Guide to Building a Brand Community

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Overview

Your brand community can reach beyond your brand itself. A brand community gives your customers a sense of belonging and amplifies their voices. It's a place where curious customers can go to become brand evangelists.

There are many advantages to growing a brand community. It nurtures enthusiasm for your products and drives sales and engagement. During a slow season or crisis period, you can focus on maintaining a strong relationship with your customers within the community so that when things pick back up, they’ll be ready to buy again.

Some brand communities grow organically, with customers creating their own blogs or community materials outside your website or resources. For example, you may sell motorcycles, and enthusiasts for your brand may arrange their own meetups to ride together. Some brand communities are directed by you, the brand owner. In this guide, you will learn new ways to actively build your brand community.

Create a Vision

Your brand community should be styled after your mission and principles. It should become a place where customers can exemplify these values and engage with your brand and one another.

For example, if your store A+ Teaching Resources sells teaching supplies, you may call your brand community A+ Teacher’s Room. Membership to this club allows customers to feel that they are part of something bigger than just their purchases. Your brand image should be represented in your welcome messages and communications with your community.

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Before you build your brand community, think about what you want your community to look like. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does my community stand for?
    Your community should reflect your brand’s mission statement. If you do not have a clear mission statement for your business, now is a great time to define one.

  • What is the purpose of my community?
    Defining your community’s purpose will inform and drive the design of your community. Would you like your community to be a place for customers to interact, post advice, or share their experiences? For example, if you sell teaching supplies, you might want to encourage teachers to share their classroom strategies and experiences. Meanwhile, if you sell products relating to army veterans, you may want to provide a platform for fellow veterans and their families to connect. If you sell beauty products, would you like your customers to post pictures of themselves using your products? Provide a forum for people who use your makeup to post pictures of themselves using your products.

  • Who is my audience?
    You know your audience best. Think about who you’d like to attract to your community. Later in this article we’ll look at identifying and targeting your audience through segmentation.

  • What is the tone and voice of my community?
    Your tone should match your brand voice, which should be recognizable, distinct, and consistent throughout your website, ads, and brand resources.

Once you solidify your vision, start building your community. The first step is to decide where you want to host your community, who to invite to your community, and how to communicate with your community members, and what you want to say.

Where to Host Your Community

Your community needs a home— a solid base where your customers can interact with you and with each other. Whether you choose to host your community on the web or host in-person meetups closer to home, there are many ways to build connections.

Website

You might consider hosting your community directly on your ecommerce website, or link from your ecommerce site to another separate webpage.

Forum

If you create a forum for your community, you’ll have to decide if you want to moderate the forum and how actively you want to moderate it. Hosting a forum allows you ample opportunities to link to your products and direct potential purchasers to customer reviews. Forums also create a great space to address customer service issues and offer technical support. Forums can also be a space where other customers can communicate and offer support and advice. This becomes a cost-effective support resource for your business.

Blog

Blogs are online journals where you can feature regular posts about your products. You can also fashion yourself as a go-to resource in your field by featuring blog articles written by experts in your field.

For example, if you have a community of gardening enthusiasts, you can feature blog articles from horticulturalists or landscape design specialists. In addition, allow your customers to post their own blog series, creating an online journal of their experiences with your products, or within your product area. If you sell baby products, let your customers journal about their journeys through pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood.

Facebook or Instagram

Facebook and Instagram are key resources for communities of all types. Some brand communities host Facebook pages and Instagram posts about their brand in addition to separate websites, forums, and blogs. Read more about social media sharing in the communications section of this article.

Local Meetups

Some brand communities lend themselves well to local meetups and even community chapters of brand enthusiasts. Some of these events are organized organically, without your direction. Other local meetups are orchestrated by your company itself. Local meetups can be encouraged by localized email campaigns that target a local segment of customers, as well as in forms or callouts on your website listing meetings and locations. For example, if you sell specialty culinary tools, you may create local meetups for enthusiastic community members to meet and discuss their techniques.

You may choose to host your community on a combination of resources, such as via a forum, blog, and local meetups. Set your community up for success, but let it grow organically as well. As your brand community grows, continue to add additional venues for your supporters.

Who to Communicate With

The most reliable members of your brand community are your most engaged customers. Identify these customers by refreshing your existing engaged segments, or build new ones:

Engaged Customers

Engaged customers have recently subscribed, have opened and/or clicked your emails, have responded to your SMS messages, and have purchased recently.

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These customers are among the most receptive to taking part in building your brand community.

VIP Customers

VIP customers are your most engaged customers who make up the core of your brand community. You may even want to give your VIP segment a distinct name. For example, if you are a bookseller, you can call your VIPs Book Exchangers. Energize these customers with powerful and heartfelt messages to convert them to your brand evangelists.

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VIP customers are your most receptive customers. For more information about running a VIP program, head over to our Guide to Running a VIP Program.

Methods of Communication

You can reach out to your customers through several communication channels. Owned channels such as email, SMS, or push notifications will be your primary channels to communicate with people who have already opened, clicked, or responded to your previous communications. Facebooks and Instagram are also good channels for reaching people who are already hanging out virtually with friends and family. This section gives you suggestions on ways to communicate with your community. We’ll talk more about what issues and concerns you might want to communicate later in this guide

Email

You’ve likely already established campaigns and flows to target people who interact with your brand. Create customized campaigns to match new trends, seasons and current events. Don’t forget to continually update your existing flow emails to reflect relevant messaging.

