There’s a HUGE misconception when it comes to leveraging online communities…
…but we’ll talk about that in just a second.
If you’re looking to leverage community in your business (which you should be), it’s VITAL to understand where your community fits, or will fit, in your overall marketing strategy.
As the Lead Community Strategist at DigitalMarketer, I’ve learned how to effectively leverage DigtialMarketer’s online community to:
- Grow brand awareness
- Reduce churn
- Increase ascension
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Increase customer loyalty
And that’s exactly what you’re going to walk away knowing how to do at the end of this post…
How to use community to build customer loyalty and generate leads and sales.
Let’s Get Some Things Straight
Like I said, there’s a HUGE misconception when it comes to leveraging online communities…
…it’s not one-size-fits-all.
To understand where your community fits within your marketing strategy — and to make sure it doesn’t try to accomplish too many goals at once — we need to cover a universal truth:
Business owners and CEOs only care about two things:
- Decreasing costs
- Increasing revenue
Therefore, for your community to have business value, your community MUST link back to one of those two initiatives.
One easy way to do this is to understand the Customer Value Journey — the process of moving a complete stranger to a raving fan. It looks like this:
(RELATED: Your Digital Marketing Strategy Template (AKA The Customer Value Journey))
DigitalMarketer teaches that the role of marketing is to move prospects and customers seamlessly through each stage of the Journey.
Striking the balance between “asking for marriage on the first date” by making an offer too quickly and being so hesitant that you never ask for the sale.
When we’re talking about using online communities, there’s one more universal truth to wrap your brain around…
No one community can move someone all the way through the Customer Value Journey.
This means that in order for your community to have any business value — decreasing costs or increasing revenue — it must be set up strategically.
In my research as DigitalMarketer’s lead community strategist, I’ve found that businesses that successfully use community focus their tribes on one of three areas of the Customer Value Journey:
- Aware/Engage Communities
- Excite/Ascend Communities
- Advocate/Promote Communities
Let’s break each down by looking at some real-life examples and see how each type of community addresses different business goals!
Awareness/Engage Communities meet people at the very beginning of their journey with your brand.
Notice that it meets people BEFORE the sale is made.
The main goal of this type of community is to raise awareness for brands and products/services WITHOUT directly selling.
Instead, your prospects become familiar with your brand through topical discussions around your industry, products, or services.
Aware/Engage Community Goals
Communities at these stages meet several important marketing goals, including…
- Strengthening brand awareness
- Increasing engagement with prospects
- Raising offer awareness
- Growing retargeting lists
- Improving website traffic
- Increasing market research
Next, let’s look at some real-world examples of how brands are using communities at the Aware/Engage section of the Customer Value Journey.
Aware/Engage Community Examples
To get a good grasp on what an Aware/Engage community looks like, let’s look at Screw The Nine To Five, a company that sells information and resources to budding entrepreneurs.
Notice they have a Facebook Group linked right on their home page.
This is an Aware/Engage play. Members of the group do not have to be customers to join.
The group functions solely as a way for prospects to get to know the Screw The Nine To Five team before they commit to a purchase.
The company uses their community as a way to get prospects on board with their brand’s mission, as noted here in the group description:
Jill Stanton, the company’s co-founder and admin of the group, skillfully creates tons of community-building content to get members connecting with each other…
And all “offers” presented to the group are tippy-top of funnel, like links to Facebook Live videos on their Facebook Page.
It’s important to notice that any official brand-related content meets people right where they are: in the Aware and Engage sections of the Customer Value Journey.
Now, let’s take a look at a completely different approach to Aware/Engage Communities.
Consider BabyCenter, a parenting community run by multinational manufacturing company Johnson & Johnson.
The site provides a myriad of ways for community members to connect with each other, regardless of the stage of family planning…
…but it also provides plenty of opportunities for offer awareness through ad placements and a shop tab.
Pretty neat, right?
Keep in mind, with Aware/Engage Communities, you’re a lot more concerned with the volume of members than you would be with online tribes that meet other areas of the Customer Value Journey.
That’s because you’ll want as many qualified eyeballs as possible on your top of funnel offers. And volume is critical if you are looking to create or sell viable ad space.
But please remember, valuable, viable communities are all about the connections that members are making with each other.
A community space that ONLY serves to get eyeballs on offers isn’t a community at all — it’s an audience.
Now, let’s look at how to measure the health of your Aware/Engage Community, so you can keep it on track…
Aware/Engage Community Metrics
Communities that meet people at the beginning stages of the Customer Value Journey will have an effect on the following metrics:
- Steady Community Growth: But be careful not to treat your community like an audience.
- Offer Awareness: Use tippy-top of funnel content to drive brand engagement and offer awareness.
- Retargeting List Growth: As members become more familiar with your brand and visit your site, you can retarget them to make offers on advertising channels.
- Site Engagement Metrics: As members move from awareness to engagement, you should see an increase in visits to your website.
- Word of Mouth (WOM) Referrals to the Community: If your community is valuable to your members, you should see referrals to the community itself.
It’s important to note that these will not result in DIRECT metrics of your Aware/Engage Community. But if you’ve built a successful tribe, you should see a rise in these areas.
(RELATED: Measure the Growth, Activity, and Experience of Your Community (Correctly) with These 4 Metrics)
Now we’ll move on to…
Excite/Ascend Communities meet people after the sale occurs and are primarily made up of customers.
The main goal of this type of community is to build on the value your buyers receive from your brand and turn traditionally transactional customer relationships into stronger emotional relationships.
