Digital channels have always been a way for people to stay connected but in the time of COVID-19, they have become a lifeline to gather information, exchange ideas, share feelings, and ultimately foster a sense of belonging. Online communities continue to be a key channel and will likely gain a permanent spot in our everyday digital behavior. In our recent wave of the Brand Sentiment Navigator, more than half (51%) of consumers strongly agreed that online communities are an important way to stay connected during the COVID-19 era.

We also asked the more than 7,000 respondents for their thoughts on what kinds of activities most appeal to them in online communities. Here’s what they told us and how you can build your online brand community to stand out.

Our Tips to Build an Online Brand Community that Stands Out

Embrace “community” as a key part of your brand value proposition
Marketers should think about how an online brand community can be part of their brand’s “secret sauce.” For many brands, “community” is baked right into the brand at the outset. Think Peloton or Etsy: one doesn’t exist without the other. Your online brand community should be among the features/benefits set. With the seismic shifts happening in our online behavior, building your online brand community could be the key advantage that makes a consumer choose you over a competitor or the reason why a consumer stays with your brand long-term.

Align brand community outreach with all other brand activities and properties
A brand community should never be a siloed effort. In fact, activating your brand community can be the very thing that brings your entire brand plan “to life” and ensures tangible results. From promotions to new digital content to partnerships and more, a community is a key distribution channel in addition to an engagement channel. Ensure your brand community is involved in all brand initiatives and you will reap the rewards.

Use community engagement to position your brand as a resource
When it comes to online communities, consumers are most looking for information exchange, creative expression, and connection to others. Let your brand community be an outlet for achieving those aspirations. Your brand should be the facilitator, not the star of the show. Let consumers lead the conversation with discussions and ongoing feedback collection.

Use a community to enhance your marketing tech stack with zero-party data
Building an online brand community provides you with a rich source of zero-party data that can enhance your entire digital landscape. They can help you learn more about your consumer and also offer an authentic, welcoming way for your brand to deliver personalized experiences. Consumers are highly aware of how valuable their data is and they will only give it to the companies they deem most worthy. Using cookies to drive personalization is creepy and annoying. Using an online brand community to drive personalization is friendly and helpful.

About the Brand Sentiment Navigator:
Vesta’s Community Powered Marketing provides us with direct access to millions of consumers, allowing us to tap real-time sentiment in this fast-moving crisis. Since March, our ongoing Brand Sentiment Navigator has surveyed over 35,000 consumers, revealing insights into U.S. consumers’ changing opinions, attitudes and behaviors to help brands make better decisions faster. The research in this post was gathered from Wave 8 of this study, conducted in August/September 2020 with 7,416 respondents. Visit our research hub for access to all of our studies by following this link.