May 23, 2022
·
15 min

Brand Communities, explained.

The future of marketing is community. Is your brand investing in it? Read this guide to find out the why and how of brand communities (bonus ideas for inspiration). 
Community Building
Community Management

Salesforce has 150,000+ companies across every major vertical as their customer. Yet, their in-house team doesn’t answer any new customer questions at all! 

"Who answers those questions then? Don't customers get frustrated without replies? Their NPS must be lousy, right? How are Fortune 500 companies like Spotify, Amazon Web Services, U.S. Bank, etc., who are Salesforce customers dealing with this?"

I had all those questions until I found out that their brand community is faster than the support team in answering customer questions. The support reps wait 24 hours before jumping in to answer anything left unanswered or add to existing replies. 

Salesforce is creating an extraordinary business with the help of Brand Communities. How can you do the same? 

With 2 Million members spread over 90 countries, Trailblazers Community — as Salesforce likes to call it — has helped people find solutions to tricky problems, jobs and enabled knowledge exchange. 

The aim of this post is to bring clarity around what is a brand community, how it's different from other types of communities, and finally, give you an 8-step process to go from discovering why you should launch a community to opening it up to the world. In the process, you'll need inspiration from real-world communities, so we've collected 8 brand community examples. 

You'll also know why and how to evaluate the tools you'll need in the process of building a community. 

After running multiple communities on Slack and Discord and interviewing community teams from 20+ online communities, we are uniquely qualified to talk about the topic. If you want to go from simply delivering a product to building a community to unlock extraordinary competitive advantages, this post is for you.

What are brand communities?

When a set of people choose to believe in a brand and come together to share experiences beyond the brand or beyond what is being sold, it forms a brand community. The reason people come together is that they have similar expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that are created by the brand image. 

A brand community is not a set of followers, fans, a place, or an organization. Nor is it an exchange of information over forums. And it is definitely not about the company's products or services, although they are a part of it. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people who are part of it. 

An online brand community is a world co-created by the brand and people who relate to the narratives, activities, and ethos of the brand. 

With technology-based technology-based communication platforms being easily accessible to everyone, brands have the opportunity to create a space for such people to come together. This is the only way brands can truly control the kind of experience that will not only benefit the people in the community but also advance the brand's corporate agendas.  

These spaces can be created via social media groups, discussion forums (e.g., Subreddits), community builder platforms, or communication tools like Slack or Discord. The limited functionality of communication tools with respect to running a community can be enhanced by using integrations with tools such as Magik.so

ConvertKit is an email marketing software for creators (bloggers, musicians, artists, etc.). They launched the free community in 2020, and in just 12 months, 44,000 users joined it and submitted 7,000+ answers. The community gives creators a space to talk about email marketing and learn how best to use the product for their business. 

The key aspects of building ConvertKit's community have been 

a) an already existing audience i.e., ConvertKit's users — ConvertKit has more than 400K users (free and paid) 

b) Nathan Barry's personal brand that drove awareness to the community — he has an audience of 47K on Twitter. 

Nathan Barry has been sharing helpful content with others via tweets, LinkedIn posts, and newsletters. So when he launched the ConvertKit community, it was only natural that people joined it. 

 

Read about ConvertKit's reason for launching its brand community:

Source

We've discussed more examples in the later section of the post. Before we inspire you with examples, let's be clear that brand communities are not one-sided. There are benefits in building community for brands as well. 

What's in it for the brands?

A brand community might seem like it's only beneficial to the people who are part of it since they would be getting the most value by asking for support, recommendations, making new friends, getting new ideas, etc. But here's how brands benefit from building communities: 

  • It increases the share of the mind. A brand community fuses the brand into customers' or potential customers' social lives. This increases the mind space that people have for that brand and hence less chances of choosing any competitor. 
  • It increases revenue! 2/3rd of consumers now buy on the belief of the brand. Those beliefs can be communicated and strengthened via a community. And hence, the brand gets a boost in revenue. Brands like InVisionApp leverage this with online events, meetups, and free swag.
  • It can get new customers. When people get associated with a brand community, they are more likely to defend the brand's position amongst their peers. That's because they have to stay consistent with the narrative that they believe in a particular brand. This can draw new customers to the brand and even open up new segments to target. Cohort-based courses like Build by SkipTheLine and Stoa School leverage communities to reduce customer acquisition costs and create a tight viral loop.
  • It can build loyalty. Brand communities add a lot of value to their members as people come together to share tips, and their learnings, hang out for some unwinding, and more. That draws people who are otherwise not loyal fans to start changing their perspectives and become brand advocates.
  • It can help you define your product roadmap. Webflow built its Wishlist to identify features to build next based on inputs and feedback from community members.
  • It can reduce customer support burden and cost. Apart from Salesforce, another company that proved that the community could help with support is DigitalOcean. This led to the company winning multiple awards for customer support in 2021.

