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The idea of building brand communities and using them to enhance marketing efforts is red hot. It’s all over Forbes, Venture Capital, Inc, and more. But how does it work? Marketers typically think their main purpose is to educate people about their brand’s products. But often the first original purpose of marketing is to create demand for a product or service.
Most consumers have access to more information than they know what to do with. They don’t need any more, and even if they did, they don’t trust most sources anyway. What they need is proof that a solution works and that a brand is committed to helping them solve a problem beyond selling a product. If you’re looking to impact sustainable behavioral change amongst your customers, the most effective means is an online community. Communities are built on the foundation of trust and common experience. This is why community-led marketing works: because it is focused on the larger purpose and the people who care about that purpose.
Here at Khoros, we see hundreds of brand communities harnessing the power of prospects, customers, employees, and more. There are too many benefits to count. But here are six of the best.
The average Khoros-powered community gets 70% of its traffic from organic search. That’s because these communities are built with Google and other search engines in mind: they combine dynamic, customer driven forums and blogs with expert community management. This is exactly the sort of content that Google wants to show web searchers, which is why we see so many of our communities doing so well with organic search traffic.
Brands can further increase traffic and trust by embedding these community conversations into ecommerce, support, and content hubs using features like community syndication.
With brands spending nearly $80 billion on SEO every year, this search traffic represents an immense value. On top of that, most community content is generated by customers, meaning it costs a brand less to produce and has a higher ranking in search algorithms than brand-generated content.
SEO benefits are even more apparent for industries with a lot of specialized knowledge and technical expertise. Intuit, the financial tech company behind Quickbooks, saw a 169% increase in community traffic last year and a 41% increase in engagement for solutions based on their increased efforts in their communities.
Branded communities organically encourage user-generated content. Customers, prospects, and even employees use the community to seek solutions to problems, solve other users’ problems, or share their own successes using particular products or services. The best part about this engagement is that it doesn’t necessarily require a response from the brand; users are speaking primarily to one another within the community.
This user-generated content is valuable for many purposes, including syndication and call deflection, but perhaps the most important benefit is that it’s more trusted than brand-generated content. This is true for the same reason that people trust customer reviews more than product descriptions: they come from peers who have nothing to gain when the product sells. This makes user-generated content an incredibly valuable asset for any brand looking to build trust among its customers.
Social validation is a key component of any brand community. Social validation occurs when uncertain consumers look to the successful actions of others to guide their own actions. Communities are perfect places for crowdsourcing customers because they encourage the very type of peer-to-peer interaction that leads to social validation.
In today’s world, consumer trust and influence (i.e., social validation) are hard to come by. At the heart of social validation are people who share similar goals and struggles. On one end of the spectrum is traditional media, like television, which is a low source of trust and influence, while consumer influencers are more trusted.
Social validation is all around us. Four of the top ten sites on the internet today exist primarily because of social validation: Youtube, Wikipedia, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Reddit are all based on user-generated content. The billions of people that use these sites every day are often seeking guidance about solving a problem.
A branded community, unlike traditional social media platforms, is a central place, designed and managed by the brand itself, where prospects, customers, and employees gather to meet, learn from, and support one another. Online communities can help marketers bring people with the same interests together in one place, simplifying the process of social validation and increasing customer satisfaction. NetApp, for example, onboarded a Khoros-powered community to achieve greater ROI and improve the customer experience. With Khoros, their customer satisfaction increased by 13.5%.
Once people engage in a community through posts, comments, and likes, they tend to become invested in the community itself. This means they stick around to try to improve the community experience for other customers. Eventually, the most engaged users will turn into advocates for the brand itself.
Brands often take advantage of this tendency by integrating their communities with broader loyalty programs and event marketing to build efficient and connected customer networks.
Adobe is one brand doing an incredible job of this: to create a thriving super user program, they launched enhanced gamification features within their community. They use rewards to drive engagement amongst members and incentivize participation in different areas of the community. The most active and helpful members — the super users — can highlight their achievements and contributions, while community visitors benefit from increased collaboration and peer-to-peer service.
People — customers, prospects, even employees — want to tell you how to grow and improve your business. They’re brimming with ideas and innovations that can create a better, more efficient experience, not to mention better products and services. The problem is that they don’t always have a good place to share these insights. That’s where a community comes in. A community can generate not only ideas but momentum and the ability to iterate quickly with customers. It can also make consumers feel empowered to influence the way their favorite companies and products work. When brands actually listen to that feedback, it creates even more loyalty and passion among customers.
Powerschool is one leader in this area. They created an Ideas Portal within their community, where users can now share product ideas both to other customers and directly to the Powerschool team. Their product teams review and update statuses of ideas regularly and, just a year after launch, Powerschool saw over 4,765 ideas submitted through the portal.
Modern enterprises require more partnership and collaboration than ever before to deliver timely solutions to the broadest possible markets. Many of Khoros’s customer communities are thriving ecosystems where these partners can participate directly with employees, customers, and others to share resources and build better experiences.
Microsoft’s PowerApps Community isn’t just a place where users engage with each other to answer questions. It’s also a place where a powerful group of Microsoft Community MVPs grow their businesses and revenue through building their own reputations as helpful, trusted advisors and consultants. These MVPs aren’t employed by Microsoft, but recognized and verified as successful contributors who can provide information to and promote Microsoft products and services to other community members. This allows them to expand their own businesses by having access to the vast array of Microsoft customers within the PowerApps Community.
Another great example here is Schneider Electric. To reach their goal of improving the energy industry as a whole, they designed a comprehensive open business platform that housed their online Khoros-powered community, a developer corner and a Marketplace. The result, which they call the Schneider Electric Exchange, makes it easier for their entire ecosystem to find and instantly connect with a wide variety of verified experts. And those experts solve up to 90% of problems posted in their most engaged forums.
Marketing, like any form of customer interaction, is extremely challenging today’s top brands. People have less trust in institutions, and they are more capable of finding any information they need from their peers via dozens of highly active social networks.
To succeed in this competitive environment, brands should concern themselves with serving a larger brand purpose rather than (just) creating new information. Create a community environment that others want to be a part of. They find value in your content, can trust and rely on peers, validate their business decisions, and gain inspiration to innovate. Doing this will build a community and yield all of the benefits enumerated above in a way that creates trust and long term success. As a bonus, a brand community can yield better results, and is ultimately far more rewarding than the traditional use of ads, outreach, and content.
Connect with Khoros to find out more about how a branded community can accelerate your business and increase your bottom line.