What is a branded online community for businesses?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many people are now part of various online communities that can centre around different things, such as a celebrity, a hobby or a geographical location. These communities can also focus on a brand and the products or services it offers. Understanding the benefits of having a branded community and how to set one up can be useful if you want to start building a community around your brand as part of your marketing strategy. In this article, we discuss what an online community is, detail the characteristics of a positive brand community and explain how you can establish one.

What is a branded online community?

A branded online community is a group that focuses on a specific brand and the products or services it offers, bringing together customers who are passionate about the brand. These communities use the Internet to communicate with each other and the brand itself. This community might be based on a social media platform or Internet forum and usually has its own guidelines for how members interact. Those who join these communities are usually customers, but they may also be suppliers or partners. Anyone emotionally connected to the brand can be an active member of a branded community.

Brand communities are different to brand awareness. Some customers might buy from the brand but have less of a connection or emotional investment in it than others. These customers are less likely to join a community related to the brand.

How do branded communities benefit businesses?

Branded communities benefit businesses because they're a powerful marketing and customer service tool. Communities like this deepen the connection between the customer and the brand, which can lead to improved customer loyalty and retention. A community can be part of an enhanced customer experience, which can give a brand an advantage over its competitors and a unique selling point. Community members can also refer friends to the brand and community, which helps develop new leads, increase exposure and boost sales.

A community is also an advantage for businesses that want to test new products and gain meaningful feedback. Businesses can test out mock-ups of new products, find out about the features customers want and gain general feedback about products and services. This ensures that decisions are customer-driven and more likely to improve customer satisfaction. A large community with considerable knowledge about the brand's products can also reduce the need for customer support and troubleshooting. Customers might approach the community for support and advice rather than contacting the company itself.

Characteristics of a positive online brand community

Even though online communities can vary greatly, positive communities have some characteristics in common. The nature of the community is likely to depend on the nature of the brand, its products and its customers. It's worth remembering some of the attributes of a strong community when creating one for a brand because this helps you build it effectively. Knowing the characteristics of successful communities can help you guide the community to make it a positive and inclusive environment that benefits both the brand and its customers. They include:

It has a strong common purpose

Effective communities have a strong and common purpose that the brand and community members share. This is what brings community members together and encourages a sense of belonging. The company might have an overarching goal for the community, such as increasing sales or customer retention, but its main purpose usually relates to giving customers what they want. This could be wanting education and insights into the brand's products or services or getting inspiration and ideas. It's important to establish the purpose of the community to make sure it's effective.

It encourages engagement

A positive online branded community encourages its members to engage with the brand and each other. The type of content you share in the community, such as engagement questions or surveys, can encourage this. Keeping content focused on topics that are relevant and interesting for community members is also useful, so it's important to have a clear understanding of what the community's purpose is. Whether the community is based on social media, an online forum or your own custom-built platform, making it easy for members to interact and keeping interactions secure helps boost the community and encourage confidence.

It promotes diversity

A positive community is inclusive and encourages diversity. Bringing together a range of people and encouraging them to share their views and insights helps create a vibrant and diverse group. A diverse range of experiences, opinions and backgrounds also makes the community more insightful and well-rounded, giving members a more positive experience. Making all community members feel welcome and included helps to increase loyalty and brand reputation and can add to the longevity and growth of the community.

It's carefully moderated

A successful community is carefully moderated to ensure its members feel safe. This involves a careful balance of moderating discussions appropriately while still allowing community members to express themselves freely. Dedicated moderators or community managers who represent the brand are sometimes necessary, especially for larger branded communities. Establishing clear guidelines helps to protect community members and the brand while still encouraging members to communicate and contribute.

Related: How to become a community manager (with salary information)

How to build an online community

If you're keen to build a community for a brand, there are some steps you can follow. This process helps you build an active and successful community that supports the brand. Each brand and community is unique, and you can develop the community in a range of different ways, but these steps are useful for many different types of branded communities:

1. Define the brand

Before establishing a community based around a brand, it's important to clearly define the brand itself. This helps clarify who the brand is for and what it aims to achieve. Defining the brand means you can target the right people to join the community because you understand the target audience and what they want from the brand.

Related: What is brand positioning and what are its benefits?

2. Define the community's purpose

Defining a common purpose is essential for a successful community. It's helpful to think about what the community is for and how you can keep members engaged. It's also useful to think about what metrics you want to track to measure the community's success. Another idea to consider is how the brand's purpose fits with the company's overall purpose and business goals. You can consider how a branded community supports the company's goals for customer service, sales and marketing and how it might help the organisation meet its objectives.

3. Choose a platform

It's necessary to choose a platform for your community. There are various options available here. An online forum might be a good choice for communities that discuss a broad range of subjects, some of which may be unrelated to the brand. You can use social media, either by setting up a dedicated group or using the brand's social media accounts to engage with others and build a community. You can also use an alternative third party community platform or set up your own unique platform. Understanding the purpose of the community can help you decide which option is most suitable.

4. Grow the community

After setting up a community space, you can grow the community by encouraging others to join. At first, these members might be employees of the brand, but you can also promote the new community on social media. The brand's social media followers typically want to engage with the brand and are therefore likely to join the community. You can also promote the community in other ways, such as by sending a customer a link to it when they make a purchase or join your mailing list. This helps to create a diverse group.

Related: What is social media management? (Definition and benefits)

5. Regularly engage with the community

It's important to regularly engage with the community to help it thrive and encourage members to interact. Members join the community because they're passionate about the brand, so it's likely that they want to communicate with it. It's important to respond promptly to questions from members, post engaging content and encourage community members to start conversations.

6. Ask for feedback

Once the community becomes more established, it's often helpful to ask members for feedback. This helps you guide the community in a positive direction. Knowing what members are looking for from the community helps you share more meaningful content and moderate the community in a way that makes members feel safe, included and involved. Giving members a voice in how you run the community also supports inclusivity and can boost brand loyalty.

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