I do not think it is that simple, online communities can’t only be an expression of loneliness, there must be more to them…
As a student of commerce, I can’t help but realise that the word ‘online community’ keeps popping up in the hallways and job application forms. But why online communities? What are they? What effect do they have? Which problems/challenges can they help with? And who should be building or having an online community these days?
Since I do not have the answers to the above above-noted questions, I decided to take a deeper delve into online communities.
In trusting the Cambridge Dictionary, an ‘online community’ should be defined as “a group of people who use a particular internet service or belong to a particular group on the internet” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020). These groups of individuals on the internet can have an impact on your business according to Michael Cohn (Cohn, 2020, p. 1). He adds that it is his believe that social communities succeed because people are attracted to them since we humans naturally are social animals. He further describes this by saying that people “are comfortable in groups and feed off of each other’s energy and they like to bounce ideas off of each other (among other things) (Cohn, 2020, p. 1). So regardless of their digital focus, people are going to nevertheless be drawn to online communities.
Research found that there generally exist two types of communities, social media communities and branded communities (Ahern, et al., 2019, p. 2). Both are defined as follows:
– Branded communities: “a brand community is a group of customers who are invested in a brand beyond what is being sold. These customers want to become a part of the brand itself” (Peckover, 2019). Brand communities don’t increase brand awareness, the people in these communities are already possess a sense of brand loyalty.
– Social media communities: “are online properties in which members relate common experiences and interests” (Douma, 2007). 3 types of social media communities exist. They are defined per reason to join. Accordingly, there are:
1. Communities of Interest: involves subjects that people find interesting.
2. Communities of Task: focus on peer-to-peer reviews. People who are looking to fulfull a specific goal often visit these communities to connect with credible advocates to find information they need. Communities of task should be of interest to the company wanting to sway purchase intention during the research phase of the consumer funnel.
3. Communities of Vocation: a perfect example of this type of community is LinkedIn.com. It focusses on professional connections with specific vocational needs. These professional communities tend to be ‘templated’ in nature, offering rules and boundaries of communication and focused discussion” (Douma, 2007).
Many businesses have trouble increasing customer engagement, improving the customer experience, and increasing awareness to have people know the brand (Ahern, et al., 2019, p. 58). Ahern conducted research proving the following, “an online community can help organizations to improve engagement by up to 21%; 82% of the research respondents said that their online community has helped to improve their customer experience; and 57% of those with a branded community said that the community has led to an increased SEO” (Ahern, et al., 2019, p. 59). In assuming that an improvement of the SEO increases awareness, online communities do seem to help businesses to solve the beforementioned problems.
With regards to branded and social media communities the following was concluded in research, “branded communities are 13% more likely to have an impact on customer experience than social media communities; branded communities also are 21% more likely to see an increase in brand SEO than social media communities; branded communities are 16% more likely to successfully foster brand loyalty that social media communities; and branded communities reporter higher levels of success overall than social media communities, based on our analysis of community purpose category averages” (Ahern, et al., 2019, p. 59). The branded communities do seem to work more effectively than social media communities.
I believe that ultimately, engagement I the key in online communities and that loyal customers activate less loyal ones. This should in my opinion concisely be integrated into the customer journey map. Regarding engagement in online communities, Michael Cohn stated that “being engaged and engaging is essential”, He further added that “you need people to eventually buy what you are selling. For that reason, online social communities work well for many things, including giving each other what the other wants and needs. You want your relationship to be mutually beneficial. Just like everything else, relationships are at the heart of successful online social communities” (Cohn, 2020, p. 2)
The future of online communities is uncertain; however, some researchers have a clear idea of where it is headed. According to Shannon Abram, “this year, online communities and digital engagement are taking on dramatic new relevance. We have made considerable progress in translating the generative business model of communities into financial benchmarks, which are critical for organizations as they consider using community approaches to transform their organizations” (Abram, 2020). To end this blog, I am going to say that I agree with Shannon. I also believe that we will eventually transform our business models and organisations so that our communities can flourish. Which is pretty much the opposite of how online communities are used today.
Abram, S. (2020). thecr-connect/connect-2020-changing-the-way-we-work/. Retrieved from communityroundtable.com: https://communityroundtable.com/thecr-connect/connect-2020-changing-the-way-we-work/
Ahern, P., Brenner, M., Millington, R., Speyer, A., Robinson-Yu, S., & Rosa, J. (2019). Online Communities The Benefits and Impacts on Organizations 2019. Montreal: Vanilla Online community Forum.
Cambridge Dictionary. (2020). dictionary/english/online-community. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/online-community
Cohn, M. (2020). The Impact of Online Social Communities on Your Business. Kinnelon: CompuKol Communications LLC. Retrieved from https://www.compukol.com: https://www.compukol.com/the-impact-of-online-social-communities-on-business/
Douma, C. (2007, November 20). content/3-types-social-media-communities. Retrieved from https://www.socialmediatoday.com: https://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/3-types-social-media-communities
Peckover, T. (2019). what-is-a-brand-community/. Retrieved from https://blog.smile.io/: https://blog.smile.io/what-is-a-brand-community/