[Webinar Recap] Building Brand Communities: What Marketers Need to Know

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Missed our webinar with the ANA? Don’t sweat it. Watch the recorded version and learn how leveraging owned channels to build a brand community is key in brand activation initiatives.

It wasn’t long ago that marketers used Facebook and other social networks as a means to build direct consumer relationships. But as we all know, the ability to activate consumer relationships through these networks became limited – leaving the question: How will brands manage long-term consumer relationships?

On February 8, our CEO and VP of Strategy teamed up to share why marketers should build a brand-owned community, best practices for leveraging a brand-owned community in marketing initiatives, and understanding the importance of an authentic two-way relationship with consumers.

Click here to watch the full version.

During the presentation, we polled the attendees and addressed questions from the audience that we’d like to share with you here:

Poll 1: Thinking about your brand community strategy, which describes your situation best?

A: My brand has a strong community strategy and I’m looking for new ideas/case studies 17%

B: My brand is exploring our community strategy and I want to learn more 64%

C: My brand does not have a community strategy and we’re starting from the beginning 19%


Poll 2: Where is your brand getting beat by competitors?

A: Direct relationship 23%

B: Authentic advocacy 21%

C: Long-term relationship 23%

D: Insights 33%


Poll 3: If you wanted to launch a branded community, what would prevent you from doing so?

A: My company is traditional 25%

B: Fear of negative feedback 0%

C: Throw a party and nobody shows up 17%

D: Bandwidth constraint: 58%

Q: Who usually owns the community and which department are they in within the marketing organization?

A: It really depends on the company that we’re working with. Here’s what I’ll say is a recommendation with the brands that we work with - It is great to have a champion, it is great to have someone who owns it. But the best communities, the ones that are thriving, they actually touch many departments, and it becomes cross-functional. So as you look at those buckets that we shared, we really work hard to understand your objectives and then put those actions within those buckets. So whether it’s brand, digital, social, shopper, media, insights - all of them can actually have and see value out of the community.

Q: What differences or challenges do you see in building brand following for B2B versus B2C marketing?

A: When you think about B2C marketing and social - it’s a place for these private relationships. And brands really struggle to be part of that private relationship in a natural and authentic way. That’s why building the community and letting consumers raise their hands and say “I want to share” allows the brands to be part of that community easily and part of that conversation seamlessly and authentically.

In the B2B world, we’re more comfortable putting our content out there, so I think it falls a little bit different. Most of the experience we fall under is within the B2C. So some of the challenges for B2B are:  are they part of an organization? Are there rules and regulatory that sits around this? Are there any associations they belong to?

In the B2B space, one of the best utilities, if you do happen to work with a business partner or client, is the opportunity to provide a home for their advocacy. Word of mouth is going to be incredibly powerful in the B2B space with social networks like LinkedIn or other ways in which folks try to get insights into who they’re talking to and if they should work with a certain company. The platform itself has the utility to operate in the B2B space. It’s just the methodology would be unique to fit with the business goals and objectives of the specific company interested in building the community. What’s also nice is you get to understand the behaviors of those that you’re interacting with and ways they would engage in their social channels and their social platforms, giving you insights that you probably wouldn't be able to access in  traditional B2C ways. You actually get that opportunity if you have that owned platform.

Q: If all brands start to have advocates for a community, do you think it will start to lose its power?

A: It would probably fall under the same premise as your creative and your messaging and your ability to persuade someone to actually do something. So those that are capable of having better experiences, better engagement, better opportunities are going to grow better communities. And the ability to retain those and loyalize them is going to fall on your commitment to those people. If you let them die in your community and you don’t continue to find an opportunity to have a relationship, they might leave. But really the opportunity and the goal should be something that you look at, not just as influencers or advocates or these things in silos, but really as an enabling technology that will unlock capabilities in creativity. Even within companies that we’ve seen these communities be built, it’s a source of morale building and it’s something to get excited about because you actually get to interact with people who love your product the most. And so if there was ever a time when everyone had a community, I would be psyched. But I think it would become very competitive, just as it is today, but in a completely different way. Of who can have the most authentic relationship, who’s most honest, who can provide feedback. And that’s where you’re going to see differentiation in the space. We’re not even close to being there yet, but I’m excited for when we have that conversation.

