The following article was originally published on Loyalty360 here.

In this day and age of digital marketing, having a solid online community to advocate for a brand or product is paramount to building customer engagement, and hopefully, improving loyalty.

That is the reason why Vesta, a community marketing technology company, has been working diligently to help its clients transform their online audiences, CRMs and social media groups into brand owned communities that turn customers into brand evangelists.

Vesta offers a turnkey technology that not only powers a highly-experiential and personalized destination that helps mobilize a brand’s audience, but it also works to take that engagement, advocacy, and loyalty to a new level.

Brand Ownership of the Community
“When a brand asks us why they should own their own community, I tell them that ‘own’ is the optimum word,” says Susan Frech, the Co-Founder and CEO of Vesta, which recently rebranded from Social Media Link.

At the dawn of social media, Sue was focused on helping medium- to large-size brands build their awareness on social media sites like Facebook, often with the goal of growing to 1 million fans. Many were apparel and consumer packaged goods brands. And everything was going smoothly until the social media platforms changed things on them.

“We worked with many brands to build their audience on Facebook, only to have Facebook flip the switch and tell the brands that to reach their own audience, they were going to charge them,” Frech says. “When I hear many brands today say they have a huge audience on a social media platform, I have to caution them, ‘you don’t own those relationships or that data.’”

As brands quickly came to understand, they did not own the data of their audience, and they were not truly building a direct relationship with their own customers because it was being built for Facebook. Yet, many brands continue to put resources behind building their community on a third-party channel.

Writer Jessica Malnik, a social media specialist, agrees that most social media branded pages aren’t true communities.

“Most Facebook brand pages aren’t actually online communities,” Malnik says. “They are just glorified marketing channels. Some are done very well, others not so much.”

Existing To Serve The People In It
According to a Harvard Business Review article on brand communities, it is a myth to believe a brand community exists to serve the business, when in reality a brand community exists to serve the people in it.
Frech says the more value a brand puts on their Facebook community, the more the social media giant will charge them to engage those audience members, and it can quickly become cost-prohibitive for a brand to launch any customer loyalty initiatives through the platform.

“We all know that Facebook’s objective is to make money,” Frech says. “Instead, brands should be looking to build their own digital destination where they can nurture lasting brand loyalty through personalized engagement and authentic community connection.”

Platforms like Vesta allow brands to easily acquire new consumers and boost lifetime value through targeted and personalized engagements.

While a Chadwick Martin Bailey study found that one of the most common reasons consumers “like” a brand on Facebook is to receive discounts and/or get freebies, Frech says brands that build their own community can create a more holistic and meaningful value exchange with consumers.

“We find that when someone visits a brand’s community, they are coming because they like the brand or they want to learn more from that brand,” she says. With insight tools fully integrated into the Vesta platform, Frech says brands can collect data about their customers that help the company better serve them.

Vesta encourages its clients to clearly inform community members why they are collecting data, and to be more transparent than what usually occurs on Facebook and other social media platforms.

“We advise brands to explain why they are collecting data, which is to provide the consumer with better offers and more personalized content,” she says. “More importantly, it allows the brand to engage with its customers in an authentic way which builds trust and emotional loyalty.”

Promoting Customer Advocacy
Another benefit is the advocacy that comes with brands running their own online community. Those consumers who are not just trying to get a discount or free products become more engaged with a brand than those who are looking for quick deals.

“If you have this dedicated audience, then they are willing to advocate for you,” Frech says. “And that is the most powerful form of media out there today.”

In addition, with groups boycotting Facebook and other social media platforms for various political or moral reasons, it is difficult for brands to count on being able to reach their consumers through those community pages and potentially harmful from a brand perception standpoint.

Significant Marketing Results
Frech says Vesta’s Community product has shown some significant positive results for brands that have utilized the software to serve as an engagement and information-sharing hub for their customers:

  • +25% average increase in net promoter score.
  • Up to 90% community member purchase conversion.
  • 400MM pieces of user-generated content created annually across their sites.
  • 5-10X average measurable ROI by brands.
  • +4 marketing tools are replaced by the Vesta platform, which signifies even more cost savings.

For information, visit vesta-go.com.