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[VIDEO] Building an Online Community is a Trend Every Year. It Should Be.

The benefits of building an online community is creating brand advocacy for your customers, Google search engine visibility & cost savings.

By: Michael Brito

Category: Content

Towards the end of every year when I read the “social media trends” pieces, the idea of building an online community is always included in some way.

What is an online community?

Have you ever had an issue with your iPhone and you couldn’t figure out how to turn off notifications, or connect to Bluetooth, or maybe even hard reset the phone itself?

If you’re anything like me, you Google the exact problem you are having and 10 times out of 10 you will receive the exact answer to you’re looking for.

Apple Online Community & Support Forum

This is an online community. It is a place where people go and gather to find and share information, interact with other like-minded individuals, share best practices, or talk about the topics that they are passionate about. In this case the common thread is Apple.

There have been discussions for years about the migration from social media networks to branded online communities and for various reasons. Part of the issue is lack of control. I don’t mean that in a negative connotation either. There is nothing stopping Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network to enforce rules or algorithms that make it difficult for brands to reach their audiences in those spaces. We’ve seen this happen for years with organic reach.

There is also nothing stopping social networks to simply pivot their business and/or close up shop. It doesn’t seem likely, but you never know.

This is one reason why building an online community might be an attractive plan for brands who want to maintain close knit relationships with their online audiences.

How to Build an Online Community

Back in the early days of social media, there were several software providers that began to create applications that brands can use to build these communities.

The top two that come to mind are Lithium and Jive. Lithium now is a part of Khoros and Jive is still around today but their focus is more around internal software for collaboration and intranets. While this software isn’t necessarily considered martech, it should be included in the overall technology stack.

The first step in building an online community is to document your goals and objectives. It seems straightforward but it’s a step that most people tend to forget about and jump right into signing expensive contracts with technology providers.

In Apple’s case, their goal is to create a space for their customers to go to solve their technology challenges. In fact, a lot of sophisticated brands are using social media customer support forums in this way. What’s interesting about these forums is that the responses to user’s questions are from other customers. They aren’t being paid or rewarded to participate and help other customers. While others may just call this a support forum, to me, it’s a form of customer advocacy.

Below is an example of the SAP online community.

SAP Online Community

If you look closely, you’ll notice user registrations, the ability to answer and ask questions, and over 132K blog posts. SAP has built a destination for their customers, partners, and even prospects to learn more about SAP technology and connect with other technologists.

Also, I belong to a Brandwatch community and I am a huge fan of the functionality. The community is powered by Insided, which I have not heard of before but I am very impressed with their capabilities. The community is somewhat new but it’s growing. They also have a community manager who is interacting with users, answering questions and drawing attention to various customer projects. A community manager is CRITICAL in building any type of community, whether on domain or within the social networks. This is brand advocacy, which leads me to my next point.

Brandwatch Community

The second step is to ensure that you have the internal resources aligned and ready to support this initiative. You’ll need to consider things like moderators, community managers, success metrics, budget, editorial calendar, and everything else that goes into creating content and providing a great customer experience.

The last step is to ensure that you have the budget necessary to invest in the right social media technology to host an online community. the only suggestion I have here is to not rush into signing a contract with an online community software vendor. it’s critical to document your business requirements first and ensure that the vendor can meet those requirements. It should not be the other way around.

Why Should Brands Build an Online Community?

Brand Advocacy. There are a lot of tangible benefits for creating an online community. First and foremost, it’s a place to foster relationships with customers, and build brand advocacy. Brand advocacy is when your customers talk publicly about your business without you having to ask them to do so. Some people also call this word-of-mouth marketing.

Google Visibility. Brands can achieve maximum visibility in the Google search results by providing an experience for their customers to ask questions, answer questions, or share their thoughts publicly and in an open forum.
Google loves this. They’re indexing millions of web pages per day and can potentially drive a lot of web traffic to a community that is active and thriving.

Cost Savings. There is also a cost savings element to this. In my Apple example above, I used Google to find an answer to my question which took me to a community hosted on Apple.com. If I didn’t find my answer right away, I would have did what most people naturally do and call customer support and try to get my iPhone fixed.

Every call that comes into a call center costs money. And building an online community will always result in a decrease in calls leading to use huge savings.


I really hope you enjoyed this video. I do my best to create content that’s actionable and provides value to the work you do.

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