Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In today’s era of transparency across the web, consumers are gaining more access to the facts and opinions of businesses. From social media channels to the ecommerce realm, there is a plethora of information to digest — and consumers make informed decisions based on this data.
The question is, how should business owners react to it? More importantly, how do they act on this behavior to impress consumers and gain a competitive advantage? There’s no doubt there is an opportunity to engage with consumers who are actively researching your brand. But what’s the most effective way without seeming tacky or pushy? It all resides in engagement. Engaging with consumers with full transparency is the key to elevating your business and building trust with people who believe in your brand and purpose.
But many businesses aren’t confident about building an online community for their brand. It seems labor-intensive to some, and others feel they just don’t have time to manage another platform. But communities can bolster brand awareness, trust and loyalty. Below, I’ll discuss the four key benefits of building a community:
Related: How to Build Your Own Online Community
1. Boosts your brand awareness
We all understand the power of word-of-mouth. It’s the oldest form of marketing; centuries later, it’s still as impactful. Semrush shared that 64% of marketers agreed that word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing.
It’s clear that people look to friends and family for business recommendations. A study by Annex Cloud showed that 91% of millennials said they would consider purchasing a product if a friend recommended it. It’s a significant part of a business — and should be added to your business strategy.
People who talk about your business positively are essentially unofficial brand ambassadors. Often brands invest the time and effort to reward these ambassadors to encourage loyalty. It may sound time-consuming, but consumers appreciate being rewarded, and brands see the value in this investment.
2. Fosters dynamic relationships
One of the most valuable things communities allow businesses to do is listen to their customers. Communities facilitate growth, but they are also an excellent source of feedback for companies — and honest feedback.
Customers are quite transparent about their experiences within communities. They may not be as upfront and honest on social platforms. Some companies see this as daunting, but others embrace it. My thoughts? Do the latter. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is valuable to an organization.
If people constantly give you bad reviews on a specific product, your delivery method or your ecommerce site, the chances are that there’s a gap to fill. Reviews speak volumes, and customers are the ones going through the entire user journey from start to finish. Ninety-seven percent of online consumers read reviews before making a purchase. Buyers have information and experience that is indispensable to you — use it well.
Related: 5 Ways to Connect With Your Online Community
3. Creates a higher level of customer support
Communities build a platform for people to share their experiences, but buyers also use communities to ask for help. Customer support is a major part of running a business, and impactful communities help advise members.
Conversations related to support also provide a sense of fellowship and encourage other members to share, learn and engage more often. The fostering of discussion is the greatest asset to businesses owning a community. It gives buyers a more poignant experience than watching a how-to video or an instructional blog article alone.
This is because humans connect with humans. Bryan Kramer, creator of There Is No B2B Or B2c: It’s Human to Human #H2h, referring to H2H being “the delightful side of humanity” that speaks to understanding, empathy and forgiveness. He shares that communication should be “genuine and simple,” and people should respect and understand that we are all multi-dimensional humans. Humans make errors, are curious to learn more and yearn for connection with others.
It’s a perfect tie-in to communities — people get a chance to connect with and help each other. It’s customer support, engagement and appreciation all in one.
4. Cultivates brand loyalty
When community members feel heard, appreciated and know that they are part of a society that understands them, they tend to stick around. Brands are beginning to see the role of their community plays in its level of success, especially in a digitally-led world.
Let’s analyze it from this angle: There are just twenty-four hours in one day. Account for sleep, work and chores, and the balance of hours is minimal. If an individual chooses to use some of this time to engage with your community, you’re privileged. They are exposed to hundreds of other websites, communities and social channels, but they choose yours.
The reality is, the more time a buyer invests into your community, product or service, the higher the chances of them respecting and valuing it. For businesses to be effective, they need to get in with the conversation and start rewarding these individuals. Communities are more than selling a product to consumers; they act as a pillar of support and provide value to customers.
Related: How Can Virtual Communities Create Value for Business?
Creating a community can be a tremendous change for your business — for the better. Getting like-minded individuals to connect, interact, advise and advocate on your platform keeps your business relevant. It also helps your company connect with individuals on a personal and closer level than on social channels.
Communities can boost brand awareness and offer a true competitive advantage if done well. The time to start is now. The competition is not waiting for anyone, and if you’re first to the market with a community, the chances are that you’ll attract many creative and passionate members who believe in the same values that you do. Conversations are a great part of our lives. It’s time to start celebrating them.