The life of an online community is often “nasty, brutish, and short”, to quote Hobbes.
That’s because building a sustained, successful, thriving community is probably the hardest thing to do in marketing.
Think about it.
You’re asking for people’s precious time. You’re asking them to contribute and engage. You’re asking them to choose your site over the millions of other content choices and social media sites.
That’s why most fail.
In fact, according to Gartner, 70% of online communities fail.
But there’s hope.
Community use is on the rise.
76% of global internet users were involved in online communities at the beginning of the pandemic, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
This is mainly due to the fact that online communities provide brands the space to develop meaningful relationships with customers, prospects, and even partners.
And not just with ads and one-way marketing; but with discussion, brainstorming, feedback, forums, and fun.
Here at BONDAI we say, “don’t build a brand, build a community”.
But how do you avoid the typical pitfalls and build a community that truly benefits your brand?
Here’s six reasons why your online community may be failing, and how you can turn the ship around.
Problem #1: You Built Your Community on a Social Media Platform
Most companies rely on creating their brand or fan communities on social media.
And we get it.
Social media is mostly free, has millions of users, and often it’s where your customers and prospects are.
So what’s the problem?
There’s a few.
First off, you’re competing against other content on social media platforms.
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Tik Tok, the people you want to focus on your brand are being bombarded with ads, memes, CTAs, and even guinea pigs wearing top hats.
There’s simply too many distractions on social media to keep people on your community.
Secondly, your community content doesn’t last on social media.
All those hours working hard on that campaign video, that informative “how to” blog post, or that contest poster will be scrolled by or swiped through never to be seen again.
Building your own online community away from social media avoids this problem.
Any blog or video published on your owned community pretty much lasts forever.
And the more valuable people find your published content, the more likely it will be shared, linked-to, ranked and rewarded with more traffic by search engines like Google.
More traffic often means more community members – a win win.
Another great reason to shift from social media to online communities is control.
A customized online community will allow your company to control:
- What content your customers see
- What data you get back from them
This year we saw how Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, had to jump to the company’s defense after countless users claimed to be unhappy with how the platform shows them content.
The same thing happens with data. While social media sites may share some insights, they’re not enough for companies to properly assess awareness, satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
You don’t own the data and you can’t control the user experience.
Is that how you want to run a community?
How BONDAI Can Help…
BONDAI specializes in building branded communities from the technology (community, gamification, analytics) to “the human touch” (management, lead gen, offers, influencers), your community is customized to your needs.
Problem #2: Failure to Identify and Leverage Advocates & Influencers
A thriving community needs advocates and influencers.
But what are they? And what’s the difference between them?
Advocates are highly engaged members who promote your brand.
They are active members of your community who like to get involved by participating in forums, games or trivia, commenting and sharing your content, and generally advocating for your brand.
On the other hand, influencers are those whose engagement has the most “impact” (think sales, leads, sign-ups) because they have a considerable reach to your targeted audience.
Your community needs to embrace both.
For your advocates who are highly engaged and promote your brand, ask yourself how else can you get them involved?
Can you create a VIP or superuser program like Spotify Stars where top users get special community access, Star-only event invites, and branded swag?
Advocates are essential to any community, so don’t stop at just giving them special badges or rewards – get creative!
As for influencers, there’s six main types:
- Mega influencers
- Macro influencers
- Micro influencers
You probably want to pass on mega influencers (aka celebrities) and focus on micro influencers.
This type of influencer’s audience ranges from 1,000 to 100,000 followers – however, while their audience may be smaller, they’re more invested in the influencer and their niche.
Micro influencers are respected because of their expertise on a topic – they usually stick to one topic, and leverage their knowledge to build their thought leadership.
For example, a micro influencer for the TripAdvisor community might be a well-known but niche travel blogger like The Points Guy or The Blonde Abroad.
Ask yourself how influencers can help grow your community.
Can you interview them? Ask them for their feedback? Give them early access to products they can review on their blog?
BONDAI client ECHO USA invited some of the most influential professional landscapers to tour the company headquarters in Lake Zurich IL, where pros got to see product demos, upcoming power tools, and have an opportunity to provide feedback.
Working closely with influencers and advocates will ultimately benefit your online community as their activity can boost traffic, memberships, sales, and engagement.
How BONDAI Can Help with Influencers & Advocates…
BONDAI can help you identify and leverage your advocates and influencers both inside and outside your community to help increase membership and engagement.
Problem #3: Your Community Lacks Real Rewards & Recognition
Your community should have inherent value for people to visit and engage outside of rewards and accumulating points, but let’s face it: people love to be rewarded and recognized.
Let’s start with a popular way to encourage engagement on your community: gamification.
An eLearning report shows that gamification can increase community engagement up to 50% and another study shows that in the next five years, gamification is expected to grow up to 46% in North America.
Some things to reward community members for with gamification:
- Creating/completing a profile
- Logging in
- Posting a comment or question
- Responding to a comment or question
- Creating a piece of content
- Sharing a piece of content
- Completing a mission or challenge
- Inviting others to community
- Watching a video
And don’t forget to highlight those who engage with leaderboards and special badges.
But don’t stop there.
