Why would a brand want to start a community?
Let’s stay away from the fuzzy ‘engagement’ answer please. If you want to engage with your community, it is for a business reason, which could be any one of these:
- Build a two-way conversation, which helps mine for insights and allows members to stay informed with updates and offerings
- Shape brand perception
- Improve retention and brand loyalty
Note that we did not include ‘sales’ because if you are starting a community to sell to its members, don’t bother – it won’t last long.
Which are the most successful brand communities?
Any talk of successful, global brand communities, will include the following:
A deep and well-developed community with outstanding sports and gaming content. We loved the fact that they allow you to download and use their images for free.
This is Sephora’s rewards programme, that intelligently uses loyalty data to create a community with close to 5 million members.
Strictly speaking, this is more of a fan club than a community, but we thought it was worth including because Disney allows members to interact at physical events. What’s interesting is that Disney actually charges a fee for joining D23.
This is seems like a no-brainer, when you have a massive base of enthusiasts just itching to show and tell. However, in the early 2000s, with growing competition from video games, LEGO found itself on the brink of bankruptcy.
LEGO Ideas, which later grew into LEGO Community, was one of the initiatives that helped the brand script a turnaround. Members could submit new concepts, vote on them, and chosen ideas received a share of the royalties.
Almost any product company has a developer forum today, but SAP took the lead in re-naming its SAP Developer Network (SDN) to SAP Community in 2008, envisaging a more collaborative space. After initial success, interest and usage of the community started waning as SAP made errors like a new, buggy platform and too many corporate messages. The rise of platforms like LinkedIn also drew members away from the community.
What about communities built by Indian brands?
Sunsilk’s Gang of Girls
The OG of Indian brand communities was probably Sunsilk’s Gang of Girls. In 2006, with Web 2.0 tools available, the shampoo brand Sunsilk started a much-lauded community called sunsilkgangofgirls.com. This was meant to be a forum to share hair tips and styling ideas and was developed by digital agency, BCWebWise. Although it was taken to nine countries and an attempt was made to relaunch it in 2010, the site lost steam quickly and is now defunct.
Branded Bike Forums
Ather Energy runs a forum for all things EV, while Royal Enfield also has a community for its owners. However, these sites have low engagement when compared with their super-charged counterparts like the Harley Owners Forum.
Smartphone brands nearly always invest in fan forums and communities, given that there is enough fodder to keep communities going – from announcements and feedback to troubleshooting and sharing photographs. Samsung Members Community and One Plus Community are two examples of active communities. One Plus even has a separate Community app on the Playstore.
Niche e-tailer Headphone Zone runs a small, highly-engaged community of audiophiles on a Facebook Group. We wrote about how this community has helped them improve retention.
There seem to be very few examples of successful brand communities globally and hardly any that have been built by Indian brands.
This is primarily because it is a long, resource-intensive and difficult process to create an authentic community.
Most brands do not even maximise the potential of their follower bases. Before you seek a ‘separate’ space for your community, first start by asking yourself if you understand and engage satisfactorily with your social media followers and email database? Do you track and respond to enquiries and reviews? First pay attention to the basics, before jumping into a separate community.
Secondly, ask yourself if are formulating a content-marketing strategy or creating a community? American Express has done an outstanding and enduring job of positioning itself as a champion for small businesses. It does this by creating content and events like Small Business Saturdays. The same for Peloton, whose community page is actually content about its members.
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