How are brand communities different from other types of communities?

Brand Communities vs. Interest-based communities

Interest-based communities are groups of people who share a common interest, knowledge, or understanding of a given subject matter. A great example of interest-based communities are subreddits that are forums dedicated to a specific topic. 

For example, r/gaming (32.4M members) is a community of people enthusiastic about anything related to games - video games, board games, card games, etc. They don't have allegiance to any particular brand. 

Unlike brand communities that are controlled and moderated by the person appointed by the brand, interest-based communities are led by founders or individual experts in that particular area. 

A brand will have an exclusive group for its community. But interest-based communities are not always congregated in an exclusive group. For example, Twitter has a lot of people interested in marketing, and they respond to marketing-related tweets and follow each other while also following people from different interest groups on the same platform. 

Brand Communities vs. creator communities

A creator is a person that creates content and monetizes that content through the direct support of their audience. The content can be in any form, written, audio or video. People who post threads on Twitter, videos on YouTube, or run their newsletters are all creators. 

In a brand community, people's association is with the brand values and not the person managing and running the community. Community managers who represent the brand can keep changing, but it won't affect people's association with the brand community. Because the reason for the community's existence, i.e. the brand, hasn't changed. 

This is in contrast to what happens in a creator community. A creator community has a single steward. For example, Lenny Rachitsky's community revolves around his ideas and thoughts on product management. Ben Thompson's Stratechery community revolves around his business and strategy writings. What they create shapes the conversations that happen. 

Anyone can create content and engage with existing content in a brand community. In a creator community, content is created by the creator and that fuels engagement within the community. 

In many cases, creator-led communities are built around the creator — how that person thinks or their communication medium (i.e., podcast/newsletter). Brand communities are built around an activity/interest/ideology that everyone shares. For example, the Webflow community is fueled by the interest to build websites without code, or the Ahrefs community is active because people are passionate about SEO. 

7 Examples of a thriving online brand communities 

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is an SEO tool, and they have a dedicated community called Ahrefs Insider for their customers, where people discuss Ahrefs, SEO, and marketing. The admins moderate every post in the community to ensure that anything that doesn't add value doesn't dilute the community. 

This is a great way to add value to customers and makes them feel special with exclusive access to the group. This helps impact key metrics by reducing churn, support tickets, and increasing NPS. 

Notion Community 

Notion is a project management and note-taking software. 

Camille Ricketts, Head of Brand and Communications, once said in an interview,  “In the early days, we saw people on Twitter and Reddit sharing tips and providing support to other users,” said Camille. “With a small marketing team, it was clear that this would be a way for us to amplify Notion.” (source)

Notion's community is organized into community-hosted forums where people trade tips, answer questions, meet virtually, and share creations. These forums are not hosted, sponsored, or moderated by Notion but led by Notion Ambassadors. 

Figma 

Webflow

Webflow is a website building and hosting Saas company. Its community is 75,000+ members strong. People in the community interact with like-minded people, share portfolios, tips, best practices, meet the Webflow team, and even find job opportunities and mentorship. 

Community members are also encouraged to share their use cases with the community. This builds a library of case studies, use cases, and testimonials that help convince new users to signup for Webflow. 

Airtable

Airtable is a low-code platform based on a spreadsheet-database hybrid that helps you build collaborative apps. 

Airtable community is divided into categories — Announcements, Ask the Community, Show and Tell, Featured Resources, Development, and Integration. 

Ask the Community category where people can take help from each other to configure Airtable seems to be the most popular one with about 376 posts per month. 

Airbnb Community Center 

It's a community of 1,208,740 Airbnb hosts where people can share their experiences and stories of running an Airbnb and organize local meetups to support each other. They can ask questions or contribute by creating guides for new hosts. 

Conversations are categorized into Discussion Rooms to make it easier to find information. 

Check out Airbnb Community Center here.

Spotify

Spotify's community is a place for music enthusiasts to share ideas, discuss music, and find solutions for any issues they might have. They have a Spotify Stars Program program for people who actively engage in the community by helping other users or posting discussion threads. 

Check out The Spotify Community here. 

Tools you need to build a brand community 

Platform to manage members

To build community, you will need to create an online space for people to come together. 

