Unpacking Online Community Building

min read

In these extensively digitized times, a generous part of our social life can be tracked online. We already talked about working remotely in a previous article entitled Remote Working during Coronavirus: a Blueprint for the Future Work. Now, it’s the turn of online communities to occupy our attention.

Online communities should be one of the main priorities for those interested in improving their marketing and branding strategies. Following the results of GlobalWebIndex in 2019, 83% of internet users worldwide share on a monthly basis a great range of information online in the form of videos, photos and reviews & 76% participate in online forums, blogs and vlogs through multiple devices. Hence, the importance of creating strong online communities is and will be raising. Moreover, having a branded online community can lead to building a loyal customer base who is willing to promote the brand’s identity.

So, what exactly are the online communities? The most influential explanation has been given by the American critic, writer and teacher, Howard Rheingold back in 1994, who mentioned that “virtual communities are cultural aggregations that emerge when enough people bump into each other often enough in cyberspace. A virtual community is a group of people […] who exchanges words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks”. However, online communities nowadays can vary broadly from private social networks, to intranet softwares and customer service platforms. The audience is becoming more and more demanding as they get familiar with the digital culture, it has needs, pains, interests, and seeks for innovation. Therefore, it is important to stay aligned on their incessant change of preferences.

The Process of Online Community Building

The word building applied to digital social connections, is more than a metaphor. It describes vividly the process that is needed and consists of three core pillars: knowledge, roles, and method.

– Draw knowledge from the beginning

Before the launch of any type of community, you should conduct research and develop a framework that could answer all potential questions. Which are the most appropriate platforms? What kind of audience are you targeting? Will the community be private, public, or a hybrid model? Which is your main goal(s)? How can you achieve an extensive engagement of members? Acquiring an answer to these questions would make it easier for you to understand the purpose of building an online community and to set up a structure to promote original, interesting content and other resources. Originality is a crucial aspect to take into consideration. As everyone is bombarded with multiple advertising messages on all social platforms, especially younger generations have built a resistance against promotional content, which ultimately needs to be visually pleasing, but also really creative even to draw the attention of the audience. It is also meaningful for the business to implement social listening to understand how the online community develops, what do they talk about, and adjust the feedback in order to satisfy the audience and improve the community management.

– Set up the key-roles

After identifying the reasons why to build an online community, it is crucial to define the roles of the people involved in the process. One should begin from the management scope and build the community vertically, prioritising a top-down approach that will provide insights on the possible composition of the community. The managerial figure is the person responsible for everything that is going on within the community, the human embodiment of the brand. Professional people who know how to deal with social media and other online networking platforms are those who should develop and operate an online community. However, there are many departments involved in this process in big branded communities. support departments can be involved. Marketing team, operations, R&D and creative departments all support online community building efforts with different activities that must be always aligned.

writer's desk: typewriter, papers, coffee and glasses

– Humanisation

In order for a community to be successful, brands should establish an emotional connection with the audience. This can be done by humanising the brand, meaning that its behaviour within online communities should be as close as possible to the one of an individual. Ideally, your audience should relate to you as an expert and friend at the same time. The “ingredients” that every brand should possess to build an impactful online community in 2020 is to be authentic and have a unique brand identity. Transparency and honesty are crucial values for the audience to trust you and become loyal brand ambassadors, which are a powerful free promotional source. This can be done by engaging with your audience and by creating memorable, customised brand experiences, a topic that we have expanded in the article: How to Define Brand Touchpoints for an Optimal Customer Experience.

A powerful way of communication is the usage of storytelling, which, according to Lund, Cohen, and Scarles (2017), helps “shape the social mechanisms of social media networks and determine social interactions”. Storytelling nowadays is one of the key strategies within social media; it influences perceptions and enhances relationships between brands and consumers. When you share stories in real-time and personal experiences, you make people get more connected and create a feeling of belonging. This can be achieved by promoting your brand culture. Communicate what you stand for, what are your values and what are you actively doing to solve societal issues. Moreover, express emotion. Extensive research has been conducted on the power of emotions influencing the consumer’s decision making process. Emotions sensitise people and cultivate their perceptions. Another way to consider is the marketing of colours. All colours are associated with specific emotions and communicate a certain feeling. Using a consistent colour palette is also ideal for branded content as it elicit a powerful subconscious response and promote a harmonious brand image.

city building from the top at night time

Online Communities in the Real Estate Industry

Now more than ever, online communities constitute a necessity also for real estate firms. In this delicate period, almost everything is going digital as big gatherings are banned (and so physical events) due to the coronavirus outbreak and we will need to practice social distancing for longer. Therefore, brands should maintain the fire alive and make sure that the necessary services can be completed online.

Build to Rent properties such as shared living premises, coworking spaces and student housing are all locations where people can express their ideas & beliefs, and are often composed by like-minded people that share the same interests, which can be the focuses of your content strategy. Give them a space to connect and belong, make them feel part of the brand’s journey. Moreover, a branded online community raises brand awareness; they are environments that promote Word-of-Mouth, which still remains a killer marketing strategy. As the writer and business growth expert Jay Baer researched, 92% of consumers are influenced by friends and family in their decisional process. In a previous SPX Lab article we explored the growth of online platforms for students and the importance of digital marketing efforts to reach Millennials and Generation Z. Interacting with your audience as much as possible will enable you to efficiently understand your customers, their preferences and the change of their needs. In order to keep the attention high, publish meaningful & useful updates consistently, and consider designating somebody within your team to manage the engagement with the audience or hire a professional company.

Key Takeaway

Online communities keep growing and they undoubtedly constitute a way of connecting more efficiently with your audience, both in real estate and outside of it. Having a clear set of goals, gathering data, setting up roles, humanising your brand and implementing the right methodology will frame your specific strategy, which needs to be carried seamlessly to bring success to your company.

Throughout years of experience, SPX has built multiple communities, nurturing the relationships with customers and encouraging them to feel like they are part of our brand’s journey. Let us help you to build and grow your branded online community, get in touch today!

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