Q: Do you have ideas on how to test and validate a brand-owned community before spending to build something?

A: There are ways, and we at Social Media Link, have a version of the community building that allows you to really test and dip your toes in. And so what does that mean? There’s a platform that allows you to engage advocates in a really targeted way and give them an opportunity to engage with your brand and service and then ask them to share. And so our company allows you to do that, and that is a way to really measure and test what it is that consumers are looking for as part of your brand. And part of that is not only the activation, but also the insights and discussions. We absolutely have a way for marketers to test before they dive all in. And this goes back to the other point that we were trying to make earlier: there is this fear that you throw a party and nobody shows up. So working with a team that has experience in engaging community members really does remove that fear, and we have the playbook on engagement. All communities are different but there are some factors that are similar around how consumers want to engage with brands, and so I think that takes some of the risk out of it as well.

Q: Is there a turn-key to approach to gather insights from these communities?

A: Yeah, it’s incredibly turn-key as far as understanding what your objectives are. If it’s really insights first, that’s how you would approach it. Really the process is in the qualification. So being able to get people to opt-in to the right type of experience they’re looking for. So if it’s insights focused, asking those questions upfront and being able to sift through all of those that may want to participate to make sure you’re getting A: the right people and B: enough of them to make sure you’re getting the type of panel you need. So you may have questions where you’re looking to understand your existing heavy-user population or your household composition that has a high purchase frequency. That could be very different from those who are switchers and tryers. The ways in which you would try to bring people into your community then varies. Initially people tend to gravitate toward the advocacy and influence, but when you take that insights focus, you really want to get more of a general population landscape to understand who’s new to the category, etc., so you can replicate the type of research that you pay third-party groups a lot of money to do. From a timing standpoint, how long does that take? Not very long. A few months to bring people in, you give them a unique brand experience that’s interesting to them, initiate some surveys to understand and segment who they are, and start asking them for the insights. And you’re able to generate all the responses in real time because it’s your platform. You don’t necessarily need a third-party person to build it out - through our tool you can see things very clearly as the insights come in.

Q: How do you calculate the 3 million consumer impressions in the Seventh Generation example?

A: So within the platform, you’re looking at the quantity of members that you’re activating, but you’re also looking at where they’re sharing and the size of their social networks. So our platform gives members the ability to automatically connect their social networks, and through the APIs on the backend, we’re able to track how many consumers are within the member's networks. So of the 3,100 members activated for Seventh Generation, they know exactly how many people are in the networks of those 3,100 people, then therefore reaching the 3 million impressions.

One thing to clarify is you’re always able to reach out to your consumers through your CRM and you may ask them to post a selfie or share on their social channels, but you never really know if they do. You kind of have to look from a secondary perspective to comb through and find them. What’s great about having your own platform, particularly the technology we provide, is that the content really originates from your space and then is able to go through the consumers’ social channels. So being the source of the origination for the content gives you the ability to understand where it goes and where it reaches.

Q: Can you give more information for the acquisition strategy for the Seventh Generation community?

A: Many of the communities that we work with have a CRM or database, and if they don’t, they might have social channels. They may have built up their Facebook page believing that was their community. They can start in those places. One of the things that Seventh Generation has done really well is integrating into all the touch points - whether it’s media, or on their packaging, they are inviting consumers to join the community any time they can reach out or connect with a consumer. The other way is that it grows organically. So any time a member is out advocating for them, it automatically includes a link, which invites friends, followers and readers to join the community. So this is an opportunity to grow the community in an organic way.

Rebecca CheathamTwitterLinkedIn

Rebecca is the Business Development Coordinator at Social Media Link. She is responsible for collaborating with the sales and marketing team to support the needs of our clients throughout the sales cycle.