Many businesses still think of their customers as little more than transactions; figures that look good on their end-of-month accounts. Marketing teams often obsess over reaching as many people as possible. However, it’s not just big audiences and impressive numbers that define business success. Far more important, in fact, is engagement, and that’s exactly how brands with great communities manage to grow so fast. That’s why many companies are now heavily investing in brand communities.

When it comes to brand communities, many companies immediately think of Facebook, where they invest thousands into paid advertising to build up their follower counts. Only later do they find that not one of those followers actually becomes a paying customer, let alone an engaged member of the community. At least, that’s often the case with niche businesses, which rely heavily on smaller audiences of engaged users, rather than countless thousands of profiles.

What are brand communities, and why do they matter?

Sure, you can create a branded Facebook page with your own logo and timeline image, but everything you post, as well as the visibility of all your posts on the network, is ultimately under the control of the platform. As it so happens, the platform also wants to steer its business users towards paid advertising. In other words, the community isn’t really yours. It’s simply content and profiles that sit on top of someone else’s platform.

A brand community is a very different beast. It’s an owned digital asset that’s yours alone to build, manage and engage with. They’re exclusive spaces that foster meaningful connections between organizations and their customers. The simplest brand communities are just website forums, which provide a space for customers to seek support, provide feedback or simply to connect with one another to share their passions.

What makes brand communities different from other more marketing-focussed platforms is that they’re built primarily to serve the needs of the customer, rather than the business. With customer success, however, comes business success. Marketing is no longer about disrupting people; it’s about two-way conversation. It’s more personal and consumer-driven than ever before. That’s what makes a branded community your one-stop shop for increasing customer satisfaction, providing support, research and development and every other type of interaction.

Determine what you want to achieve

Building your own brand community is a lot more complicated and time-consuming than simply launching a business page on Facebook or Instagram. It’s also a lot more rewarding if you do it right. Firstly, let’s get one important thing out the way – brand communities aren’t a place for you to constantly pitch your latest products. It’s much more than that. It’s about relationships. It’s about having people become a part of something, and it’s exactly that sense of exclusivity that fosters brand advocacy.

Your community should serve to empower your customers. To do that, you’ll need to put them first when defining your goals. Ask yourself what their pain points are and why they would want to join up. The trainees of a coach or mentor, for example, might want a space to connect with others taking the same course as well as receive updates and announcements on upcoming sessions. Diners at a restaurant chain might be looking for an easy way to see what’s on the daily menu or perhaps share their own ideas. Politicians may want an effective way to connect directly with their constituents. The fact is, just about any niche can benefit from having its own private community.

Choose your platform

To build the perfect community, you’re going to need the right technology. Most popular brands have their own self-hosted communities using customizable forum software, but there’s a lot more to building a private social network than simply installing a content management system (CMS) and then leaving it to look after itself. The ideal solution depends on your goals, industry and customers. Let’s look at some of the key considerations:

Mobile vs. Desktop

These days, mobile-first is the preferred approach, but the best solution will vary depending on your customers. Many businesses will want to have both. Traditional website forums, for example, tend to work better for very content-heavy organizations with large user bases, but it really depends on where your target audience likes to hang out. For consumer-orientated businesses, such as retail, catering and personal development, a community mobile app offers maximum availability and allows your users stay connected no matter where they are. Given the ubiquity of smartphones, that’s probably where you’ll want to start.

Integrations

Conventional forum software is often nothing more than a glorified bulletin board. While there’s nothing wrong with that, chances are you’ll have more specific needs in mind when building your brand community. For example, you might want to integrate your email marketing system to keep members informed about new posts. If you want to monetise your community, you’ll be better off choosing a platform that integrates with your ecommerce platform, rather than having to lead people away from the app. Since the entire purpose of brand communities is to boost engagement, you’ll want to reduce the need to use other apps or websites as much as possible.

Customisation

Uniqueness is a core characteristic of any branded community. If you’re developing your own community mobile app or website forum, you should be able to pick and choose the features you want and personalize to your heart’s content. To start with, you’ll want to preserve your branding with your colour palette, icons, backgrounds and other visual elements. Afterwards, you’ll want to choose the features needed to achieve your goals. These might include custom notifications, integrated shopping features, gamification, premium content and feeds that your users can personalise. Just make sure to avoid feature bloat; select only what you need to get the job done.

Analytics

Every digital action generates data, which provides in-depth insights into your target audience. You can use this data to track engagement metrics, such as active member counts, content views, audience demographics and more. With these insights, you can continuously improve your offer by uncovering new ways to improve usability, engagement levels and sales. After a time, you’ll develop an intimate understanding of your target audience and their needs and pain points. That’s where the power of branded communities really shines – the insights they provide you will feed directly into every aspect of your business to help you deliver ever greater value to your customers.

Inspire emotional connections

Brand advocacy is the holy grail of marketing, and it’s born of undying loyalty. Why is it that iPhone users are happy to spend twice as much on their smartphones, or line up for several days straight whenever a new model is released? Though many users would wholeheartedly disagree, it’s not because their products are better than everyone else’s. It’s because they have a highly engaged community in which members consider their iPhones to be part of their identities. They have an emotional bond with the brand, powered by a sense of belonging.

Everyone likes to be part of something. Relationships grow out of shared interests, which isn’t going to happen if you’re trying to be everything to everyone. Making emotional connections comes with being at one with your target audience. Brand communities are like exclusive clubs in that way; a club that members are fiercely loyal to and will happily recommend to their peers. That’s when brand advocacy becomes your most valuable marketing asset, and it’s all born from meaningful engagements and real human relationships.

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your brand community by telling us about your community goals.