Excite/Ascend Community Goals
In contrast to Aware/Engage Communities, the marketing goals of Excite/Ascend Communities include…
- Growing email list/retargeting
- WOM referrals to brand and/or products
- Raising buyer frequency
- Increasing retention
- Nurturing leads and customers
- Maximizing customer value
- Identifying product/content gaps
Excite/Ascend Community Examples
Customer support forums are prime examples of using community to meet people in the middle of the Customer Value Journey.
Take popular gaming console PlayStation as an example.
Here, the goal of the community content — which is almost entirely produced by the users themselves — is to solve issues with the console and accompanying games through peer-to-peer support.
This keeps customers excited about their purchases. When customers are excited, they tend to purchase more.
Here’s a snippet of one of the conversations in the PlayStation forum:
A customer is having difficulty with the new Virtual Reality product. Another user weighed in with a suggestion to play it with the lights off.
Voila! Problem solved.
A customer learned how to use the product better and is now perfectly set up for the purchase of more gaming products.
Our own DigitalMarketer Engage community — a Facebook group for customers of our DigitalMarketer Lab membership — is another example of a community that serves the Excite/Ascend area of the Customer Value Journey.
Our community serves to add value to our membership product, allowing DM Lab members to…
- Connect with each other
- Share best practices
- Solve situational marketing issues
- Give tool recommendations
The vast majority of posts by the admin (usually me) are meant to build this sense of community. Like our #RoleCall post that lets members raise their hand if they are an expert on a particular topic…
We’ve found that building a strong Excite/Ascend Community allows members to get even more value from their original purchase. This leads to an increase in retention…
And it encourages customer ascension, as gathering our best customers together naturally leads to discussions of our other products…
Excite/Ascend Community Metrics
Similar to Aware/Engage Communities, the online tribes that meet people at the Excite/Ascend stage of the Customer Value Journey will have an indirect (yet powerful!) effect on some key business metrics…
- Slower, intentional community growth — in some cases, membership is exclusive to verified customers only
- Email/retargeting list growth
- Increase in offer conversion rates
- An uptake in email open rates
- Increase in email click-through rates
Keep in mind, customers who receive value that goes above and beyond their purchase tend to buy from you more often.
And if they have formed emotional bonds with a community of their peers, they are likely to remain loyal.
That’s the power of Excite/Ascend Communities.
Now that you see the key difference in goals, content, and metrics between Aware/Engage Communities and Excite/Ascend Communities, let’s take a look at the last category…
Advocate/Promote Communities meet people at the end of the Customer Value Journey.
The main goal of Advocate/Promote Communities is to equip and encourage customers who are actively providing testimonials and referring their friends, family, and colleagues to your business.
Advocate/Promote Community Goals
As you might have guessed, the goals of Advocate/Promote Communities are specific to online tribes built for their unique place in the Customer Value Journey.
These goals include…
- Increasing the number of customer testimonials
- Growing the number of active promoters
- Encouraging WOM referrals to products/services
- Building affiliate sales of products/services
- Improving retention of active advocates and promoters
Let’s look at how businesses are using Advocate/Promote communities in the real world.
Advocate/Promote Community Examples
The popular review site Yelp has a community program called Yelp Elite (recently rebranded to Yelp Elite Squad, or YES! for short). It’s designed for super-users of their platform.
Admittance is based on user activity — such as supplying helpful reviews and posting engaging photos of venues.
Those lucky enough to be accepted into the program can enjoy many perks, from exclusive meet and greets to members-only events (their page mentions an axe throwing event, I have to admit, I’m intrigued).
Programs like YES! encourage superstar customers to use the platform more often through special events.
And, more significantly, the program strategically rewards their users for using the tool in exactly the way the company intends.
In the same vein, customer relationship management powerhouse Infusionsoft uses their Greenroom community to directly encourage advocates in their customer family.
Through gamification features, The Greenroom allows Infusionsoft superfans to compete among themselves in good-natured challenges by sharing blog posts, booking event tickets, and more.
Advocate/Promote Community Metrics
The metrics of an Advocate/Promote Community should not come as a shock. Successful communities in this area of the Customer Value Journey include…
- New customer testimonials
- An increased number of active promoters
- More WOM referrals to products/services
- Additional affiliate sales of products/services
Now, while your community isn’t a one-size-fits-all, it does have an impact on areas outside its Customer Value Journey stage…
The Halo Effect of Including Community in Your Marketing Strategy
“But, Suzi,” you might be thinking, “couldn’t I expect an Aware/Engage Community to produce excited customers? Won’t an Excite/Ascend Community produce advocates and promoters?”
The answer is: YES! 😀
That’s one of the great things about these online communities — even though the PRIMARY purpose of a community might be meeting people at the beginning of their journey with your brand…
…you will also get excited customers who experience your brand on a deeper level by being a part of your online community.
In the same vein, Excite/Ascend Communities will have a Halo Effect, producing loyal brand advocates and promoters.
As long as you can identify the MAIN reason your community exists — tapping into customers or prospects at Aware/Engage, Excite/Ascend, or Advocate/Promote — you can enjoy the “halo” benefits a successful community will produce.
The Bottom Line
Strategically applying your community into the Customer Value Journey will intrinsically provide the business value you wish to serve.
But it also tackles that pesky misconception that online communities can be all things all the time.
Trying to have your community be all things will hurt your community and keep it from what it could accomplish.
I’ll leave you with a final piece of advice — don’t measure your community’s success by another community’s metrics!
If you have an Aware/Engage Community meeting people at the beginning of their journey with your brand, don’t judge its success by how many advocates and promoters it produces.
If your Excite/Ascend Community doesn’t happily serve your prospects, don’t worry — that’s not it’s primary function.
By having your community focus on a specific Customer Value Journey category, you’ll avoid pulling your community in different, competing directions.