Digital Community Building
Businesses need to be able to create communities around them to thrive in today’s age. Many of the biggest brands are already doing this in interesting ways or, at least, are investing in doing so. Many of the ways that this can be done involve the digital space, or at least start in the digital space and move into the real world. Businesses must learn to leverage their brands and platforms to integrate digital means of growing a community around them.
Across the board, brands and organizations have been seeing declines in membership and engagement over the past decade. Many of them have been struggling to recoup the decrease in engagement and racking their brains trying to figure out why people have retreated.
What they will come to find is that people haven’t quit engaging with brands and organizations entirely. They’re just in different channels than the ones that they have traditionally used to draw the public. These channels primarily exist in the digital and hybrid digital space. And they will also come to find that those new channels are thriving and booming.
Accenture, in a report, found that 80% of consumers feel more or as connected to their brand communities as they did in the past and that as much as 88% of consumers expect these connections to remain strong even after the end of the pandemic.
One example of a company that has tremendously leveraged its brand in digital channels is Salesforce. Beyond taking the world by storm with their suite of enterprise solutions, Salesforce has managed to create a community of something like 2 million members who “ support each other, organize events, produce content, and are a critical part of its global operations” according to Harvard Business Review.
Salesforce gives the enthusiasm that its users have for their software and applications an outlet through various online forums such as their Customer Collaboration Forum. Without much input on their end, Salesforce can generate tons of organic engagement from their users; users will create and disseminate for Salesforce of their own volition. Major tech companies like Apple and Microsoft have employed user forums to engage with their users since almost the dot-com boom. If your business is in a position to be able to create such channels for your customers, then it’s time to do so.
Another example that follows something of a more hybrid digital engagement model is Harley Davidson, which has historically created something of a nationwide cult with chapters in every major city.
Harley Davidson also utilizes digital channels such as Facebook to connect their customers and create full immersion in its brand. For its customers Harley Davidson isn’t a brand, it’s a lifestyle. This lifestyle fuels Harley Davidson’s iconic status in American culture and won’t fade anytime soon.
When businesses can digitally immerse their customers, they don’t only reap the benefits from the extra bit of engagement. They can provide additional value for their customers, a value that is difficult to quantify but easily perceived.
This is the type of strategy businesses must employ to develop a business model that will succeed in this day and age. This new kind of business model will not only help businesses survive, but they’ll also be able to wring every bit of marginal value for themselves and their customers. They’ll separate themselves from their competitors and carve out a space unique to them.
In their annual customer experience trends, Zendesk found that help center usage by customers rose as much as 200% in 2020. This has put a massive burden on small and budding businesses that don’t have the infrastructure in place to quickly process that kind of customer engagement. This can be managed by a well-structured set of digital community channels that can self-regulate many of the questions and concerns that customers and users would have.
A Digitally Charged Business Model- lightning
Companies are commoditizing digital platforms because these platforms are more accessible to more people, more than ever. People are on the web on their phones, their computers, tablets, and even their fridges thanks to the internet of things phenomenon.
And people are expected to only become more entrenched in the digital space in the near and distant future. And it becomes that customers expect companies to maintain a dynamic presence and allot spaces for them in the digital sphere of their lives.
This doesn’t mean companies sending out a monthly newsletter but instead set out on genuinely interesting campaigns to provide extra value to their customers and fans. According to Harvard Business Review, “nearly 80% of startup founders reported that building a community of users was important to their business, with 28% describing it as their competitive moat and critical to their success”. It is truly a new way of going about business and thinking about necessary operations, especially for startups.
Tech companies are especially privy to this shift and have invested billions into improving their business models. This tactic pays itself back in multiples because businesses that have created digital communities will enjoy lower user acquisition costs and tighter and more rapid cycles of sales and revenue.
Customer retention will also increase because of the additional, intangible value provided to the customers. The business can quickly get feedback on new features, discover bugs, and identify their key demographics and power-users much quicker and cater to them. Everything points to better efficiency and marginal benefits for everyone when businesses adopt the digitally charged business model.
For budding companies who plan to take steps to be a part of the paradigm shift, here are some ways that you can see how well your strategies are working.
