Let’s get this out of the way first. We love social media. We really do. The entire DNA of Chaordix is built upon the power of online communities and engagement. And we know first-hand how important social has been to the success of any organization.Top brands everywhere (including our global clients) rely on everything from Twitter to LinkedIn to build their online communities, share a wide array of content, manage customer service, and ideally, have meaningful conversations with customers.
But is social media really the be-all and end-all for all aspects of online community engagement and customer loyalty? While we’re not disputing the power of Facebook’s 2 billion daily users or the nearly 100 million photos uploaded to Instagram daily, could there be a better way?
Or at least a more effective way to collect helpful insights and ideas from your most dedicated customers.
The definition of community, after all, is "a self-organized network of people with a common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information and other resources."
The important keyword here is "collaborate." It's unfortunate that the emphasis of community collaboration has disappeared over recent years, having been replaced by social media's focus on increasing advertising revenues and issuing successful IPOs.
Ironically, social media today has slowly turned into the kind of marketing channel it promised to replace - a one-way broadcaster of promoted content.
As we examine the changes occurring throughout social media today, let’s consider a few more things:
- How much social content can our audiences reasonably digest on a daily basis, especially when it’s not specific to the things they’re most passionate about and interested in?
- Are we even connecting with actual customers through large social channels like Facebook or Twitter for purposes other than handling random customer support questions and complaints?
- Are there more effective ways to leverage the power of community to drive change, add real business value and support product development and company innovation as a whole?
We know options like a Facebook or LinkedIn group, Google Form or SurveyMonkey can help gather input from a beta-group of consumers. But let’s be real - your customers aren’t waiting with open arms to complete yet another survey for a $20 Starbucks gift card.
Trying to gather meaningful insights from your most loyal customers through a invite-only group on Facebook is also difficult when limited by the functionality and data available by the platform itself.
Driving the loyalty loop
Today’s social landscape and the online tools available to collect insights, and learn more about our most valuable customers, leave much to be desired. Which is a shame, because we know engaging with a brand’s most loyal customers remains one of the top marketing objectives for CMO’s everywhere. A recent report from Forrester Research shows that improved customer loyalty is a top priority for 82 percent of the global marketing decision-makers it surveyed.
Even with all the new content formats and interactive tools social channels provide - Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Twitter polls, just to name a few - it has actually become more difficult to reach and inspire brand superfans, and nurture a community dedicated to supporting their unique experiences, insights, and ideas.
While social may have proved invaluable in acquiring new customers, when it comes to continually engaging with customers and improving loyalty, a more focused and purposeful approach is needed.
To really tap into the collective wisdom and passion of your most dedicated fans, marketers should consider platforms that empower audiences to not only consume content, but to also actively participate and collaborate alongside the brand’s marketing and innovation teams.
A great way to do this is through niche communities dedicated to loyal customers and their shared interests and passion. If your brand specializes in athletic apparel, you could focus a community around yoga or cross-fit related research and activities. A video game company might want to learn more about how its customers are embracing virtual reality.
Whatever the community's focus is on, it should always come back to the reasons your customers love your brand in the first place.
While still managed by the brands themselves, niche communities become more focused around authentic interactions and managing purpose-built activities with brand superfans around how your products play an important role in their everyday lives.
They enable marketing and innovation teams to work together in collecting valuable customer feedback, stories and insights that casual followers can’t provide. They also ensure your community remains safe through a "no trolls" and ad-free environment.
More than a trend
Forbes recently likened niche communities as the beginning of a new trend; however, we believe it’s more than that.
To prove this point, look no further than the continued success of brands who ignite their most passionate customers regularly through tight-knit communities working towards specific goals. Lego Ideas is a global community of over 500,000 members, who continuously come up with new Lego set ideas. Dozens of these crowdsourced Lego kits have been brought to market over recent years, including the Beatles' Yellow Submarine and the Women of NASA.
In addition to contributing to new product ideas and innovation, other brand communities, such as HTC Elevate and Rust-Oleum's Creator's Studio continue to flourish by bringing their global customers together around their shared passions and interests - whether that be mobile technology or DIY culture.
Building a focused brand community outside of social media not only strengthens customer loyalty, but also helps generate a regular stream of inspiration and ideas from those whom your products and services were designed for in the first place.
Let them participate
The exciting news is that there is a whole world of amazing ideas out there for companies to leverage – ideas that can strengthen brand affinity and greatly improve loyalty.
Companies that get this right are called Participation Brands – and while it may sound like a buzzword, it really is a unique way to co-create with customers and see major improvements in not only click-through rates, but also company-wide innovation.
Ultimately, it's about finding your "niche" and building a brand community around it. That special niche is the common bond, which holds the community together. It inspires loyal customers and employees to work together in achieving both company and individual goals through a mutual love of the brand.
Often that love can't be contained within the walls and timelines of social media.