There are three major types of platforms you can choose:

Free Platforms: Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn

Freemium/Paid Platforms: Slack, Discord (Experience on these platforms can be made better by using tools like Magik.so — the only app you need to build your community on Slack/Discord) 

Paid Platforms: Tribe, Circle, Mighty Networks 

Apart from categorizing them by hosting and pricing model, you should also consider where your customers are most likely to hang out and figure out which is a popular tool that they are already using. 

Building a gaming or web3 community? Choose Discord. 

Bringing together marketers, Saas founders, or sales experts? Go for Slack.

Connecting with a generation that hangs out on Facebook? Well, choose Facebook. 

Want to have a space where discussions between members can happen via QandA? Go for online forum tools such as Discourse or host it on Reddit. 

If you are using Slack or Discord to onboard members to your community, it's worth checking out Magik.so to help your community manager work efficiently. Magik enables community managers to save time by automating repetitive tasks, helps the community find and connect with members with similar interests, and centralizes resources and conversations. , 

Want to find people from which companies are joining your community? Magik's Community feature can help.

Not only community managers but members can also take advantage of the members' directory. They can find people with similar interests and start conversations with one click.  

Magik Enables your community to find, connect and engage with members who share similar interests.

A resource library to manage content

Engaged online communities generate a lot of content in the form of links, documents, images, posts, and even videos. It's easy to get lost in a sea of content which might deter people from looking for support in communities hosted on Discord or Slack. Or it will lead to similar questions getting asked repeatedly or the same documents being shared multiple times. 

Discord and Slack are great messaging apps but lack important features to sustain a community.

The solution? A little magic (pun totally intended) from tools that can integrate with Slack and Discord, such as Magik.so . No more answering the same boring question of "hey, where can I find that link?" 

Create Spaces in Slack with Magik and help your community find what they need easily and quickly. 

If you are not using Discord or Slack for your community, check if the platform that you choose has a feature to collect and segregate all your resources in one place. With tools like Circle, where you customize your community features, you will need rules to guide people on how and where to share resources. Each community can have a different way of managing content. 

Moderation tools that protect your members 

However you filter or try to vet members who are joining your community, there would be someone hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and creating undesirable situations in your community. To protect your brand images and, more importantly, community members, it's important to be proactive in moderating the content. 

Until we get robots that moderate content, we have to rely on human judgment to do it, and that's why community moderation is usually a full-time job with large communities. Apart from day-to-day jobs, they have to set guidelines and define responsibilities. 

But to make the job a bit easier and more efficient for community moderators, online tools can be explored. Check if your community platform has some moderation features as part of the tool. Discourse, Disciple, and Besedo are some tools that allow community moderation. 

When evaluating specific tools look for features that allow shadow banning, email verification, post scoring, members blocking other members, etc. 

If you are using Discord or Slack, we have a solution ready with Magik.so

Magik automates bulk messages for you. With one click, you can send guidelines, regular reminders, any updates in policy, or any message to your members. 

Tools to get product and marketing insights

Here's how Stoa School leveraged chats that happened in their community hosted on Discord to make social media posts and create a bit of FOMO for those not part of the community. In the first comment, you can see someone asking, "how do I get access to the discord community?". 

What does it tell us?

If you have great user-generated content in your community, you can ask the creator's permission to give a sneak peek of the brand to the outsiders. It will get people's attention and increase your brand's perception. Ultimately leading to more users/customers.  

A community can provide data, ideas, and insights for your product and marketing team. For example, if you see a request for a feature in multiple threads on your Slack community, you would know that this should be shown to the product development team. 

But the product team or any other team will probably not be interested in joining Slack and trying to find these threads or insights. What if you could download these threads and share them in one document? It would save a lot of time and hassle. And that's what Magik.so's 'Export Thread' feature helps you do. 

Support tools

When customers are stuck in their product usage, the first place they will turn to is the community of people who use the same product and might know the solution. This is great for reducing the queries received by the support team. But it also creates 2 main challenges.

If every other question in the community is an FAQ or product query, it dilutes the experience for people who visit the community space for content, knowledge, and discussing ideas. For example, Ultrahuman Cyborg's Slack community is for members to talk about their metabolic score and journey with UH, but almost always, there are a bunch of help requests/support tickets in random channels which is not relevant to everyone in that channel. 

Sometimes, people might not get the right answer or complete answers from the community. They might expect an expert from the company to respond. But it's very hard to keep track of queries in an engaged community. 

To solve these issues, you need a ticketing tool where support queries can be deflected and assigned to the right and available agents who can answer them correctly. This ticketing tool can also host help blogs, FAQs, and videos around common issues. 

