Much is discussed about the need for brands to have a social media presence and engage on networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. More and more companies are also seeing the value, and ROI, of building and nurturing their own online communities.
Companies like Ikea, Kraft Foods, Harley-Davidson and Procter & Gamble have made major investments to create their own company networks as a way to strategically engage with consumers, existing and potential, and foster brand relationships and loyalty.
In fact, nearly half of the top 100 global brands host their own networks.
A report in Strategy + Business on a working paper titled “Social Dollars: The Economic Impact of Customer Participation in a Firm-Sponsored Online Community” published by the Ross School of Business studied the ROI on creating and curating online company communities and found the effort worthwhile. Authors of the paper found revenue from members of the community increased by an average of 19% after they joined the brand network, the result of “closer ties with other customers and more engagement with the company”. The authors noted that this increase was significant to note and set an example for others interested in creating an online community network as “it more than covers the fixed cost of setting up the community as well as the variable cost of operating it.”
Just as in the case of a favorite social network site, website, blog etc., the key to drawing traffic to a brand network, as well as having visitors engage and become an active member and participant of the community, is providing compelling content and inspiring interaction, commentary, engagement and sharing. Consider the following tips from online community designers before launching your own company network:
- Realize that your content should be about the community you want to create, not just about your brand. For example, IkeaFans.com http://www.ikeafans.com/ celebrates the Ikea lifestyle with a forum, blogs, Ikeapedia and other features where fans can share design ideas and tips with the support and recognition of the company and their Ikea loving peers. A separate domain name is one way to distinguish between an online brand community and just the company’s website. Be sure to present a purpose and content that matters to people, i.e. providing great meals to your family by way of Kraft’s online community.
- Showcase member activity and participation. It is human nature, and online psychology 101, that people like to see the items they post – pictures, comments, projects, etc. – showcased and recognized. Reward participation with feedback and encourage more with marketing tools like contests, product giveaways and more. Identify and build relationships with the influencers that emerge on your community, they have the potential to be valuable consumer managers of the commentary and user provided content on your site.
- Keep content current and coming continuously. It’s essential to give members a reason for returning to the community again and again. Ask and answer questions, trigger conversations, provide content of value in your business space (i.e. recipes, usage tips, and new ways to use a product)… then be sure to weigh in with responses and company commentary on an ongoing basis. Consider a twitter feed sidebar to show what people are saying about your brand in real time on Twitter.