Online community: Rethinking purchasing processes
The relationships between companies and their customers have changed. When customers are deciding what product to buy, marketing campaigns and sales channels are no longer the first thing they turn to. These days, customers are far more likely to listen to recommendations from friends or colleagues – and sometimes even from near strangers they follow on social media. Customers are guided by their knowledge and their preferences, and even make purchasing decisions on the back of positive perceptions after having conversations about a particular product. Companies need to turn this development to their advantage.
The benefits of having your own community
Consumers and companies now rely on digital channels more than ever when it comes to communicating and connecting.
As a result, companies can now actually "see" advocates and potential customers who would not have been visible before the boom in digital communication.
Creating an online community as a space where these people can come together and share information and experiences is invaluable. The benefits for companies that have their own community platform include:
- Having a meeting place: somewhere for companies to get together with their existing and prospective customers.
- Developing an identity: a community platform is an opportunity for companies to formulate and cultivate who they are.
- Being unique: companies can stand out from the competition in how they communicate with the community.
- Adding value: news, events, and other services can be used to establish and grow an interactive community.
- Offering everything in one place: customers can turn to the community to meet all their needs.
- Making contact easy: a community platform is a natural way for companies to make contact with their customers, build bonds, and create a relationship of trust.
- Benefiting from interaction and feedback: companies can get immediate responses to their products and services.
- Advertising and sales: a community platform is an opportunity to generate direct and indirect sales.
Community and marketing are not quite the same
It’s clear that there are many different ways for customers to benefit from these intricate community networks. As well as protecting companies from their competition, vibrant communities can also be hotbeds of innovation or even learning experiences. To say nothing of the value they can add for a brand’s existing and potential customers. But there is one significant difference between these communities and conventional marketing: While the traditional marketing funnel presents purchasing processes as linear phases, with each phase aiming to add value, community marketing is about creating a positive environment that attracts people organically. If companies want this approach to be a success, the first step is to develop a strategy, and ask themselves how having their own community could add value for its members. Other potentially helpful questions for establishing an online community include:
- Who is part of our community and why are they here?
- Who is not part of the community?
- What value will we add for the community, whether members are paying customers or not?
- What value will members offer each other?
- How will we listen to our customers, address them, and be guided by them? How will we share insights from these conversations with the rest of the company, and specifically with what areas of it?
- Which values and standards will we expect of both ourselves and the community?
Community platforms: What do you want to achieve?
If you want a platform to create your own network, there are plenty to choose from, all with a variety of features. These range from simple “DIY” assembly kits right through to technically sophisticated and universal solutions. Considering factors such as your preferred technology, your available budget, and your own requirements is crucial when it comes to choosing the right platform.
The most popular community platforms for companies include Mighty Networks, Tribe, Vanilla, and Hivebrite.
- Mighty Networks lets companies create their entire online business infrastructure in one place. The platform offers a range of features and is best suited to companies that want to bring together all their interactions with their supporters under their own brand.
- Tribe is a cloud-based platform where clients can create their content, making it ideal for startups and e-commerce.
- Vanilla is the top-rated cloud-based community forum software and is perfect for anyone who wants to build a strong online community.
- Hivebrite is a flexible all-in-one-platform that stands out thanks to its ease of use and customizable design options. It is ideal for companies where strong brand loyalty is top priority.
There are countless other options for building online communities; what’s important is that companies are clear on who they are targeting and what exactly they want to achieve by using community marketing. First and foremost, companies want these communities to be the simplest way for them to engage with their existing and potential customers. But what’s the next step? Are you mainly focused on building an identity around your products and services? Are you looking for customer contact to get more feedback, do you want to run online courses, or are you looking to promote direct sales? You can achieve (almost) anything using community platforms if you start off with the right strategy and suitable software. Whatever your goal, community platforms are the marketplace of the future.
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