Almost every community uses points and badges, so don’t expect to stand out with gamification alone.
Go Beyond Gamification
Time to get creative.
A few ideas to reward and recognize your community super users beyond points and badges:
- Gift them with unique offers and experiences
- Send them some swag
- Look into corporate gifting options based on their tastes
- Have an awards webcast and announce different category winners
- Throw a party or get together in their honour
- Invite them to your company headquarters
- Name a boardroom after them
- Interview them
- Highlight them on your internal website or in email newsletter
- If you really like them, hire them!
Autodesk has an Expert Elite Program where super users can not only earn badges, but can access special training, get software discounts, and network with other users at special events.
Now that’s some real recognition.
Well done Autodesk.
How BONDAI Can Help with Community Rewards…
BONDAI can help build your community with special offers from top brands, unique customer experiences and events, custom corporate gifting, and much more.
Problem #4: Your Community is 100% Online
Almost every online community is 100% virtual.
You might engage in a group discussion, a forum, or a chat but it’s usually with a username and an avatar – maybe a headshot if you’re lucky.
Not exactly personal.
But what if you could make your community more personal, and less avatar-ish, by taking part of it offline?
It’s not always possible to bring people together, especially with ongoing pandemics and travel costs.
But if you can, do it.
You can always start with baby steps and organize online events or networking webinars to test your community’s interests.
Cisco offers to its online community Cisco Champions, online events and educational webinars to leave the forum and comments box once in a while for richer conversations.
BONDAI client The 17th Floor holds bi-weekly online expert panels.
Ways to Take Your Community Offline for Special Meetups
- Plan an annual event for your members
- Invite VIP members to your headquarters
- Hold an awards show to reward top users
- Invite members to your industry trade show
- Hold a lunch and learn session
- Invite members to exclusive pre-product release or beta
- Treat top members to a sporting or entertainment event
- Invite your super users to lunch with an Influencer or industry expert
During these gatherings, you can plan fun activities for integration or workshops to get feedback about your products.
As a bonus, invite your company’s partners or managers so you can give your super users exclusive access to them, and vice versa.
How BONDAI Adds Offline Experiences…
BONDAI isn’t just a community platform, it’s a complete solution that helps build your community online and offline, including things like: events, meetups, contests, prizes, gifting, rewards and more.
Problem #5: Your Community Lacks the Wow Factor
Communities ask a lot of people.
Their time, their ideas, their questions, and their opinions.
So if you want your community to stand out from other communities, social media sites, apps, and games – you gotta go for the wow.
It really depends on who your audience is, and what their interests are.
Microsoft created an MVP Program (Most Valuable Professionals), where top community members can get early access to Microsoft products, receive an executive recognition letter, and even be invited to an exclusive annual event hosted at global HQ in Redmond.
If you really want to go for the high-end “wow”, take a page from Morgan Stanley.
Their top clients get access to special rewards, discounts and experiences like online golf lessons with Justin Rose or Virtual Wine Tasting with YourWineStore.
Wine tasting and golf lessons aren’t for every community, clearly.
But what about a corporate gifting solution for members?
Gifting for your community could be used to thank and reward super users for writing a blog post, hosting a webinar, solving an issue or answering questions.
A proper gifting solution could also be integrated with your community so that members could gift each other – for referrals, project completions, help and assistance, or just as a simple thank you.
But going for the wow doesn’t always mean spending money.
As mentioned above, even naming a company meeting room after a super user or highlighting them on your website can do wonders.
As always, you just gotta get creative about it.
How BONDAI Adds the “Wow”…
BONDAI helps your community go for the wow factor from our partnerships with hundreds of top brands for special offers and client experiences, and corporate gifting solutions for added touch.
Problem #6: You’re Not Tying Your Community to ROI and Business Growth
The bad news?
Most communities aren’t being measured for ROI.
Whether it’s to reduce customer support costs, increase leads and sales, or to create more brand advocacy – organizations simply aren’t bothering to measure the time, money and investment that goes into their branded community.
The good news?
Running an online community gives you rapid access to your customer’s needs and interests.
Forum chats, comments, reviews, surveys and polls will all help paint the picture of how members truly feel about your products or services.
In fact, 59% of organizations worldwide use online communities as part of their market research, according to Statista.
59% of organizations worldwide use online communities as part of their market research (Statista)
How your community can help your business:
- Get crucial feedback on product and services
- Use community members for UX or beta testing
- Consult super users on future product features
- Use community data for creating buyer personas
- Ask members for reviews, testimonials, and referrals
- Invite members to participate in focus groups
- Publish a White Paper using proprietary research/data/insights from community
- Survey members for demographic/psychographic traits for marketing
- Consult members on website and marketing materials
- Add a “community approved” badge to specific products
- Create an affiliate program for members
- Sell directly to your community
For more information on how to calculate ROI for your community check out this great resource from FeverBee.
The Last Word
Community-building is probably the hardest thing to do in all of marketing.
So don’t worry if yours isn’t living up to your standards.
If you’re wondering where to start, start with your members.
Survey them, interview them, and ask them what could make your community indispensable.
And if you’re stuck or need help, feel free to reach out to your BONDAI team.