The Benefits of Online Social Communities over Other Forms of Social Networks

If I asked whether your business was active on social media, you’d probably answer quite quickly with a “yes!” If I asked whether you were seeing the results expected from your investment, I am not too convinced you’d confidently answer another “yes.” For many brands, their social media efforts are not providing the results in which they were hoping and many are realising that social media just isn’t the place to build valuable and long lasting relationships with their audiences.

If you manage any type of Facebook business page you are all too aware of the diminishing reach of your posts. Research from Forrester states that social media posts only reach 2% of their audience on social networks and of those is only shared or liked by 0.2%. This could partly be attributed to the reality that Social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn are predominantly relationship-driven, which means we go there to connect with our friends and peers. What’s more, the average Facebook user only likes an average of 10 business pages and even when a consumer actually clicks the ‘like’ button, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a desire to engage. The harsh truth is, social media messages are not only not reaching their intended audiences, but those audiences are not engaging with them either.

As organic reach on social networks plummets, brands are searching for alternative means to accommodate their customer engagement requirements, in ways that social networks alone cannot accommodate. For marketers to make this happen, they need to take an inward look and bring engagement home. For this reason, many organisations are creating online communities or social networks of their own.

Online communities in this sense, take social networks a step further in that they are purpose-driven. Savvy organisations are acknowledging that audiences connected by the need to solve a business use case problem, (communities such as a self-help customer support community, voice of the customer, ask the expert etc.), rather than their offline social connections, offer a richer opportunity to increase and enhance engagement with their audiences – engagement increasingly eliminated by the lack of organic social reach.

Branded communities are not a new concept; some of the first communities started in the form of forums, even before the creation of blogs. In fact, Forrester’s Nate Elliott predicted that as social media matures, branded communities would make a comeback.

Here are more top reasons to invest in an online community, rather than rely on external social networks for building and maintaining relationships with your audiences:

  • Unrivaled Returns engaged community members generate word of mouth, provide authentic content and real-life insights. A social community will strengthen your brand messages, increase customer loyalty, reduce marketing costs and drive sales.
  • Empower Your Customersenabling customers to spread the word about your brand can have great effect on awareness, trial and sales. People trust personal recommendations over all other forms of advertising. Engaged and loyal consumers recommending your brand to a wider audience will create an even bigger customer base.
  • Own Your Insights – the best way to get accurate insights about your brand is to ask your audience directly. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with your audience will ensure your brand stays front of mind.  What’s more, rather than generating insights from third parties an online social community allows you to gain insights from thousands of people in real life – unlike data from social media, you own it and can use it in a way which benefits you.
  • Unlock The Full Potential Of Your CRM – by adding a social element to your CRM you can join the dots between the real people that are your customers and data streams – engaging and activating existing customers form a powerful marketing force.

That is not to say that I advocate brands not investing in their social network presence. Facebook and LinkedIn are extremely worthwhile ‘pay-to-play’ networks for targeted and personalised reach. However, they are no longer reliable as the sole networks for organic conversations, or as a complete solution for supporting customer questions. Both social media and online branded communities should be in your toolbox if you’re trying to engage with your audience, whether that is your customers, fans, partners, or prospects. To assess whether social media or an online community is right to achieve your business objectives, see the 4 Roads social media and online community guide.

Bringing engagement home to a fully owned community makes complete sense in a customer-centered strategy. What steps are you taking to enhance your customer relationships online?