Organisations of all sizes recognise the benefit of being social yet many still assume platforms like Facebook and Twitter can meet all their engagements needs and fail to consider the alternative of a branded community.
Communities serve different purposes for different organisations. For example, working with the British Medical Association the team at 4 Roads were asked to develop the community website for doctors and medical students to easily connect with peers and share information in a safe and secure environment.
Meanwhile, the Guild of Sommeliers - a non-profit, member-run organisation for wine service professionals and wine enthusiasts across the U.S. - increased membership by 700% over four years, increased membership renewal rates to over 70% and established themselves as sector thought-leaders with their own branded community.
There are numerous business benefits to having an online community. From driving increased customer satisfaction through efficient self-service and collaborative support, to being search engine friendly and helping to drive web traffic.
Savvy organisations are acknowledging that audiences connected by the need to solve a business use case problem, (communities such as a self-help customer support community, voice of the customer, ask the expert etc.), rather than their offline social connections, offer a richer opportunity for engagement.
Branded communities are not a new concept of course; some of the first branded online communities started in the form of forums, which became popular before the creation of blogs.
Investing for success
There are numerous reasons to invest in the creation and maintenance of your own branded online community, rather than rely on external social networks for building relationships with your audiences:
- Unrivaled Returns – engaged community members generate word of mouth, provide authentic content and real-life insights. A social community will strengthen your brand messages, increase customer loyalty, reduce marketing costs and drive sales.
- Empower Your Customers – enabling customers to spread the word about your brand can have great effect on awareness, trial and sales. People trust personal recommendations over all other forms of advertising. Engaged and loyal consumers recommending your brand to a wider audience will create an even bigger customer base.
- Own Your Insights – the best way to get accurate insights about your brand is to ask your audience directly. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with your audience will ensure your brand stays front of mind. What’s more, rather than generating insights from third parties an online social community allows you to gain insights from thousands of people in real life – unlike data from social media, you own it and can use it in a way which benefits you.
- Unlock The Full Potential Of Your CRM – by adding a social element to your CRM you can join the dots between the real people that are your customers and data streams – engaging and activating existing customers form a powerful marketing force.
- Customer service - The need to provide good customer service is critical to any business. Usually, this means the need for expensive operatives on stand-by at the end of a telephone or internet. The self-service or self-help element of community membership, where members share tips, advice and best practice with each other on request, can significantly reduce the pressure on the limited resources of your customer service team.
Don’t forget GDPR compliance
It is important, however, to balance GDPR compliance with the continued collection of customer data to execute your customer community strategy.
All organisations need to implement measures to ensure that customers and/or employees personal data is collected and processed according to the GDPR principles and they are essential when thinking of building communities. These measures include:
- New employee and customer or “individual” rights: The GDPR demands increased transparency. For example: users have the ability to request the erasure of data from controllers (the ‘right to be forgotten’), the correction of errors, and the right to access data in structured formats so they can switch controllers. If a data breach occurs, users also need to be notified within a critical time period.
- New data protection requirements: organisations will need to put data protection at the centre of their information processes, including encrypting an individual’s data and the execution of data protection impact assessments – in some cases administered by a data protection officer.
- New technology strategy: organisations will need to document and report on where their data is, how it is collected, how it is stored and who can access it.
Robert Nash, CEO, 4 Roads