Humans are social by nature and have an inherent tendency to embrace community when they have the ability to do so to their benefit. In today's rapidly evolving digital business world, smart, forward-thinking companies should look to leverage this inclination to delight their customers and, in turn, their bottom lines.
One of the mantras here at HIVE Strategy is to market like a human. It's a reminder that even in today's digital world, with endless automation at our disposal and new-age ways of analyzing buyer data, we don't lose sight of the simple fact we are still marketing and selling to other humans. What could be more human than community?
What are Online Communities?
Online communities are a space for collaboration, learning, and active engagement with like-minded people that share similar goals. A space for people to come together and interact that fosters new growth and invaluable relevance in an increasingly competitive digital landscape. If you can evolve more quickly and effectively than others in your industry, you will likely succeed. The fuel to evolution is understanding your customer. Building an online customer community gives you the unique opportunity to listen directly to your customers so you can better understand them.
Building an online community may seem like a daunting task. One you aren't sure is worth pursuing. But if you don't, your competition will likely do so, as the benefits are immense. Below I'll discuss three key benefits of building an online community.
1. Communities Help You Learn and Improve
As time goes on and you learn more about your business and your customers, one thing becomes clear; you don't know everything. In fact, it may feel like you are less knowledgeable because you better understand how much you don't know. Understanding your customers is a continuous goal every business strives for. The better you know your customer, the better you can reach them, influence them, and tailor your offerings to them.
Having an online community gives you the unique advantage of gaining more knowledge about your customers. We live in a fast-paced digital age where customer needs and preferences change quickly. Being more equipped and able to anticipate what your customers want and responding to those needs gives you a powerful competitive advantage.
Communities naturally talk about the problems and issues they're having. The ability to discuss these things is a significant motivating factor behind joining a community. Community members have an issue and are looking to crowdsource insight from like-minded people and those in similar positions with similar experiences. No one is more in-tune with your customers' needs than your customers themselves.
Having an online community allows you to tap directly into the source. Suppose you want to understand areas of opportunity, innovate your product or service, and increase overall customer satisfaction. Your customer community will be your best resource.
2. Communities Help Build Brand Loyalty
It's a fact from before the internet age that community participation and pride in the community go hand in hand. Today we find people spending more time online. Community participation is no longer restricted primarily to one's local geographic community. Online communities aren't much different than traditional geographic communities. Participation leads to an increased sense of pride in the community.
If you can build an online social community in which people willfully spend time participating, the result is an increased sense of pride in that community. A feeling that is now associated with your brand. Any marketer will tell you that eliciting a sense of pride in association with your brand is invaluable. This is the heart of brand loyalty.
Combine this feeling of pride with the idea that there is only a limited amount of waking hours in a day, and any willful time spent engaging with your online community is a privilege. Without an online community, a buyer's only opportunity to invest their time into your business comes directly from your product or service. The more time willfully invested = the higher the probability of brand loyalty.
3. Communities Improve Customer Success
Building an online community can lead to a feeling of pride associated with your brand and an increased sense of trust, but there's more. If there is continued engagement with your community, it must be for a reason. If done right, there is a reward associated with engagement in your community.
As a small or medium-sized business, you can only produce so much educational content and direct support. You can only dedicate so much time, expertise, and effort to answering customer questions. This is where your community can fill in the blanks.
In fact, this article by Forrester explains how customers would prefer not to have to call you for support and instead are choosing self-service options to answer their questions. One of the best, lowest-cost ways to provide customers with the high quality and quick customer service they demand is to provide them with a question-and-answer space within your online community. This provides an ever-expanding and dynamic resource of customer support-related content. The more support customers have available to them from others in similar situations, the more success there will be within your customer base.
This is likely one of the main reasons community members joined in the first place. They find value in interacting with other customers that experience similar problems and can provide answers and insights into theirs. Finding resolutions to their issues and discovering better paths to success is a reward. Customer success is a definitive reward of participation in an online customer community. On the flip side, assisting others in the community is rewarding in and of itself. Teaching others is often one of the best ways to expand your knowledge and, in turn, your success.
An Example of an Online Community
One of our favorite online communities is the HubSpot Community. HubSpot has leveraged its online community so well and values its community-building efforts so much that every year they host INBOUND, one of the largest marketing conferences in the world. You can learn about our team's time at INBOUND '22 here.
Although HubSpot has a robust live support team, we still gain a lot of value from reading about others' experiences and creative resolutions to a myriad of issues. Our customers also find a lot of value in engaging with the community when looking for quick resolutions to their HubSpot questions. If you're running into an issue or have a question, chances are someone else has as well.
Building an online community may be the competitive edge and positive change you have been looking for. Particularly as you look to adapt as effectively as possible to the new post-pandemic digital era. Of which, the fight for relevance has gotten more difficult. Providing customers and like-minded individuals with the opportunity to connect, interact, help one another succeed, learn together, and advocate all within YOUR online space significantly helps keep your business relevant. It also allows you to connect more directly and intimately with your customers than normal social channels allow.
Customer participation in your online community gives you the unique ability to learn about the needs and trends of your customers directly, offers the strongest ingredients for brand loyalty, and will lead to new heights of overall success for your customers and your business alike.