We piloted a landmark study, the Big Online Brand Community Study, with more than 4,900 consumers to discover what consumers want in an online community experience and how they feel about brands embracing Community Powered Marketing efforts. Read on to discover everything you need to know about online community marketing.

Online communities are not a new concept, and dedicated community websites have been a staple of the internet for a long time. Why should you care now? Like so many areas of our lives, the past few years have sparked a massive shift in online behavior and propelled slow-moving trends into fast-moving targets for marketers. 

Digital communities quickly became integral to our social connection. We’re sharing huge amounts of content online, and online communities are a vital touchpoint for genuine connection and a sense of belonging in the digital world. Marketers are taking big notice of this, and “community” was named the big idea in 2020’s marketing

For many years, there has been a face-off between owned channels like brand communities versus social media pages as the resource for creating communities. However, marketers continue to feel the increasing sting of third-party gatekeepers. 

Many run to loyalty or reward programs to create a community but struggle to keep consumers interested. Others may look to their email marketing, CRM database, or SMS but get stuck in a one-sided communication. 

With additional shifts in ecommerce demands, the disappearance of third-party cookies, and a heightened focus on privacy, marketers are putting a considerable focus on direct consumer relationships to build and maintain market share and to insulate themselves from sweeping changes in the next three to five years. 

Brand-owned online communities are a natural fit for the needs of the moment. 

The challenge for many organizations is creating a digital environment that delivers the community connection consumers seek and one that also drives tangible business results. 

What makes an online community flourish and what makes one flounder? What should your brand be thinking about when it comes to community powered marketing? 

Read on to discover the five BIG takeaways from our new Big Online Brand Community study. Or to access the full report, click to download below. 

1. Online Communities are on the Rise, and Consumers Says Yes to Brand-Run Communities 

Online communities are gaining momentum, and participation is expected to increase in 2023. Our study found 37% of consumers say they anticipate their participation in online communities to increase. 

With regards to an online community run and operated by a brand, we found consumers are open and interested in participating. Online brand communities are also well-received by consumers, with 73% saying they have a positive opinion of brand communities. 

In fact, 4 in 5 consumers consider “community” important to brand engagement, and 84% agree that the community surrounding a brand impacts how they feel about it. 

Communities are also becoming increasingly important (vital even!) among younger generations. Forty-three percent of Gen Z consumers say community is “very important,” 13 percentage points higher than average. 

What This Means for Marketers

One-way communication is no longer enough. Having an online brand community will positively impact your brand, and consumers view brands with a dedicated community positively and are willing to get involved. This is especially true for brands targeting younger consumers. 

As consumers are not yet saturated with too many communities, this is a prime opportunity for your brand to maximize a community footprint. Waiting too long could lead to a huge missed opportunity.  

2. Online Brand Communities Drive Purchase, Advocacy, and Brand Loyalty 

Marketers’ major priority is driving new revenue, maximizing sales velocity, and expanding their overall footprint with consumers. A benefit of an online brand community is its ability to deliver these concrete business results. 

Our study revealed that for 8 in 10 consumers, being a part of an online brand community makes them more likely to purchase new products/services from the brand. 

An online brand community also sparks brand advocacy and valuable word-of-mouth to drive awareness and trigger new customer acquisition. 

Seventy-three percent of consumers say being a part of a community makes them more likely to recommend the brand’s products/services to others. 

In today’s ecommerce world, reviews are king, and online brand communities can help deliver much-needed content, as 74% of consumers say being a part of an online brand community makes them more likely to write reviews for the brand. 

Furthermore, we found that Gen Z is especially motivated by community participation to share brand love through photos and videos and is 54% more likely to create visual content than other generations. 

Lastly, an online brand community deepens brand loyalty. Close to 7 in 10 (69%) of consumers say being a part of a community makes them more likely to purchase the brand more often. 

What This Means for Marketers

Online brand communities have been referred to as a “soft” marketing strategy, but that should no longer be the case. Your community of consumers can be an always-on resource to delivering key market objectives in driving acquisition, household penetration, and sustained market share. 

Community is no longer an optional add-on for brands and will reap many business benefits from investing in this channel. 

3. Online Brand Communities Can Be a Goldmine for Zero Party Data Collection 

One of the biggest benefits of an online brand community is the collection and application of zero party data, a prized data set in modern marketing. 

In a study by Forrester, a whopping 90% of marketers are actively responding to data depreciation by capturing zero party data, yet 42% admit they don’t know how to use zero party data effectively. 

An online brand community solves the paradox of designing an effective strategy that builds emotional loyalty while also creating owned data channels that respect consumer privacy and don’t rely on third parties.

Even in an era of increased privacy concerns and heightened focus on data collection, we found almost half (45%) of consumers say they are willing to share personal data while participating in an online brand community. 

Additionally, 74% say being a part of a community makes them more likely to trust the brand. 

What This Means for Marketers

Marketers need to be prepared for a world without a firehose of data available. Consumers are increasingly more selective with whom they share their personal data.

Online brand communities are an effective way to establish a trusted data channel to help marketers combat declining access while also providing consumers with benefits.

4. Brands Must be Careful in Overusing the Term “Community” Without Delivering a Real Community Experience 

The consumers made it very clear; brands must fulfill their promise and make community more than a buzzword, or they could be at risk of turning consumers away. 

A staggering 78% of consumers agree “community” is currently being overused by brands that aren’t providing a real community experience. 

Not delivering a true community experience can have a negative impact on brand opinion, with 68% of consumers saying they would feel somewhat more negatively about a brand that did this. 

Our study found that younger consumers (Millennials and Gen Z) have increasingly higher standards and expectations from brands. Almost half (48%) say they have been let down by a brand promising a community but falling short of expectations.

Some of the biggest reasons why a consumer would leave a community include the community not being active (52%), not having enough value in being a member (50%), and one-sided communication (41%). 

What This Means for Marketers 

Consumers are losing patience with brands pretending they have a community when they don’t dedicate the resources to fostering a true community experience and authentic connection. 

Community should be a core channel to enhance your overall digital footprint. Brands paying lip service to providing a brand community could risk consumers taking their time, energy, and money elsewhere.

5. To Create a Successful Online Brand Community, Consumers Want Two-Way Communication with Consistent Activity, Value, and Exclusivity 

When we asked consumers what they are looking for in an online brand community, 62% said “activities to participate in,” and 60% said “member-exclusive content or offers.” 

Rewards and incentives for participation were desired by 57% of consumers, and regularly updated content was important to 44%. Having a strong purpose and mission was important for 41% of consumers as well. 

Online brand communities are especially powerful in providing a backdrop for consumers to connect with like-minded people. It is also a way to bring brand values “to life” through real stories from real people. 

Our study found 4 in 10 (43%) consumers prized “discussion among members” as a sign of a successful online brand community. 

Communities thrive when there is a shared community purpose and identity and a dedicated community engagement strategy. 

As an article from Harvard Business Review stated, “They want to be a part of something; to belong; to influence; to engage. It’s not enough that they feel good about your purpose. They want it to be their purpose too. They don’t want to be at the other end of your for. They want to be right there with you. Purpose needs to be shared.”

What This Means for Marketers 

Online brand communities are most successful when there is consistent activity with a solid value exchange. A mixture of evergreen conversations and timely activations that are geared directly toward the community provides the best environment to achieve results. 

Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for community members to exchange conversation, product support, and tips to foster connection and strong community identity. 

Interested in more?

Sign up for a demo today.

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VP, Product Strategy