Does Building a Community Make Sense for ROI?

Businesses want to build communities to help promote their brands, but most of them go about it backwards.
Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
February 15, 2012

Online communities have generated buzz for a long time. Businesses want to build a community to help promote their brands, but most of them do not know where to start. They typically focus on the mechanics of the social media tools, rather than trying to connect with a loyal community.

After an inconsistent effort, business owners begin to wonder if there really is a return on investment (ROI) for building community for their brand.

The biggest factor that companies miss in establishing a community are all the emotional factors, says Sarah Robinson, a small-business strategy coach. These are what eventually build "fierce loyalty.”

Robinson believes that most companies create a community and then look for people to fill it. In this case, “if you build it,” they may not come at all.

The success stories are companies that find an existing community of people with a passion for their product and offer their company's expertise. Harley Davidson can tap into an existing enthusiastic community. People interested in the Nissan Leaf electric car are already communicating.

Here are the five key components that make people loyal community members, according to Robinson.

1. Predictability: They want to know when they can "meet" and how often they can connect.

2. Connection: They want to connect easily online or on mobile devices with others in the community, and create relationships independent of the brand.

3. Support: They want to be understood and listened to by other members of the community and the brand.

4. Trust: They want to trust the community and the brand.

5. Pride and Passion: They want to feel proud of being connected to the brand.

An engaged community builds ROI for the company in the form of a stronger bottom line. Robinson cites four areas where the company gains value from its online community.

1. Research and development: Community members are the in-the-field research team. The company is able to involve real customers in building the product and know if they will like the product before officially launching it.

2. Marketing: Raving fans want to tell everyone about the product, especially if they helped create it. This extended marketing department adds voices to pass the brand message along.

3. Sales: The community is a built-in customer base to buy the products, They become a natural hub of early adopters for the products once they are on the market.

4. Customer service. Better communication with customers always means higher customer retention. When they stay in touch with the brand, customers tend not to look elsewhere to meet their future needs. The community also becomes an extended customer-support system, answering questions from new users of the product.

Has your business been able to build a community around its brand? What has been the ROI?

Photo Credit: Social Media For Smart People