The main features to look for in a ticketing tool are:

  • Ticketing systems should enable you to assign inquiries to the most relevant agent quickly.
  • It should save the context of user interactions so that any agent can take it forward without any back-and-forth with the user. 
  • It should track the status of any inquiry.

Popular ticketing systems with their unique features: 

  • Help Scout: Built-in knowledge base, canned responses, and clean UI are some of the compelling features.
  • Zendesk: The centralized dashboards make it easy for managers to see their team's performance easily
  • LiveAgent: It has features like a real-time typing view, website monitoring for chat engagement, and chat invitations based on the active agent availability. 

Is there any ROI for brand communities?

Running an online community is expensive. To prove that it's worth the investment, one has to show financial value as a return on investment. 

Proving the ROI of advertising is simple. You run the ad, and someone buys the product or doesn't buy the product. With community, it's the opposite of simple. Totally complex. And almost impossible. 

So is it possible to calculate the ROI of a brand community? 

It reminded me of Gary Vee's statement in 2014 when he was asked about the ROI of social media -- "What's the ROI of your mother?" 

Source

The point he wanted to make was that your mother raised you right, fed you, and gave you life lessons and values. How do you quantify that? Just like that, you can't put a number to the ROI of social media or community.

Financial ROI might be tough to calculate, but we can measure the impact of communities on different aspects of the business, especially brand awareness and marketing. 

Kind of impact you can expect to see from the brand community:

  • The number of customer support tickets reduces.
  • Collecting case studies and testimonials becomes easy.
  • The product team is able to get quick feedback on any beta release before showing the feature to the world.
  • Churn reduces as people in the community help each other rather than waiting for customer support folks to answer.
  • More upsells. Sometimes, customers discover new features from others in the community and if that feature isn’t available in their free plan, they upgrade. 
  • Brand mentions on social media increase, driving brand awareness.
  • Find issues that you need to prioritize in your next product development cycle. 

How to get started with building an online community for your brand?

Launching your community is more than creating a new Slack account and tweeting about it, inviting people to join. If you don't want crickets in your community, you can follow these 8 steps to launch an online brand community: 

  1. Discovery: Get clarity on WHY you want to run a brand community. Determine the business challenges and your goals. Find out what your audience would want out of this community. 

It will help you select the right platform and the right resources to work with. 

  1. Strategy: Create a long-term vision and near-term milestones to map out how you will achieve the goals decided in the first steps. Detail the stakeholders involved and their respective responsibilities. 

  1. Vendor selection: A quick Google search will reveal multiple options for a community platform. Instead of trying to pick the best, choose the best for your use case, which helps you implement the strategy you chose to achieve your goals. If you don't wish to use customized platforms (like Circle or Tribe), start with free tools — Slack or Discord — that are also easy to set up. 

  1. Planning: Create an actionable plan by bringing together strategy, tools, and stakeholders who will execute the strategy. It will require collaboration across the company. Your plan should mention how you will collaborate with your marketing team to work on a plan to spread the word on social media or work with the IT team to make sure that the tech set-up is done right. Think about training and contingency plans. 

  1. Implementation:  Establish a project team and engage your community platform vendor to build the community. Start taking the steps you outlined in your strategy and planning phase. Manage the communication between teams and make sure things are moving ahead according to deadlines. 

  1. QA / Beta: It’s time to find out if it all works the way you envisioned it through quality assurance testing and a feedback program. Invite a small group of employees, team members, or trusted users to experience the community. Observe how they interact. Take note of any UI/UX issues. Stress-test your systems to make sure that nothing breaks. 

  1. Soft Launch: Bring the community online, invite a small number of users, and complete your final checks before executing the full promotion plan. This period can range from a few days to several weeks, depending on your internal readiness and any showstoppers that may crop up.

  1. Public Launch: Kick off your promotion plan and open up the community to the world. When people start joining, be there to welcome them and observe for any initial hiccups. 

The easiest way to get started is to create a Slack or Discord space and invite your already existing members. To enhance the capabilities of Slack or Discord, you can integrate it with Magik.so. It will help you streamline repetitive tasks to focus on what matters -- building personalized connections. 

Wrap Up

Brand communities are a great way to build not just a strong brand but a powerful business supported by its customers. Talk to your customers directly, see what they are discussing, identify brand advocates and lower the load on your customer support. Just remember -- it works both ways, so a brand should also look after its community with special perks, creating a safe space for everyone, etc. 

Priya Nain
Marketing
Community Building
Community Management

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