What is an Online Community?
  • Communities

What is an Online Community?

by Khoros Staff | Mar 10, 2020
One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction and retention is to develop and nurture an online customer community. 

But what is an online community? In this blog post, we will discuss the definition of an online community as well as the purpose these communities serve for both members and organizations.

After reading, you will not only understand what an online community is but also how to develop a thriving community of your own

Online community definition

Also known as a social community, virtual community, or internet community, an online community is a group of people held together by a common interest or purpose who interact with each other online. There are three types of online communities:

  • Discussion Communities
  • Support Communities
  • Action Communities

To learn more about types of online communities, read our blog post here.

How is an online community different from a social network?

An online community is both a technology platform and hub for peer-to-peer collaboration, but it is not the same as a social network. While the glue that holds community members together is a common interest such as a hobby, profession, or cause, a social network is held together by pre-established personal relationships.

Successful social networks must have some form of community for their members to interact and build their relationships. Without communities, social networks are merely glorified phone books and contact lists.

Check out our blog post on the differences between social communities and social networks to learn more.

What’s the value of online communities to brands

While online communities are engaging and beneficial to members, they can be even more valuable for the brands and organizations behind them. If you’ve considered starting a community of your own, keep these three benefits in mind.

Improved customer support and experience

While the quality of your product is still important, it’s not the only thing your customers care about anymore. According to a Microsoft report, 61% of customers say that they have stopped doing business with a brand due to poor customer service experience.

To combat this, brands are improving their customer experience through online communities. Online communities give customers additional channels to interact with your brand, ask questions, and learn about your product. Having an online community could be the differentiator between your business and a competitor’s to a customer. According to an Incyte Group whitepaper, 27.3% of consumers responded that they use online communities dedicated to a product or service when conducting research on whether or not to become a customer.

Brand loyalty and advocacy

Online communities are an innovative way to improve customer retention and build brand loyalty. Why is this important? Not only are satisfied customers five times more likely to purchase something from your business again, but also four times more likely to refer your brand to friends and family.

These referrals aren’t likely to fall on deaf ears, either. Nielsen's 2015 Global Trust in Advertising report found that 83% of consumers say they trust recommendations from their peers, and Hubspot found that 81% of consumers say that they are more likely to trust advice from peers over advice from businesses.

Market research and feedback

Online communities create a direct line of communication between brands and customers. These communication channels are important for building your customers’ trust, too. In fact, Microsoft found that 90% of customers think that they should be able to provide feedback to businesses, but only 24% believe they are given the opportunity to provide feedback often or almost always.

Utilizing an online community will help you collaborate with your customers and improve your product and customer experience. These efforts have a strong ROI, too, a study from Bain & Company found that businesses that accept customer feedback and focus on improving their company from a customer experience standpoint drive four to eight percent more revenue than competitors.

To take advantage of the business benefits of an online community, it’s important to build a community with your customers in mind. An effective online community is one that fosters collaboration and satisfies users.

But how did these brands develop successful online communities? Successful communities of all topics consistently deliver a few essential values. If you want to create an online community of your own, keep these three building blocks in mind to ensure your online community has a strong foundation.

1. Keep it on topic

Community success in large part is predicated on the existence of a shared purpose. Shared purpose answers the question of why someone should invest time in a community. It’s the bridge between the brand promise and the brand purpose; ultimately, it’s what the brand and the customer aspire to create together.

Whatever the shared purpose of your community may be, your members joined because they wished to interact with like-minded people. Discussions may veer outside of your intended niche, but as a whole, your community should be centered around it’s shared purpose. Not only will this spawn great insight and information, but it will also aid in member retention.

To define your community’s shared purpose, ask yourself these five questions.

2. Keep it useful

Great communities are useful. They are places where interaction is easy, where members become immediately engaged because they can quickly find what they need and collaborate to solve problems. Ensuring customers are always one click away from the information they need is a great place to start when mapping out a useful community.

3. Empower and engage your audience

Customers expect more than just information and service online. They expect engaging experiences, motivations to interact, and opportunities to contribute and be rewarded for their efforts.

An online community goes a long way towards engaging community members and making them feel valued.

Empowering your most active members and making them feel valuable will have benefits for your business, too. This influential group will quickly become your brand advocates, those who actively assist other customers and develop valuable suggestions on how to improve your community and products. And as we discussed earlier in this post, brand loyalty and advocacy improves customer retention and increases revenue.

To learn how to increase customer engagement in your online community, read our blog post here.

Is an online community right for your organization? Let us help

If you think that an online community is right for your organization but don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. At Khoros, we pride ourselves on our customers’ experience and success. We have over 15 years of experience and more resources than any other vendor to help you create a thriving online community of your own and take advantage of the business benefits these communities create. Learn more about our community platform to get started today.


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