No matter the industry, marketers understand the importance of building meaningful interactions with their consumers. Consumers today want more from their relationship with brands. They are no longer satisfied with transactional loyalty programs, intrusive advertising, or one-way email campaigns. 

One of the most powerful ways for brands to cultivate lasting relationships is through an online community platform. The importance of community engagement cannot be overstated:

  • In a recent article from McKinsey, they note that community-based marketing is going to be the defining trend through the 2020s.
  • In a study of 400 marketers, 86% believe that having a branded online community positively impacts core operations, and 85% believe it improves the customer journey and increases trust.
  • We are entering an era where consumers rely on emotional connection, personalized marketing, and values alignment to determine whether to purchase your brand or go with your competitor. 

Brands must rethink the tools of the past to maintain market share. Correctly utilizing online community marketing fits the bill. 

But how can you engage a community in a valuable way to both the consumer and the brand? Why is a community engagement strategy so important, and what does a successful one look like? Let’s talk about it. 

Why is Community Engagement Important for Brands? 

Your community engagement strategy directly influences the participation among your community members, the quality of their contributions, and the overall longevity and connection of your community. 

A dedicated community engagement strategy will reap a bounty of positive business outcomes, including: 

  • Driving brand loyalty and increasing customer lifetime value
  • Sparking brand advocacy and generating new customer acquisition 
  • Delivering insights to help you future-proof your brand in a changing marketplace

It’s essential to think of your online community marketing strategy as akin to gardening, not carpentry. Gardens need planting, nurturing, care, and patience to grow and thrive. Community engagement should be thought of as your gardening tools. 

Just like a neglected garden, a community without engagement is at risk of wilting away. 

What Should a Community Engagement Strategy Include? 

To help brands deliver compelling community engagement, we’ve developed a methodology informed by 13+ years of experience building, growing, and engaging online communities with millions of consumers. We call this the Comm-U-N-I-T-Y model of engagement. 

U – Uses Reliable Frequency

N – Nimble in Growth 

I – Impactful Motivators

T – Trust Environment

Y – Yields Value

Let’s talk about what each means. 

Uses Reliable Frequency 

The first element of a strong community engagement strategy is ensuring that community members have regular opportunities to participate. 

This can be challenging for many marketers as they don’t want to inundate their consumers and push them away, but they also don’t want to lose interest and be forgotten. Not too much, not too little, juuuust right. This is otherwise known as the Goldilocks zone of engagement. 

One of the best ways to reach this Goldilocks zone is to create a mixture of evergreen and high-value activities on your online community platform. This is why it is important to ensure your community platform software comes equipped with various ways to engage.

Brand Examples in Action 

  • Fast-growing frozen food brand Veggies Made Great created its Veg Head Community to mobilize passionate consumers.
  • To engage their community, they deliver a mixture of highly valuable offers such as free product trials, personalized retail promotions, and invitations to contribute product innovation ideas.
  • With the launch of the Veg Heads community, Veggies Made Great saw a 20% increase in sales and a coupon redemption rate 30% higher than the industry average. 

One of the evergreen activities available is its community discussion board. The brand manager at Veggies Made Great shared how they use their discussion forum to solicit ongoing conversation and connection. 

“We’re able to use the discussion forum tool in a variety of ways, but one of the most fun ways is we offer our Veg Heads an expert of the month, so they get nutritionists, dieticians, fitness instructors, and life coaches. These people have proactively reached out to us to be featured as the expert of the month. It’s a really fun way to have engaged Veg Heads and engaged consumers.”

Nimble in Growth 

While most marketers want to make a massive splash with their community from the start, it’s important to remember that good community engagement evolves with time. 

Thriving communities embrace change and welcome opportunities to co-create community identity and culture. This is what solidifies the emotional tug online communities can have on consumers. 

Douglas Atkin is a pioneer in building communities and served as the Global Head of Community for Airbnb, and he urges people to believe in the power of a small group making a big impact. He says in an interview, “It’s very hard to break a community apart once it gets to that point [where genuine relationships form] because people need and want to help each other. The relationships are strong, and the ties are strong between members. There is a power in a group that changes and transforms you to some degree in many positive ways.” 

Enlisting your consumers in developing the community identity makes them an active part of the process of community building, and encouraging them to refer their friends and share their involvement propels your efforts even further.

Brand Examples in Action

  • Unilever’s Seventh Generation brand knew that many of their consumers were new parents entering a phase in life that was affecting their bodies, social life, family life, and identity.
  • They aimed to create a lifestyle community called Generation Good to establish the Seventh Generation brand as progressive parents’ most trusted choice.
  • They carefully seeded the community with consumers from other channels and watched it grow steadily. 