Campaigns

Campaigns will be the primary ways you’ll let your community know about events that you are hosting. Campaigns are also one of the most direct ways to communicate timely and specific concerns with your customers. Issues such as store closings, modified business hours, or special shipping rates can all be incorporated into campaigns that target your most engaged audiences. In the next section we’ll talk more about issues you might want to bring up in campaigns.


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Flows

Welcome flows offer your subscribers their first initiation into your brand community. Welcome community members warmly, point out some of the perks of being part of the community, and let them know that you can’t wait to hear from them!

Facebook and Instagram

Social networks are especially well-suited for community building, in particular Facebook and Instagram. People often visit these platforms to interact with people virtually. Reach out to your most engaged people and your VIPs on Facebook and Instagram by syncing these segments to Facebook Audiences.

To do this, you’ll need to be integrated with Facebook. Then, you’ll need to sync your engaged segments to a Custom Audience. Once you are syncing your engaged customer to Facebook Audience, create Facebook Ad Campaigns which really speak to people who care about your brand.

  • Brand-consistency: your ads should reflect your branding. People are more likely to respond to ads with familiar and relatable content.
  • Use your unique voice: keep your voice recognizable and on-brand
  • Have a clear call to action: direct your customers to do something with a clear call to action

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Learn more:

Encourage Social Sharing

Spread the love by encouraging your most engaged people to share on social media. This is an excellent way to build your brand community.

  • Email banners: get your community noticed
  • Social media posts: increase visibility and encourage sharing
  • Use hashtags: use an existing brand hashtag or create a new hashtag just for your community
  • Run contests: draw people into your community
  • Include social links in your email templates: remind people about your community across communication channels

Learn more:

What to Communicate

The heart of your brand community is what you communicate. In times of crisis, people will appreciate your compassion, transparency, and genuine concern for your employees, customers and wider community. In times of prosperity, people will appreciate you sharing about your personal and business growth and success.

Be Personal

Personal connection is the key to your relationship with customers. People want to get to know you through the stories and experiences you share. Give them a piece of yourself by sharing with honesty and warmth.

Learn more:

Listen to Your Customers

People want to know that you are listening to them. Read the stories and experiences your customers share within the community, and respond whenever possible. Be sensitive to struggles in your community. Follow your community posts, and reassure your customers that you are following their stories. Offer a listening ear, and offer compassion where you are able to. Read more about communicating with compassion.

Be Transparent About Your Difficulties

Transparency and honesty are valuable commodities. Let your customers know about any difficulties that you are experiencing. Keep people updated on your progress managing a difficult situation. Your brand community will appreciate the insight; it makes you human and relatable.

Share Your Successes

People want to be a part of something bright and positive. Celebrate your successes with your brand community, and let them know how grateful you are that they play a part in your success. Offer them something tangible to celebrate your successes by offering discounts or special products just for them.

Create Community Sales and Events

Create perks for members of your brand community by hosting special events or exclusive sales. If you host a pop-up store or other in-person event, make your brand community the first to know! Your brand community members are your VIPs— treat them as such by offering perks and discounts created exclusively for them.

Host Contests

Engage your customers and generate buzz with contests. Ask community members to submit stories about using your products, and encourage them to submit or post pictures of themselves using your products. Choose from among the best entries and feature them within the community.

Communicate About Your Moral Responsibility

One of the most essential ways to build your brand community is to be a responsible citizen within your wider community. Assure your audience that you’re being morally responsible in all ways possible. Treat your customers and employees well, and share about that in your community. In times of crisis, let your community know that you are doing everything you can to support your employees and community.

Give Back

One of the best ways to build up your community is by giving back to people and organizations who need assistance. Some organizations are able to donate money and resources. Some businesses are unable to donate financially, but are able to donate their time by volunteering. Here are some ways your business can give back:

Donate Resources or a Percentage of Your Sales

Social responsibility can be a strong thread connecting your brand community. Donating a percentage of your profits or donating money or resources is a statement of your values. This is a good way to connect to causes which are valued by your community, and demonstrates a shared commitment to social responsibility. For example, during a time of crisis, some businesses are able to donate funds to relief organizations.

Setup a Donation Link on Your Website

Adding a donation link to your website for a charity that speaks to you and your brand community creates visibility for a good cause and helps generate funds for non-profit organizations and/or people in need.

Volunteer Your Time and Organize Volunteer Efforts

Host a volunteer day among your employees and post about it within your community. For example, volunteer at an Earth Day event, host a clean-up day at a local park, sponsor a child’s organization or team. Endorse a worthy cause like the Special Olympics or Race for the Cure. Volunteer opportunities are endless! Take the lead, and share about it in your community.

Next Steps

A Brand Community can be a powerful tool in generating enthusiasm for your brand, your mission, and your values. Once you’ve connected with your most enthusiastic customers, allow your brand community to grow organically. Your vision, hosting platforms, community resources and messaging should evolve with your community. Be closely in touch with your community and look for ways you can expand, both by taking the lead and by enabling your customers to lead as well. Enthusiasm feeds on enthusiasm, and your community can be one of your most valuable growth resources.

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