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Ecommerce owner Amanda Goetz of House of Wise predicted that the future of Direct to Consumer (DTC) is Direct to Community. And after this year, it’s not hard to see why. Many brands give a large percentage of their budget to Google and Facebook ads—and for new brands who don't have a solid email, product marketing, or retargeting strategy, ads are used to hit monthly sales goals (I’ve been there it isn’t fun).
Staying on top of never-ending algorithm changes plus Apple’s iOS14 privacy changes have made one thing clear—eCommerce brands can’t heavily rely on paid channels. This phenomenon has brands on the lookout for how they can increase and leverage owned audiences. So how do brands go about finding these audiences? I’ll tell you in two words: Community marketing.
What is community marketing?
Community marketing is bringing customers together to engage in conversation that usually happens online. This is very different from having an audience. An audience watches, a community engages. Building a community is a scalable strategy that takes time. And there are three critical ingredients to a thriving community:
- Community members and your brand have an aligned mission and values
- Community members trust your brand and the community you’ve created
- Community members are having authentic and ongoing conversations—which aren’t always about your products
Because trust is built over time and isn’t a single interaction, community marketing is a long-term play. But is it worth it for your brand?
Why invest in community marketing?
Not only is it psychologically proven that people long for community, but there are also three other reasons why community marketing is advantageous for your business:
1. Increases engagement and builds trust
The best way to build a meaningful community is to be authentic and serve the community’s needs. These are the main ingredients to building trust within your community and compounds over time. This is incredibly impactful when paired with the creation of content that matters to customers. For example, Glow Recipe creates all-natural, fruit-inspired skincare products with the goal to make skincare fun. In addition, their website is filled with reviews, video tutorials, skincare quizzes—this type of content creates a strong community by giving customers everything they need (and then some) to be successful. Glow Recipe further strengthens its brand community with The Glow Edit, a blog dedicated to skincare education.
To engage with customers, Glow Recipe uses interactive Instagram campaigns. Take their “Day by Day” campaign— where “Glow Gang” members (aka customers) share how their skin is feeling and Glow Recipe products currently in use. Viewers are encouraged to fill out a template and tag friends for a chance to be the next featured “Glow Gang” member. This initiative aids in forming an authentic relationship with customers, as the brand is not only inviting customers to take part in the campaign but also getting featured on Glow Recipe’s Instagram.
2. Drive innovation and brand activation
Strong community marketing drives brand activation by increasing awareness through positive customer experiences. When you delight customers, they are four times more likely to refer others to your business—sounds pretty good to me. Building a community is also a great way to get candid feedback from customers on products and company changes. It’s essentially customer research at your fingertips, which can lead to innovative launches and product enhancements that customers actually want. Baby and toddler brand Lalo put this into action by creating a “Lalo Fam” product council—parents applied to be a member of this group that would shape the future Lalo products. The response to this type of community was overwhelming and resulted in over 1,000 applicants in just 24 hours.
3. Increases customer LTV
It can be really easy to forget that there is life after a customer's initial purchase. You spent all that money to acquire the customer, but how do you keep that individual in your ecosystem? How do you keep them top of mind? Ashvin Melwani, Obvi CMO, believes that- “community marketing is KEY to increasing customer LTV and overall retention frequency. ”Why? Because when customers decide to join your community, they’re plugging you into their daily lives, keeping your brand top of mind. When customers share their experiences with the products, Ashvin notes that “it creates a mentality of ‘we’re in this together; which is incredibly valuable”. Community marketing can also be used for upselling as it “allows a larger visibility to our catalog for other individuals who aren’t as familiar with your products” Ashvin states. Below is an example of a post in the Obvi community where upselling could’ve occurred.
Still not convinced? A study from the University of Michigan found that customers spent 19% more after they become a member of a brand’s online community.
3 Types of community marketing (with examples)
Affiliate marketing is not only a great way to generate user-generated content (UGC) but also build a community. This form of community marketing rewards partners or affiliates for each customer they bring in. Affiliates are usually given a code that is shared with audiences, so businesses can easily track which affiliate is responsible for a given sale. Despite affiliates being monetarily rewarded, this relationship is not exempt from finding customers who are aligned with your mission, and building a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, House of Wise has its community in mind with “every decision we make, product we launch, and dollar we spend” according to CEO Amanda Goetz. Affiliate partners are called #WiseWomen and provide incentives that are designed for the community to come together, rather than only focusing on money. Perks include:
- Access to exclusive Slack community
- Spotlights on social media and marketing materials
- Monthly #WiseWednesday hangouts which are hosted by Amanda, and other #WiseWomen
- Monthly surprise incentives for top sellers
Something to note about this affiliate partner program is that a requirement is to “share genuine experiences with friends, family, followers, and networks”. This philosophy is a key ingredient to authentic and successful community marketing.
