CMX Summit East is the world’s largest gathering of online community professionals, and the SML Community Management Team was there to get inspired, learn from the best and take our work to the next level for our clients.

Here are the top pieces of advice we’d like to share with brands who are managing online communities or are currently thinking about community as the future of their business.

The top two reasons brands launch communities: customer retention and product innovation. Communities have become a core part of how brands can succeed online. According to a study by CMX, companies are launching communities to better retain their customers and fuel innovation in their products. Many of the world’s best brands have taken the plunge into launching an online community—is your brand ready?

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

Jeremy Bird, who scaled grassroots movements for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, knows a thing or two about building communities. His biggest piece of advice? Growth takes time, but the end result is worth the investment.

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. From there it grew to 230 million unique visitors per month. 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.

Vulnerability and authenticity

Are essential for human connection in online communities, says Poppy Liu, co-founder of Pure House. 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 would not 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 11,000 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 less about ROI, more about engagement

Ashley Gallman Williams has proved the value of community at website building platform Wix.com. She shared her insight on this, showing 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.