In a busy online world, brand community is incredibly valuable.
In the simplest terms, brand community refers to the people who engage with your brand (and therefore, your business) on social media and your website. It is far more than brand awareness; being aware of a brand doesn’t mean you’re a client, or ever will be. I’m very much aware of Boeing as a brand, but the chances of me ever owning my very own Boeing 747 are minuscule.
Your brand community is connected to your brand; they follow your content on social media, comment, read your blogs and keep an eye out for your offerings. When someone they know needs a recommendation in your industry, your brand is the first to spring to mind; and when they’re looking to purchase, you are the first point of call. If your community is strong enough, they will also defend your brand against bad press, and even support social missions at your request.
It all boils down to emotional connection. Your community needs to not just believe in the quality of your product or service, but also connect with you as a person behind the brand. They need to relate to the brand’s values and ethics.
Your brand needs to have a voice and a personality, and it is your job as a business owner to find the people who relate to that voice and personality and build your brand community with them.
So how do you do that?
Define your brand
Your starting point will be your personal values as a business owner. What’s important to you? What do you stand for?
Look at your personal values and choose what’s relevant to your brand; for example, for a clothing brand, ethical product manufacturing practices could be an important brand value, while that probably won’t apply to a web design service.
Look at who your brand helps; what is the pain point your product or service addresses for the community you serve? Your brand message needs to communicate the solution (your product or service) to your brand community in a way that resonates with them.
Define your social mission. For genuine connection and community, you need authenticity. Raising awareness for an important social cause is a way to use your platform to make a difference in the world around you, and it has the added benefit of creating strong connections with your community. Consider how your business gives back. Who and what do you use your voice to support? How do you show up for the world around you?
A strong social mission inspires loyalty from those to whom that mission is important. It also inspires respect, trust and credibility, and it allows you to make a real difference in your community!
Meet your clients where they are
There are a lot of options when it comes to social media platforms. Your main platform for connecting with your brand community should be determined by which platform your target demographic uses most.
For example, Facebook is a much more popular platform for the 30-50 age group than Instagram, but if your target market is under 30, you’re more likely to reach them on Instagram. Figure out where they are so you can reach them.
That’s not to say you should limit your marketing to one platform; of course not. But it’s important to be aware of your brand’s reach on each of the platforms you use, and which posts are most likely to be impactful on which platform.
Once you’ve figured this out, you’ll want to set your goals for what you’re trying to achieve. Are you aiming to grow your community to a certain number of members? Are you looking to increase clicks to your website? Sales? Bookings?
Setting these goals and tracking your progress will help you track how well your brand community is performing over time, so you’ll know whether it’s working or whether some tweaking is needed.
Choose your community platform
Once you know where your clients hang out, you need to decide how you’ll bring them all together to interact with you and with each other. What works for you will depend primarily on which base platform you’re choosing to use as your main hangout.
For example, if your community primarily uses Facebook, a dedicated Facebook group is a great way to bring them together. A group differs from your business page because Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t annihilate reach the way it does for business pages. As long as group members have selected to see the group’s post in their feeds, they will be shown to them. This makes your reach and engagement much greater than those of your business page.
LinkedIn also offers group spaces. If Instagram is your platform of choice, hashtags can make posts visible to those looking for your brand community. It’s a slightly clunkier way of doing things, but it works.
If your brand community is quite large, you could consider starting a forum space attached to your website, where your community can chat about all sorts of topics, not limited to your products alone. This works best with a large community, as people will drift away if there’s not enough going on to keep them interested.
Create a brand culture
As well as having a shared social mission, a key part of a strong brand community is having your own “secret language”. If you pay close attention to successful brand communities, you’ll see they do this part very well.
A secret language as it applies to brand community is the use of brand-specific jargon that only followers are familiar with. It makes community members feel included, like they are part of something. This secret language might start with phrases deliberately crafted by you as the business owner, but over time, you will find your community will come up with its own additions.
If you are paying attention to those additions and start using them in your communication, you’ll cement your brand community and make it that much more solid.
An excellent example of brand community and secret language done well is Korean boy band BTS, who are currently taking the world by storm. BTS’ brand community has its own name; fans are known as ARMY, and are widely referred to as such. This alone creates an instant sense of belonging and community.
But it doesn’t stop there. Within this community, there are many words and phrases that any ARMY knows the meaning of instantly, but which are meaningless outside of the band’s brand community. Phrases like borahae or I purple you are used as a greeting within the community, and the in-jokes and communal expressions are endless and unique to this particular brand.
Once you have your community established, it’s critical that you engage with them. You cannot simply post specials and product-related news, it will get boring very quickly.
This space is about connecting, so connect! Ask your community to share, show your appreciation, and show interest. Talk to your brand family.
For example, let’s say you run a bookshop. Your community space could have a book club where readers can read a particular book along with you. You can have a Book of the Month recommendation, post about new arrivals that you’re excited to read and ask members to share photos of their favourite reading nook or bookshelves. You could ask members to share their favourite authors or what they’re reading now.
You could even have a Featured Reader, where you feature a different community member each month; their feature could be an interview in which they discuss favourite books and authors, the most impactful reads of their lifetime, etc. The interview could be published on your blog and shared with the community, and for incentive, the featured reader could receive a voucher to spend at your shop.
Blogs shared could be discussions on new books or controversial books and book bannings. You could welcome writers, discuss topics like how to get your book published and have guest posts by publishers and authors.
You could also host live sale events where members can get exclusive discounts on books that are full-priced on your website.
All these activities keep your community active and engaged, build trust and connection and give members a reason to keep coming back.
Remember that this platform is also your community’s chance to be heard, so make sure that you make them feel heard. When someone posts about an experience with your company, whether it’s good or bad, always respond. Don’t just pay lip service: if the experience is not a good one, take the time to thank them and make sure you follow up to let them and everyone else know how issues were resolved.
A strong brand community is an incredible asset. On a small scale, it helps your business, not just in terms of sales, but in terms of word of mouth and loyalty. But the potential power of a larger community is limitless. Brand communities have bonded together to make social differences that had a significant impact.
To use an earlier example, BTS’ brand community has acted as a collective to achieve significant social goals. Their power was seen when, as a collective, they raised $1,000,000 to support the Black Lives Matter movement, matching the band’s own donation to the movement.
Similarly, when the COVID-19 pandemic deaths were at their peak and then-president Trump continued to schedule speaking events, ARMY worldwide bought up all but a handful of the tickets to the politician’s Tulsa event with no intention of using them, leaving him to speak to an empty stadium and preventing another cluster event of the virus.
If you’re a small local business, your brand community may never reach such peaks, of course, but that does not mean a strong brand community is not still a powerful asset to your business and the community as a whole.
Your brand community is your chance to make a difference on a bigger scale, to walk the talk, so get to stepping!