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Connecting with customers online has never been more important. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of options for brands to do so, including social media platforms, websites, and online brand communities. With online communities, brands can interact with their customers in a variety of ways, from offering customer support, creating a space for peer-to-peer information sharing, fostering lasting brand relationships, and more.
In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about online communities, including examples from leading brands with insights on what makes them successful.
An online community, also known as an internet community, social community, or digital community — is a community hosted over the web that allows people with a common interest to interact online. Online communities can exist for any shared interest and enable its members to ask questions, discuss topics, share content, or work towards a common goal.
These communities can be small, with only a few users, or large, with millions of users worldwide. Each online community has a unique set of rules and guidelines based on its size and purpose.
There are three types of online communities, each with a unique purpose.
Support communities: A place for users to request and provide help on a specific subject, such as an auto-repair community where people can ask for maintenance and repair help.
Discussion communities: A place for users to discuss a common interest, such as a community where people can talk about their favorite TV show, sports team, or a hobby like woodworking.
Action communities: A place for users to plan and work towards a common goal together, such as a community focused on organizing fundraisers for charitable causes.
Brands can build online communities that incorporate these features to provide a space for customers to discuss their products, services, or industries. Online brand communities are typically managed by the brand, though some brands may give some super-users moderation privileges to take on a more active role. By giving users a larger role in the brand’s online community, brands can help increase customer trust and loyalty.
Building an online brand community is one of the best ways to support your brand. Here are some of the most notable benefits of having an online community:
Grow customer loyalty: An online community gives customers a place to ask questions, provide answers, or discuss all things related to your brand. Customers build trust and loyalty towards your brand by actively engaging with other community members.
Add value for your customers: We found that 75% of consumers see value from interacting with others in an online brand community. These interactions can encourage potential customers to choose you over competitors and help retain existing customers for life.
Deflect support volume with self-service: By giving your customers a community to ask and answer questions on their own through self-service, you can both deflect calls and improve customer satisfaction. In fact, the Harvard Business Review found “81% of customers will attempt to take care of issues themselves before reaching out to a live representative.”
Gain feedback: Brands can monitor their online community to better understand their customers, including what they like and dislike. Customers may even provide suggestions for new products and services.
The following four brands offer excellent, diverse examples of how great online communities can function. We also explore how each brand achieves its core purpose so well.
Visa created a Khoros-powered online community to connect external developers to the Visa Developer Team, allowing them to interact and inspire each other, and so that information could be freely shared.
Visa personalized their community for these users, and they were rewarded with a 124% increase in community members.
Now, Visa can engage with their community members in the ways those members want, fostering loyalty among external developers and community members as a whole.
This online community has been incredibly successful for Visa by internal company measures, including a 1,300% increase in kudos from their members. Their community has also been recognized externally: Visa recently won a Dev Portal Award for the Best Community Spotlight, and also won the public vote for the Best Overall Developer Portal.
Takeaway: A great online community can support collaboration between members outside an organization and employees within, leading to a stronger brand.
Telecommunications giant Telstra wanted to offer a complete customer care experience that included a place for customers to gather and interact, without needing the brand to enable them to do so.
To meet their needs, they built an online community with Khoros where customers could connect both with each other and with the brand. Telstra’s community now offers authentic digital customer care coupled with a platform where customers can discuss products and services with each other directly and crowdsource solutions.
The peer-to-peer support that Telstra’s online community provides has helped the brand offer 24/7 customer care and enabled the creation of more than 20K pieces of content in the first five months of the community's existence.
Takeaway: Combining the power of digital customer care agents with knowledgeable members of a great online community allows brands to address many more customer concerns than with agents alone.
HP needed a way to offer 24/7 support to a global, diverse customer base. To reach their goals, they built an online community with Khoros. Before this partnership, one of the biggest obstacles that HP customer support agents faced was spending too much time responding to logistical questions and not enough time truly engaging with customers to build brand loyalty.
But with their online community, HP can now archive answers, giving customers a quick, simple place to find solutions to common concerns, leaving agents free to engage with customers on a deeper level.
HP was also recognized externally: they won the Lithy Award for Total Community All Star, an award that recognizes exceptional community work.
Takeaway: Great online communities can help free up your brand’s digital customer care agents by keeping the answers to common logistical questions in one easily-searchable place.
Virgin Mobile Australia’s digital support staff couldn’t keep up with the brand’s growing social presence – customer inquiries went unanswered, and agent response times were too high. To manage its ever-increasing online presence, Virgin built an online community.
Within this community, Virgin created a centralized place where customers could find peer-to-peer support in the form of community forums and articles with relevant information in which customers can now find answers without contacting the call center. Because of this approach, Virgin can now field a significantly higher level of social media interactions.
Virgin’s NPS (Net Promoter Score) increased after they implemented their community, and they also achieved 435 peer-to-peer accepted solutions within the first year of their community’s existence. Not only that, Virgin Mobile Australia was also recognized with a Lithy Award.
Takeaway: A great online community can help your brand manage a high volume of social media interactions while also fostering more robust brand-customer relationships.
The best online communities have a few things in common. We’ve written extensively about the features of a successful online community, but here’s a shortened list of key contributing factors:
Khoros helps brands fuel growth with an authentic, trusted online community. Leading brands use their Khoros-powered community to acquire new customers, increase the lifetime value of existing customers, accelerate issue resolution, reduce service costs, and more.