Why Online Communities Build Brand Trust: Insights from Khoros Connect London

Graham Forsyth

"Who do you trust?" Liam Dyson, Head of Digital Product at BT, asked the audience at Khoros' recent Connect London event.

The audience response tended to be "best friends." Trusted contacts who listen. Who truly understand the person you are. People who are transparent and honest. But, importantly, people we can "have a laugh with." These five attributes, according to Dyson, are the characteristics that make for thriving online communities.

In this post we’ll take a look at the key takeaways that experts shared at the event around building trust with online communities.

Why online communities mean more than just revenue

Customers are asking brands for communities because they need a digital channel where like-minded people will listen and support them. They need to discuss and be understood, in a transparent and honest, trustworthy environment. Extra points if it’s an enjoyable experience as well.

The more significant issue is, sadly, that consumers don't trust brands. They trust their peers, and online communities can deliver substantial rewards for brands — in addition to increased revenue. To learn all of these rewards, read our whitepaper.

"If people want a dollar or pound sign to justify the success of their community, then they don't understand community at all. In fact, you're not internally selling the concept of community correctly," said Dyson.

When done well, communities have a purpose that goes beyond revenue figures. There are countless examples from brands like BT and Spotify, who have unlocked feature, product, and service opportunities from community conversations, which they have then built and delivered, to delight their customers with these new community-sourced initiatives. Spotify even has a “New Ideas” space.

Communities can save brands considerable money with customer service call deflection, reduced overhead for staff, and many other cost-saving efficiencies. Certainly this helps the business hit targets, but Dyson talks about how this often misses the point when it comes to the true value of online communities — to build brand trust by showcasing real customers and their successes.

"For a community to succeed, you need to shout about all the successes. Start small and make sure everyone knows about all of the wins. Success isn't about chasing the 'magic KPI'. You have to continually challenge the thinking of teams around you until they realise community is absolutely the right thing to do."

However, is there an issue that customers will use communities as a place to moan about product and service? “Of course," said Dyson. "But if they don't moan in your community, you can be sure they'll go and moan on another channel."

Built for users, owned by users

Justine Roberts, CEO and Founder of Mumsnet, the UK’s largest network for parents, has built a community over the past 19 years which now has around 10 million unique visitors per month clocking up about 100 million page views.

The aim of Mumsnet is simple. To make parents' lives easier by pooling knowledge, advice and support. They try, as much as possible, to let the conversation flow and not to over-moderate, because, as Roberts said at Khoros Connect London, "Mumsnet is a site for grown-ups."

Roberts started Mumsnet from scratch. After a disaster holiday with her new-born twins, she wanted to build a platform where parents, particularly mums, could share thoughts and experiences. Success early on, conceded Roberts, was very much looking at engagement metrics and community growth. But now, much like Dyson, Roberts believes that success lies in the difference that the Mumsnet community can make.

She declares that Mumsnet is now an “opinion site” — a phrase which might strike fear into brands — and Roberts acknowledges that she might divide opinion, and people might not always agree with her. However, Mumsnet has been able to tackle critical parental issues and challenge conventional thinking.

"People want the authenticity of real experiences and how different people dealt with different situations — and that's timeless.” says Roberts. “Often people just need to know there is a way through certain situations, that things change and pass, and that you can survive, and that's the job that Mumsnet is doing."

Being trusted is a greater compliment than being loved

Perhaps we're now seeing an end of the concept of brand love? The idea that brands can achieve this lofty status of engagement feels unrealistic, largely because people's expectations of brands have changed.

In Khoros' recently commissioned research with Forrester Consulting, the gap between what a brand believes customers need, and what customers actually want, is alarming.

Brands are seemingly blind to the fact that a disappointing customer experience will result in a customer stopping their purchases from that brand. Only 19% of brands surveyed believed this to be true. The reality is that 62% of customers say they would stop buying from a brand following a disappointing experience.

64% of consumers who have a negative customer experience with a brand will tell others in person what happened. Only 38% of brands thought this would be the case.

Customers may turn to social channels for speed and efficiency, but not at the detriment of “human” experiences. 82% of surveyed customers are more loyal to brands who respond to and resolve their complaints — and 78% of consumers expect brands' internal teams to collaborate, so they don't have to repeat themselves or receive impersonal communications.

Customers don't want to love brands. They want to trust them. However, worryingly, nearly 3 out of 4 brands agree it's difficult or impossible to manage the holistic customer experience when systems, tools, and/or teams aren't integrated.

To build trust, lead with community

Trust can't be built if brands are not able to deliver the experience and service that a customer expects. However, community is certainly a strategy and a channel which can go a long way in building positive relationships.

In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report they demonstrated that the most effective channel sequence for earning trust in a message, amongst those who are not customers, is by beginning with peer conversation as the first exposure. From here, consumers are more open to your “owned” message, with 74% trusting that brand engagement.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. The only business strategy left for long-term success is to build trust with your customers. To earn the highest levels of consumer trust, brands need to understand their needs, deliver on the promise they make, and only then can we contemplate creating customers for life.

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