Ever wonder how some online communities really take off? When done right, an online community takes on a life of its own and provides infinite value to both businesses and consumers alike. 

According to a study by CMX, companies are launching communities to better retain their customers and fuel product innovation. Beyond that, brands can use online communities to spark brand advocacy, reviews, and UGC to acquire new consumers. They can also combat the rollercoaster of relying on third-party data by making their online community a first-party data engine. Finally, online communities are a way to elevate a brand’s digital presence, helping to bring brand values to life in an authentic and relatable way. 

Communities have become a core part of how brands can succeed online. Many of the world’s best brands have taken the plunge into launching an online community—is your brand ready?

Here are some key tips from some of the internet’s most thriving communities. 

To build community, start where your consumers already are—then build from there

Jeremy Bird, who scaled grassroots movements for Obama, knows a thing or two about building communities. His biggest piece of advice? Growth takes time, but the end result is worth the investment. 

For many brands, a Facebook group or another social media page may have been serving as their de facto “community.” The reality is that those “communities” belong to the social network – not your brand. And while a social media page is a great place to start building your base of community members, for many brands it’s time to graduate to the next level and create an owned community destination. 

Condiment brand, Sir Kensington’s (ps they’re a client of ours), started their Taste Buds community to help build genuine brand loyalty through a channel that is owned and cultivated by the brand. With no social media gatekeepers, the brand has a long-term, always-on channel to foster trust, emotional connectivity, and consumer-centric authenticity.

Starting from scratch is ok

In the first few weeks of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian and his cofounder seeded the platform by posting under different usernames. As of 2021, Reddit ranked among the most popular mobile social apps in the United States with almost 48 million monthly active users. 

Consumer brands have the advantage of being able to leverage existing consumers from email lists, social fanbases, and paid media campaigns. Your consumers may be scattered right now, but you can unite them in one place and turn them into a powerful component of your marketing efforts through a digital brand community.

Vulnerability and authenticity

These qualities are essential for human connection in online communities. How does this translate into the world of consumer brands? Give your advocates the connection they came for. 

Open up your brand to your consumers by giving them unique insights into your products and information that non-community members don’t get. By welcoming them into your brand, your consumers become another member of your team ready to talk, share and spread the word at scale.

Encourage high-quality comments and personal stories

Bassey Etim and his team at the New York Times moderate 12,000 comments per day on NYTimes.com. Giving your community an environment to share thoughtful, detailed and useful reviews will fuel brand awareness and purchase. 

Proving the value of your community is about engagement, not growth 

While many marketers are tempted to look at the number of signups as the key metric of community success, it is far more important to look at engagement among the community. Asking questions like how often do people engage with the community? how active are they when participating? And how often do they share to social media about your brand? These are the key metrics that will drive increased Net Promoter Scores, consumer retention and repurchase, and new customer acquisition. 

When Ashley Gallman Williams proved the value of community at website building platform Wix.com, she showed how a community of 1,000 engaged people is so much more valuable than 10,000 clicks on a link. Those 1,000 engaged people are proven to spend more money, which is better for the bottom line.

Play the long game

Developing a trusted relationship with your consumers cannot happen overnight, or even in one quarter. An online community is a long-term investment that provides more value as time goes on. For a community to succeed long-term, internal support and awareness in the company is essential.

Digital marketing is changing fast. Online brand communities are a must-have for businesses to stay afloat in a highly competitive market. Curious to learn more about brand-owned communities? Check out Are You Ready for a Brand Community