Online forums and groups
Online forums and groups hosted on platforms like Facebook are nothing new to marketers, but they do provide powerful opportunities. Facebook Groups are a great place for communication between customers and your brand. It’s really simple to interact with posts and address any concerns and questions. It’s also impactful when launching new products, or company initiatives. If you decide to make the Facebook Group public, it makes learning about your brand, products, and values easily accessible. “We found that building a Facebook community has been the biggest lever for our brand, a group that has grown to 45k members.” - Ashvin Melwani, CMO at ObviThe Obvi Facebook Group is public and has high engagement from customers and the company. Posts include questions, updates on the products, and feedback as well. When I took a look for myself, it was instantly clear to me why Ashvin noted that it’s been such a large lever for Obiv—there was high engagement on posts, feedback on products, and meaningful two-way communication between customers and Obvi.
Social media platforms, specifically Instagram are amazing spaces for community building—mostly because of the number of people on the platform, and how easy it is to connect with customers and share their stories. Let’s take a look at Latinx hair care brand, Ceremonia. They launched a community campaign called “Hair Story” which shares the experiences that customers had with their hair when they were younger—using prompts that bonded the community as many could relate to the stories being told.
In addition to their campaigns, Ceremonia also hosted a Friendsgiving which included past campaign models and friends—bringing their community to life. To the customers coming across this post, it communicates deeply that Ceremonia cares and values its community.
How to build your community
Now that you understand how valuable community marketing can be for your business and the various types of communities, it’s time to start building.
Step 1: Develop a community marketing framework
Now that you have a team assembled, a framework must be developed in order to move on. This framework must outline the reason why you’re creating a community, and the goals you hope to achieve. Here are some prompts to get you started: Our brand is launching a community to:
- Increase positive product reviews and customer satisfaction
- Increase brand awareness and drive sales
- Decrease costs related to customer research
- Reduce customer service costs
- Find impactful influencers and partners
Step 2: Identify key internal stakeholders
Your community is a marketing channel and in turn, needs dedicated team members to ensure that this strategy is set up for success. There are two main stakeholders:
- The people managing the community. The community manager is directly responsible for handling all things related to your community. This person ensures everything runs smoothly, and that information and conversations are being communicated in a respectful manner.
- The people impacting the community. This includes departments that work on projects that directly affect the community. For example, the email marketing team has decided to create a monthly newsletter for community members. They plan to include a roundup of relevant blogs, and product releases to keep the community engaged and up-to-date on company news.
- The people impacted by the community. If members are giving product feedback, or sharing complaints—customer service and product teams are likely to be involved.
Step 3: Choose a platform
You have an understanding of why your community exists—the question now is where will it exist? Earlier we talked about the different types of community marketing, but these can be further defined into two categories:
Free community platforms
These platforms include social media platforms and make it easy to get started as your company and members create a free account. There is less friction to get started because of this, however, if you’re looking for a community that is exclusive, it’s recommended that you opt for the next category. Free community platforms include:
- Facebook Group
Owned community platforms
Owned platforms require community members to have their own unique login and password. With this option, your brand would have its own website that members virtually enter to engage with the community. Owned community platforms include:
Step 4: Create a code of conduct
Defining the rules of the community sets the tone for how members are expected to behave and engage with one another. Before customers are official members, have them read and agree to a code of conduct. Remember to outline the consequences of not following these rules—which usually is removal from the group. For example, the code of conduct can state that hate speech and bullying aren’t tolerated, and spreading misinformation is not allowed. Here is an example from Three Ships’ Facebook Group:
Step 5: Promote your community
It’s finally here—launch day. Your community is built and now it’s time to launch and fill it up with members. One of the first things you should do is promote your launch to existing audiences. Leverage your website, emails, and social media to spread the word. Educate sales and customer service teams as well, so they can encourage customers to join the community. Here are 3 other ways to promote your community:
- Invite people you know. If it’s appropriate, invite existing customers, family members, friends, and former coworkers to the community. The worst they can say is no!
- Partner with influencers. Collaborating with influencers in your industry can be an effective way to encourage new memberships. Be sure to properly vet influencers, as their audience should mirror your ideal member.
- Grow membership with gamification. Once the members start rolling in, use them to help the community grow. This can be done by hosting a contest or creating a rewards system based on the number of people they refer.
Step 6: Facilitate conversations and engage with members
A community isn’t meaningful if there aren’t any discussions happening. And it can take some time before conversations start happening naturally. Here are some prompts to get the conversation following in your group:
- Ask all members to introduce themselves in the group and share their favorite product from your brand
- Ask the community for inputs for new products
- Gather feedback from product launches
- Discuss issues related to your industry
- Share notes, hacks, and tips to get the most out of your product
Start community marketing today
Deciding to venture into a new marketing channel requires research, and discussions with your internal team to determine if it’s the right move for your business. Community marketing is no exception. Creating a framework is necessary along with identifying a community manager and other key stakeholders. Market research is also a great way to determine if community marketing is right for you—have other businesses been successful with online communities? What have been their results? A successful community isn’t a branded Facebook Group. It’s a place where customers can come together and have beneficial conversations with one another. Where your brand can interact with customers, and learn more about their needs. When done right, community marketing can become a reliable channel of revenue and growth for your business. So take your time planning out your community marketing strategy. And ensure it’s the right channel for your business.