Global sports company Nike is no stranger to community building, and building rabid fans around both its products and, more recently, its willingness to take a stand on social issues.
This has led to the brand enjoying an enviable position of leading the field when it comes to how it owns that community of fans, in more ways than one.
Using the Nike Run online community, the Run+ mobile app complements the online experience perfectly, making for an involved and very interactive community.
Tapping into the healthy lifestyle approach of the online community, the mobile app enables users to not only get personal training tips and challenges, but also connect with other users to create group challenges and more.
- The app becomes a personal running partner
- There are educational components that show the importance of proper recovery between activities
- You can track your progress, and how that’s impacting your overall health
- Your fitness goals adapt with your progress
- There are custom challenges, as well as musical playlists, to offer that increased feeling of community
While this approach offers a host of benefits for users, it’s even more valuable to Nike. Now, the company can truly understand its users behaviours, likes, interests, and more.
This makes the community an invaluable resource when it comes to future products, services, loyalty programs, and more, to truly offer an end-to-end customer experience program for end users and brand.
Building a Community Within a Brand
While the world continues to head towards a mobile-first approach, there still remains value by hosting your own community online, either as a separate hub, or part of your corporate website.
Both approaches have pros and cons, and neither is a “wrong decision” when it comes to owing your community away from the big social networks.
However, one of the biggest pluses using a dedicated microsite/hub is you can build out a fully-fleshed community, that’s still attached to your brand, but stands on its own.
This is exactly the approach Sensei client ECHO USA took with the ECHO Means Business online community.
The goal of the ECHO Means Business program is simple – create an online community of professional outdoor power equipment (OPE) users (think lawn care, landscaping, arborists, groundskeepers, etc) to help each other grow their business.
This is through a mix of exclusive online content, a group of leaders and influencers in the OPE industry mentoring the community at large, and a brand-neutral approach to content, forum discussions, and more.
By taking this deliberately neutral approach, where users can talk about other brands, and their preference for using them, as well as ECHO products, ECHO Means Business has become one of the leading resources for this industry.
Visitors and members know there will be completely unbiased and honest advice, and the feedback received helps ECHO deliver products that benefit all OPE professionals.
Now in its third year, the ECHO Means Business program continues to lead the industry, and is even more connected since the launch of the ECHO Means Business mobile app for Android and iOS.
Building a Community of Advocates Through Content
When it comes to connecting directly with customers and driving leads and loyalty, content marketing remains one of the most effective venues.
From blogging to podcasting, video creation and more, not to mention sharing this content across social media, creating quality content that addresses pain points can help brands in multiple ways.
- You position your business and executives/team members as thought leaders in your industry
- You attract clients through content that shows your expertise in their niche
- You create advocates that promote your content and, by association, your business and services
You can also use the content you create, and the analytics/data you receive about the kind of content that’s the most effective, to create courses, webinars, and educational resources that drive leads to your business.
An example of this is the Spin Sucks community, that’s been built around the PR and communications blog of the same name.
Over the course of 12 years, Spin Sucks, led by communications pro Gini Dietrich, has built a loyal and engaged community of almost 80,000 PR and communication pros.
This has enabled Dietrich and her team to create multiple lead generation courses, including exclusive member offers, educational webinars, professional development courses, and more.
By creating content that answers the kind of questions facing PR pros today, Spin Sucks is recognized as an industry leader, with premium courses for all levels of communicators.
These multiple revenue streams ensure Dietrich and her team can branch into different premium offerings, and help her business stand out from competitors in the PR space.
Letting the Kid in Your Business Shine Through
As a parent to two kids that love LEGO, this next community is one that talks to me as a parent, a consumer, and to my kids as future customers.
Taking the Master Builder idea that all LEGO toys encourage, no matter what age or gender you are, LEGO IDEAS is an online community hub that lets your imagination run wild, and get rewarded for it.
When you join the LEGO IDEAS community, you become part of a huge online resource that runs crowd-powered competitions to design new LEGO kits and ideas (hence the name of the community).
If you submit a design of your own, other members of the community can vote for it, as well as leave feedback on your design. If you don’t want to submit your own design, you can vote for your favourites created by other community members.
The creations with the most votes go to market, and are supported by LEGO at retail. Not only that, but the creators receive a percentage of the product sales.
By taking this approach, and offering feedback to budding Master Builders, LEGO has created a thriving online hub of brand advocates and future customers.
Additionally, LEGO gets an insight into the trends shaping the toy market, the license tie-ins that make solid business sense, and a huge bunch of data on all members and their preferences and buying behaviour.
It’s a perfect example of a brand-owned community at its best.
What Two Decades of Community Looks Like
If you’re looking for an example of one of the most in-depth owned communities, look no further than the SAP Community Network (SCN).
Launched in 2003, the SCN is the official user community for the multinational software corporation.
With impressive stats, such as 2.8 million users and almost 300k visits per day, the site has become the epitome for how a brand-owned community can bring value past the obvious proprietary software tutorials and Q&A.
The community has over 430 sub-groups (called spaces) for different topics, such as technology, programming languages, and SAP products.
Besides hosting a diverse array of subject matter, the community also boasts a diverse background of users; aside from just SAP clients, the space welcomes developers, consultants, mentors, and students.
To keep this considerable number of users engaged with the Network, SAP has built in many incentives to encourage activity. While some of these incentives are material, such as e-learning and product polls (empowering users by allowing them an opinion in SAP “Missions”), others are less tangible, like gaining online reputation by contributing in forums or writing blogs.
If you aren’t impressed with the community yet, don’t worry, SAP is sure you’ll find something useful in their growing technical library, whether you want it in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, or many other languages.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither was the SAP Community Network. Owing a great deal to slow and steady growth, the community has grown overtime to become the SAP hub it operates as today.