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How to Create an Online Brand Community

How to Create an Online Brand Community

In a cookie-less, post-pandemic world online brand communities will be more important than ever. Here’s how you can build one.

Imagine being able to say that your most loyal customers spend 36.5 hours on your site a week.

Sephora, a multinational retailer of personal care and beauty products, has achieved just that with its Beauty Board.

The crowning achievement is the forum’s “Talk About It” section, which is a Reddit-style forum where people can crowdsource expertise from other Sephora-lovers.

Put another way, Sephora turned its customers into brand ambassadors, inspiring others to purchase their products.

The moral of the story? Good things happen when you create an online brand community.

What Is an Online Brand Community?

An online brand community is a digital gathering place for people with a shared interest that relates to your business.

You don’t need to be a multinational company with broad appeal like Sephora to create one. There are online brand communities for power tool users, mountain bikers, and HR professionals

They’re so widespread because they work. On average, brand community strategies generate a whopping 6,469% ROI. You can use branded online communities to:

  • Conduct product or customer research
  • Reduce customer service costs as customers answer each others questions
  • Increase engagement as customers have a reason to return to your brand
  • Build brand loyalty

What are the Different Types of Online Brand Communities?

If you want to create an online brand community, you need to first decide what kind of community you want. 

To make this decision, consider what the purpose of your community is. 

For example, if you sell camping equipment, you could create a community called “The Explorers” with the purpose of giving everyone from first-time campers to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts a forum to discuss everything from camping gear to national parks.

If you’re not exactly sure what kind of community you want, these three types–and examples–will give you some ideas.

1. Discussion Communities

Sephora’s Beauty Board is an online discussion community, i.e., it’s a place where people share experiences and thoughts on a specific interest. Another example from a completely different industry is Lattice’s free Slack community.

2. Support Communities

Support communities provide resources for people in need of help. For example, the Toyota Owners Club provides a free community for people. They can filter right down to the model of the car they bought and then ask specific questions.

3. Action Communities

Action communities aim to push people towards doing something. For example, USA Triathlon has a branded community on Strava where people can share their daily training activities.

How to Create a Branded Online Community

Once you’ve decided on the type of community you want to build, there are two important things you need to do.

1. Decide where you want to host your community

Brands building a community online have tons of platforms out there that they can choose from. 

You basically need to decide if you’re going to use Slack, Facebook Groups, or something else.

There are a lot of detailed articles on their respective pros and cons.

All this to say, we recommend you do your research and choose carefully as it will be a key ingredient in your overall success. 

2.  Invite People to Join Your Brand Community

Once you’ve decided on where your community is going to live, you’ll need to promote it. (All of the best online brand communities have a thriving base of community members.)

You can partner with influencers, send out an email blast, set up a referral program, or run social media ads.

These channels all have their merits. But one way we’ve seen a lot of brands have success is by using text messaging.

Not only do you benefit from 98% open rates, but this approach has two benefits:

  • Since people are comfortable handing over their phone number, they’re likely the kind of person interested in also joining your online forum
  • You’re building two owned channels at the same time–one that you can use for SMS marketing

How you use text messages to promote your community will depend on your industry but here are some of the most common strategies.

Use Product Inserts

If you’re a DTC brand, you can include a product insert in your packaging with a keyword. (A keyword is a word or phrase that customers can text to a phone number to subscribe to future messages.)

For example, “We hope you’re happy with your Canyon Bike. Text ‘CANYON’ to (800) 123-4567 to join our road biking community for tips on maintenance, assembly and training.”

When someone texts “CANYON,” they automatically receive a message like this.

Today 8:25 AM
CANYON
Thanks for your interest in our road biking community. It’s a great resource for the occasional weekend warrior or the daily cyclist, the beginner, or the pro. You can sign up here: https://txt.so/sae

This is how easy it is to set up. 

Collect Phone Numbers and Set Up an Autoresponder

Another approach that our customer Dad Bod Health uses is to collect phone numbers through a landing page. 

In a series of follow-up texts–known as an autoresponder–the personal training business provides a link to its Facebook group

Everytime there’s a livestream inside the Facebook group, the text list receives two SMS notifications: one the day of, and another notification a few minutes before the stream goes live.

Using Text Messaging to Build a Strong Community

If you want to build a strong community around your personal brand, then you can cut out the middleman and use text messaging as your community management tool.

For example, Gary V’s text messages are both a distribution channel for his content and a way to engage his fans one-on-one.

Other celebrities have been applying the same approach using the Community text app. (We’re the inexpensive, open alternative). 

Our customer Lindsey Eryn is a great example of an entrepreneur that uses texts to build strong relationships.

Are You Ready to Build an Online Community?

A community-based marketing strategy is an excellent way to increase customer loyalty. 

Done right, you’ll build lasting relationships and discover brand new sources of growth for your business. 

The reason is simple: good marketing puts people at the center of everything. And that’s exactly what an online community does.

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