Humans are naturally pack animals. We want to be a part of a group bigger than ourselves and to be a part of a functioning community. Be it families, friend groups or shared interests, the want to be included with others is in our DNA.
Naturally, this has extended to the digital world. Social media platforms, message boards and anywhere else where like-minded people can interact with each other — in real time — have shaped the information age.
For ecommerce businesses, it represents a unique opportunity to cultivate and engage with your customer community. Your most vocal customers can be your greatest evangelists and shape how you attract and retain future buyers.
So, what is an online community? An online community can be a small Facebook group or an Instagram community of billions. Technically, they’re any online group where users interact with each other. In practice, they’re a huge business opportunity.
In 2022, 82% of community site visitors stated they would welcome brands participating in online communities.
Creating and fostering successful online communities is increasingly becoming the norm and not doing so puts ecommerce companies at risk of not maximizing sales potential and missing out on opportunities to build brand loyalty.
These types of online communities are based around discovery and knowledge sharing about a common interest. These bring teachers and students into one community to collaborate, discuss and ask questions about a particular subject. These could be based on quantum physics or Pokémon card strategies, but learning happens in them.
There are often significant shared open source resources to allow members to self-serve, but also encourage questions and answers.
Local communities take the digital world into the offline world and are based on a geographic area. These take into account geographic peculiarities of a community and tend to be smaller.
They may be more focused on local events or news. Considering this, ecommerce companies should only invest in areas where they have a significant local following or a brick-and-mortar store.
These are probably the most common online communities. As the name suggests, they’re built around a single brand or company and are highly desired by ecommerce businesses.
These community members are highly engaged and stand to be some of the most valuable customers. They build a support community and interact with your products and each other to provide significant insights into what’s working with buyers and what isn’t.
Hobby communities are built around a shared interest in an activity. They expand on brand communities to include all entities surrounding a specific interest, like woodworking, distance running or cooking. Members are highly interested and are likely to be willing to try new products within the space.
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These are the most common community platforms found in real life. Social communities are groups of people based, of course, around shared social connections. They can still have an online component, but no matter where interactions take place, members are looking to interact with each other and have fun.
They’re open to brands, although overt advertising may be frowned upon. These groups are more low key and are generally friendly to outsiders.
Religious communities bring together members of the same faith. They can take on varying forms and will be found in real life and in the digital world. They have a strong interest in their chosen religion, are enthusiastic about sharing their faith and are often looking for a sense of belonging.
These are found around the world and will have some geographic limitations based on the religion being discussed.
These are based around a shared political ideology. These groups can be very spirited and will have sub-groups within sub-groups based around specific issues or ideas.
Some groups may be open to more discussion, while some may be liable to engage in groupthink. Digital communities may cross over into the real world with in-person meet-ups or rallies.
If there’s a piece of media (film, book, video game, etc.) that has gained any level of notoriety, there’s a good chance there’s an online community to go with it. Fan communities can be massive and reach millions of active users.
Take a look at the Star Wars fan community, which boasts of hundreds of millions of fans in virtually every country on Earth. These groups are highly engaged and excited about making purchases related to their chosen fandom.
Online Community Example: Skullcandy
Skullcandy makes headphones and earbuds for general consumer use. It’s also one of the great success stories in identifying and catering to their online community.
They have a strong understanding of their customers and their brand and have scaled the company from being fairly anonymous to one of the biggest players in a very crowded space — and they did this by just listening and processing feedback.
Skullcandy very much grew through the strength of online word of mouth. Consumers liked the quality of the products and the brand image and were willing to share their feelings through social media and other online channels.
Skullcandy rightly identified this quickly and embraced their digital ambassadors, growing their social media communities:
2 million Facebook likes.
690K Instagram followers.
161K YouTube subscribers.
120K Twitter followers.
They catered directly to these users with a digital-first marketing strategy. Content was made specifically for these channels — a brave step in the mid-2010s — creating unique and specific messages for their most fervent followers.
Now, the company has a full internal agency dedicated to creating digital content across all channels, encouraging buyers to become their own organic sales force and enhancing customer retention.
The Final Word
Trying to build an online community isn’t easy and sometimes they’ll happen randomly.
However, if you recognize and cultivate them, you have a wonderful, third-party marketing tool that can strongly impact sales and grow community engagement. They take time and care to flourish, but they’ll be your biggest allies if you treat them right.