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The importance of communities: why brands need to know about Twitter’s new feature

Twitter Communities is a dedicated space for audiences to discuss shared topics of interest

Twitter Communities, the social network’s new conversation space dedicated to specific topics, offers brands a new valuable opportunity to tap into, engage with and help build cohorts of passionate users with shared interests, writes Access Intelligence vice-president of marketing Phillip Palmer.

When asked about Twitter’s origins in 2006, co-founder Evan Williams pointed toward an identity crisis. “It wasn’t clear what it was,” he said. “They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn’t replace anything. There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is.”

Fast forward 15 years, and we all now know what Twitter is. Rocketing upwards at 350,000 tweets per minute – or around 500m tweets per day – the social network has soared in use, searing itself into the synapses of society.

Twitter and the social media era have made the world a smaller place. We are all only a click away from connection. And this is as true for brands as it is for users. So how can brands make the most of Twitter’s vibrant array of highly engaged users?

Enter: Twitter Communities

In September, Twitter unveiled its latest feature: Communities. Twitter’s version of subreddits, Communities is a dedicated space for audiences to discuss shared topics of interest. Users can join these social hubs and tweet directly at other people within the group, alongside their regular group of followers. And the only people able to reply are those within the Community. Furthering its investment in Communities, Twitter has acquired group chat app Sphere to make conversations more interactive and organized.

Twitter is certainly not the first social platform to formalize the way its users congregate and socialize in communities. Facebook Groups were launched in 2010, and Reddit has had subreddits since its conception in 2005.

Communities offers a way of broadening the bubble of certain topics, but requires more active engagement from users, as opposed to algorithmic magic. And it will require the same from brands looking to leverage the unique qualities of Twitter Communities.

The value of close-knit digital communities is becoming clearer to brands: they can tap directly into a group of highly-engaged enthusiasts they may not have found otherwise. They can find new customers and build brand loyalty.

But rules develop quickly in online communities. Memes rise and fall at speed, changing how people speak and interact. And the consequences of getting things wrong can be bleak; hell hath no fury like an online community.

Get to chatting

Twitter has always been a community-based hub. Users follow and engage with the content they are interested in and expand their bubble through hashtags, retweets and likes. These are passion networks – each user’s feed is a vibrant blend of lifestyle choices, fan groups and geographic, political, ethnic or interest-based affinities.

The introduction of Communities as a feature serves to formalize this blueprint. It simplifies and supports access to content, allowing for a more focused feed and consequently a more positive user experience.

For brands, there’s an opportunity – if they get it right – to start conversations within user communities. And by starting and engaging in conversations within these groups, brands can convert. Of course, conversions are a critical component of performance; a 2019 study found that a 10% increase in brand conversation led to an approximately 3% lift in sales.

But to start a conversation in any community, brands need to get these core pillars right first:

  • Insights: Fundamental to the other pillars are insights. Brands need to first do a thorough analysis of these communities and understand how they might fit in. What are people saying about the brand and associated topics? Is there an appetite for conversations with brands?

  • Strategy: Brands need bespoke strategies that speak to a specific subculture. This means developing copy and creative that is tailored to the key subcommunities of a given passion area, rather than following a one-size-fits-all approach.

  • Targeting: Brands need to zoom in. In order to be genuinely relevant and engaging, it is essential to create micro-targets based on the cultural and demographic profiles of the identified communities.

  • Credibility: Building credibility requires understanding of who the thought leaders are in each group. By identifying and engaging the many micro-influencers, brands can authentically connect with various sub-communities. There are of course macro-influencers who will cross communities, but focusing on them will produce messages that are less relevant, less engaging and unlikely to travel far.

Twitter has evolved a great deal since its identity crisis in 2006. And with the introduction of Communities, the platform is playing to its strengths by providing focused access to the topics that its users care about most. It’s also a move that aligns with the larger trend of social platforms shifting toward community-focused conversations.

For brands, while there is opportunity, engaging users in conversation requires a lot more nuance to reach the people who are truly interested in the product or brand. Planners and strategists need to delve much deeper to understand these audiences. Modern social media platforms are made up of thousands of densely connected, passionate communities – truly understanding these networks is the key to finding and engaging valuable audiences.

Phillip Palmer is vice-president of marketing at Access Intelligence.

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