The Grassroots Marketing Manager at Unilever had this to say about the importance of community engagement for the brand: “What Generation Good does is take awareness to a new level with engagement. We thought it would be the most hardcore Seventh Generation users, but 60% of the community have never tried the brand; they’re just looking for other people to connect with about the lifestyle – and that’s perfect.” 

Impactful Motivators 

In a study called “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” researchers identified and assembled a list of more than 300 emotional motivators, surveying hundreds of brands in dozens of categories. Among that list, they identified ten “High Impact Motivators” that were shown to significantly affect customer value across all categories studied. 

These High Impact Motivators include: 

  • Stand out from the crowd – project a unique social identity; be seen as special 
  • Have confidence in the future – perceive the future as better than the past; have a positive mental picture of what’s to come
  • Enjoy a sense of well-being – feel that life measures up to expectations and that balance has been achieved; seek a stress-free state without conflict or threats.
  • Feel a sense of freedom – act independently, without obligation or restrictions
  • Feel a sense of thrill – experience visceral, overwhelming pleasure and excitement; participate in exciting, fun events
  • Feel a sense of belonging – have an affiliation with people they relate to or aspire to be like; to feel part of a group 
  • Protect the environment – sustain the belief that the environment is sacred; take action to improve their surroundings.
  • Be the person I want to be – fulfill a desire for ongoing self-improvement; live up to their ideal self-image.
  • Feel secure – belief that what they have today will be there tomorrow; pursue goals and dreams without worry
  • Succeed in life – feel they lead meaningful lives; find worth beyond financial and socioeconomic measures 

This list can serve as a guidepost for designing engaging online communities. Tactically speaking, this could look like this: 

  • Helping your community members project confidence by showcasing their content or featuring top members
  • Inviting community members to participate in creative and artistic expression
  • Fostering a community-shared language full of inside jokes, memes, and nicknames
  • Involving community members in more significant social movements aligned with your brand
  • Exclusive offers and sneak-peeks just for them
  • Empowering community members to share their community experiences with friends and followers, making them ‘social leaders’

Trusted Environment 

Trust in community engagement touches on a few different areas. The first area is trust in the community experience.

  • Consumers want a dependable, easy-to-use, mobile-optimized, and user-friendly platform. They don’t want a confusing maze of interaction. To ensure you’re designing the best community experience, explore our tips for finding the best community software platform
  • Consumers also want to feel that the brand keeps itself accountable to members. This means fulfilling promises promptly, listening to feedback, and generally doing what they say they will do. 

The other area of trust involves data. It used to be that a brand was considered trustworthy when people could believe in how the company was run, its product was manufactured, or its service was performed. 

Today, brands are no longer just manufacturers or service providers. They’re technology companies in disguise. Some brands openly admit this, like when Dominoes famously coined themselves a “tech company that sells pizza.” 

An online community is a part of your brand’s digital presence. While consumers certainly care how your product is made and how you market yourself, trustworthiness means something more when you become a technology company. 

Online brand communities are an excellent place to show, not just tell, consumers that you take their data seriously. This is done by collecting zero party data and delivering relevant engagement.

Yields Value 

The last part of a healthy community engagement strategy is ensuring a strong value exchange between the brand and the consumer. 

Using zero party data, brands can deliver personalized community activities to make consumers feel heard and understood. 

In addition to personalized content, it’s important to offer discoverable experiences. One of the most recognizable brands to perfect this strategy is Netflix. Netflix focuses on creating a solid connection with its customers by engaging them personally and personalizing their viewing experience. Still, they also use data to create experiences that delight consumers and offer recommendations.

Brand Examples in Action  

When ARM & HAMMER’s long-established cat litter brand needed to boost loyalty and drive household penetration, they created the Kitty Krew community (or “cat-munity”) for proud kitty owners to connect and bond over their beloved fur babies. 

  • ARM & HAMMER wanted loyalists to feel special and valued. They leverage their community’s data and participation to ensure they deliver personalized experiences and entertaining discoveries.
  • ARM & HAMMER listened to what their fans wanted and delivered on it with content tips for new cat parents, how-to’s, unique cat charm bracelets, or even just helping Kitty Krew members find their products nearby.
  • This brand’s robust community engagement strategy harvested tremendous results. A Nielsen360 analysis of the Kitty Krew community found that community members produced 13X greater customer lifetime value than any other marketing channels. 

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VP, Product Strategy