It comes as no surprise that the strongest brands have the strongest communities. Brands such as Starbucks and Apple come to mind when thinking of powerful and enduring customer loyalty. An almost religious like quality surfaces from consumers when Apple debuts a new product or Starbucks seasonally changes its logo. And sure, these brands are big and have the money and time to invest in advertising and product development—but size and money isn’t a guarantee of success. Branded online communities have come to define the way businesses understand and strategically position themselves for success. Communities are not only an inherit part of society, but as we have come to find, an inherit part of enterprises. Using social theories to understand community is a great tool for understanding the advantages of brand communities at a foundational level.
In a study published by Dr. David McMillan and Dr. David Chavis of Vanderbilt University, they outlined 3 key elements that create and define the best online communities.
1. Meet Their Emotional Needs
Communities organically form and stay together when their emotional needs are met through an organization. Typically, if community members feel as if they are problem solving or working together for a common cause the stronger a bond is formed. This in turn creates a feeling of belonging and unity. A good example of this is when the demand for free wi-fi at Starbucks was heard and met through their devoted online community. When a community realizes their voice matters, the likelihood of future investment is strong and consistent.
Starbucks provides venues that encourage customer interaction , which in turn fosters brand loyal communities that are an impetus for consistent success.
While emotional needs drive people to form communities, emotional safety and security determine whether a member will remain in a community. The overarching belief is that joining a community will collectively fulfill needs of its members and simultaneously drive change. On a societal level, we see this with neighborhoods. Residents, because of proximity and location, form together to express common grievances or needs. If a robbery occurs, neighbors will actively look out for one another, because the community mentality makes them realize they can all be potential victims.
2. Create Exclusivity
When a community appears exclusive and personable their members report higher satisfaction. Consider this, in a recent survey 83% of consumers say that loyalty programs make them more likely to buy and engage with a business. Take Sephora for example, they facilitate a portion of their website to serve “beauty insiders” who receive special tips and products in return for their input. Insiders feel protected and respected by the brand and in turn freely offer opinions and thoughts on products with genuine concern.
3. Build Influence
If you are investing in a community, members not only need to feel like they belong, but also that their voice is being heard. By maintaining open communication with members and leaders, community offers members an opportunity to directly influence the brand. We see this in government where the smallest communities represent the most important aspects of policy. Community, then, should not only be considered as a side note to brands—but be a focused and integral part of company initiative and brand culture.