Four Reasons People Join Branded Communities
Your organization’s community is up and running. Now you need a critical mass of consumers to join up to provide all the benefits of having a community, from better audience segmentation to reliable crowdsourcing. As OHO Chief Creative Officer Jason Smith mentions in an article earlier this week, getting people to join requires understanding the path consumers follow when they engage with brands. Once you’ve understood the engagement trajectory, it’s time to look at the psychology we all follow when making the decision to move up to one of the highest levels of engagement—moving over the line towards advocacy by joining a branded online community.
Four basic factors motivate people to take that leap:
Coupons and Offers:
On the most basic level, customers engage with a consumer brand to receive discounts, special offers and early notification of sales. And many companies are upfront about putting these benefits front and center in promotions of their communities. After all, discounts and notifications are the traditional incentive for any opt-in, from email lists to good old-fashioned direct mail.
A few lucky brands have such a deep resonance with customers that being associated with the brand is a way to assert personal identity. The Harley-Davidson community is the most frequently-cited example of this. Yet, lesser brands can also induce people to join with a personal-identity approach. Niche products and brands with a quirky identity are those most likely to get these kinds of joiners. Also, a more broad-reaching consumer brand can build a community around a cause marketing campaign, with members joining because of identification with the cause, more than with the brand.
Think your brand might be a candidate for an identity-based community? Use what I call the T-shirt test: would someone buy a T-shirt with your brand’s message or logo? If so, they may just join your community with the same level of identification.
If you’re encouraging signups based on identity, your content strategy is going to need to kick into high gear to turn those signups into real engagement. Brainstorm ways to take that passion and turn it into online (and offline) programming that will reinforce the values consumers associate with your brand, and let them express those values themselves. For instance, if your identity is health-oriented, give consumers petitions to sign, walkathons to join, or ways to support health programs in the developing world.
Some communities offer such a high level of gamification that they are an entertainment venue in themselves. Most such communities are associated with entertainment properties, especially TV shows, books and video games. Extending an entertainment property into a gamified community makes sense. It’s probably best not to over-gamify a community associated with other types of brands, whether they’re packaged consumer goods, durable goods or education. For one thing, consumer thinking is still very compartmentalized: if your brand is not one they turn to for entertainment, they likely won’t see your community as an entertainment source. This isn’t to say that you should say no to all games. They make a perfect acquisition strategy, drawing people to your site with a challenge, content or game that’s engaging. But once you have potential members on your site, you need to offer something of substance to keep them engaged. Which is why content (#4), is so important.
Content with Practical Domain Knowledge:
A step up from engaging on the basis of discounts, engaging on the basis of content has become the crux of marketing on many channels, not just social media. Content maintains engagement, visitor loyalty and brand authority. If people are joining your community to access your great content, they’re likely to stay longer than if they are there for the discounts. As a result, you’ll have more opportunities to upsell, develop a stronger relationship with each customer, get to know their preferences with more detail, and foster more positive views of your brand’s commitment to quality. Good content showcases what your brand is good at.
Creating engagement in your community with content is fortunately a lot easier now than it was in the past. The pervasiveness of content, not just on social channels, means that it’s easier to generate quality articles, video and games for an online community than it was before content marketing gained ascendancy. Most companies already have many attractive content assets that can be integrated into their communities, often without much change in format.
A smart manager of volunteers once told me, “Figure out why people choose to volunteer, whether it’s social activities or learning new skills, then make sure you provide them with that. If there’s something in it for everyone, you’ll have plenty of volunteers.” It’s the same with online communities. Figure out why consumers would choose to be your brand advocates. Then, make sure you provide them with that. You’ll watch your membership grow.