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How to foster brand loyalty through online communities

Customers today have high expectations as well as easy access to social tools to voice opinions or ask for company and product recommendations.

Online CommunitiesCompanies can no longer only focus on establishing a customer relationship with a friendly handshake at the department store.

While ensuring a positive customer interaction in person is still important to build loyalty, the experiences that customers receive online are just as critical, and even more imperative are the interactions customers have with other customers.

Organisations looking to steadily increase brand loyalty and sales are quickly realising that online communities offer a compelling new option for companies that want a better connection with customers. Nike, Dell, and Adobe, to name a few industry giants, have all launched communities that strengthen their brands, generate excitement, and increase loyalty among customers.

But online customer communities do not succeed automatically. Creating an online community that increases customer brand loyalty and ultimately sales require a delicate balance of spontaneity and structure. Here are a few best practices for how organisations can find that balance and establish a trusted online community for customers to honestly and openly interact.

Create a community with clear goals in mind

Communities need a clear purpose—for business justification and to design the best platform for the job. And don’t worry about being too specific.  It will help your organisation focus on the goals.  You also need to make those goals obvious to your customers. A focused community provides a rallying point for members, bringing them together and motivating them to contribute. Without a clearly stated mission, users quickly lose interest in the site and trust in your organisation.

Use communities to motivate and inspire customers

Creating a sense of inclusion and momentum inspires members to participate, but in order to do this, first understand your customers – learn about what motivates them and why they identify with your brand.  Whether it is obtaining insider status, being recognised as an expert, or finding useful information for work or purchase related decisions, learn what their trigger is, and continually work to motivate them.

[Next: Be Open and Honest]

Be Open and Honest

Engage with members through genuine interactions.  Do not use communities to intrusively sell to them.  Communities are a space built on trust and personal relationships, respect that and ultimately members will become the best advertising dollars you can spend because peers listen and trust one another more than a salesperson.

Host and participate in communities

In the world of online communities, I like to say hosting the party is the best way to establish relationships with customers.  By providing members a place to gather, discuss, rant, brag, or just people watch, organisations are able to benefit from a greater lifetime customer value, amplified marketing campaigns and sincere word of mouth marketing.  But don’t just sit back and mingle during the party, get out there and host it!  Listen to members, respond quickly and sincerely to their questions and criticisms, acknowledge members insights publicly to create excitement, and watch as your online community creates the most loyal customers an organisation could ever ask for.

Online communities are beginning to pervade the marketplace

There is no escaping it since customers will create their own, if you don’t. And there is also business value in it.  Creating a community promotes dialogue with customers and becomes an opportunity filled space to build a loyal following, which yields significant benefits.  But be prepared to let the community evolve through a combination of organic and structured growth.  Finally, remain dedicated to continuous improvement to maximise community success.

John Kembel is Vice President of Social Solutions, RightNow.

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John Kembel

John Kembel

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