Establish Engagement Tracking Points
Set up points to track the activity of the community that you are building. This can be things such as looking at clicks, sign-ups, web traffic, and user content metrics(comments and posts).
Look at growth as a result of the digital engagement channels and calculate what that means in terms of added value to your company. You should definitely do this to measure how well the campaign is going and what is being contributed to your business’s bottom line
General Data Gathering
You might discover some important insights into your business model and your products from the digital community that you build. It’s important to collect and keep track of data that can be used to develop such insights. This is an additional benefit that you cannot miss out on as a founder.
We reached out to founders and investors to ask them about their hands-on experience with creating digital communities and any insights that they found. Here are some of their responses that we wanted to share with you.
First, we heard from Alina Clark, marketing director and co-founder of CocoDoc, a software development company based in the US. Clark notes how a digital community can bind a company closer to its mission.
A community is only as good if they share a common vision, and have a shared communication platform. We started our community by building a social media connection with our customers, then creating a facebook group to have all of them in the same place. This works side by side with our website forum. Often, it appears that customers favor social media conversions compared to website platforms. Our Facebook group is currently at 8000 members, 8-10 posts a day, and still growing.
In addition, Clark talked about how her company’s online community helped them better perform product testing and the power users to cater to.
An active community gives any business a first hand customer engagement mechanism. Our community members are quick to point out issues and mistakes in our products. This allows us to improve quickly. The community also influences our approach to marketing as a startup. We treat the community members as a microcosm of our potential customers. They therefore provide us with the perfect buyer persona for a start. Our highly personalized marketing approach, if anything, is a product of an active community that seeks to be recognized individually.
Businesses that realized the value of creating digital communities were ahead of the curve in the first place, and many of them are jumping to adopt such social features within their internal companies. With many businesses considering hybrid workspaces or even permanently being work from home, these tools might be the key to understanding what working environments will look like in the near future.
We also heard from Miranda Yan, founder of VinPit a tech company dedicated to software development. She believes that the first step to building a digital community is to thoroughly understand your customers.
Firstly, community building is all about knowing what your customers need and what they don’t need. To meet these requirements, I keep increasing my online interaction, joining groups and online forums and communities, and getting ideas from shared experiences. I try to connect with members and ask some good questions. I also offer opportunities to new members in my community to keep them engaged. Also, taking feedback into action and responding to issues.
Yan also emphasizes the importance of communities in pointing businesses to better solutions.
Great products and services are built by communities. It has helped develop new and better products and helped me achieve improved and excellent customer service.
As for specific features that affect the workplace dynamic and business model, Yan had this to say:
My connections and interactions with members have helped transform from simply delivering a product to creating and building a community with supportive members. There has been a low customer acquisition cost, achieved through the help from energetic and enthusiastic community members. And this has positively affected my workplace and created a superior business model.
Finally, Eden Cheng founder of software company WeInvoice also chimed in with similar praise of the benefits of online community building and offered specific details about WeInvoice’s approach.
One of the best decisions I made for my business when we first launched our platform was having a long discussion with my marketing team on the need to create an online user community. In this regard, we started off by launching an online blog that we used to encourage sharing and engagement, as well as promote online webinars, events, and more. Through it, we were able to attract 50-100 comments per post and through the online forum Q&As that we held, many users were able to keep the conversation going by leaving questions that our moderators or even other users would respond to.
Cheng noticed great benefits to her company, benefits that continued on giving.
We were able to benefit through self-promotion with a lot of the hard marketing work being done for us, which ultimately helped to improve our asset management practices.
Like many business owners, Cheng found that the digital communities helped them better serve customers saying
The feedback we got through reading some of the posts on the online forums, we were able to enhance our platform’s features and offers in a much more targeted manner, as we were able to find out more quickly about the things some of our users wished we had made available, rather than having to wait to send out customer satisfaction surveys In short, building an online community helped strengthen our business model by not only providing us with better roadmaps for future services but also allowed us to focus our marketing and sales efforts more effectively
Online communities are clear and powerful tools that every founder and business leader must be cognizant of. The way that business is conducted has always changed and this is just part of the most recent requirement for business owners to fulfill if they want to ensure success.