Online Brand Community: Top Hacks For Building A Virtual Brand Community

When we conduct surveys and talk to the community builders of the industry, they always say that the journey of building an online brand community has been a very fulfilling one for them.

But as a virtual brand community builder, do you have a proper and in-depth understanding of - Why building an online brand community should be a priority for your brand?

The role that a virtual brand community plays in building brands can make a whole world of difference when it comes to the growth of an organization. And so, the responsibilities of an online brand community manager hold a lot of importance. A virtual brand community manager is the voice of the brand which bridges the gap between the brand and the customer.

So, in today's blog, we'll talk about some top, tried, and tested hacks that you can use to build a successful online brand community for your organization.

But before we move forward, if you want to learn, network, and collaborate with the top virtual brand community builders from across the country, then join CommunityHood today. At CommunityHood we host live learning events around online brand community building every week. And some of our past guest speakers have been from the best online brand communities like BabyChakra, Airblack, and Community Folks.

In this blog, you'll learn about:

  • What are the top 3 skills for becoming a virtual brand community manager?
  • What is the need of building an online brand community?
  • What is the difference between social media marketing and virtual brand community building?

... And much more!

So, let's get reading!

What Are The Top 3 Skills For A Brand Community Manager?

The story of many successful online brand community builders starts with the sentence - ""Believe it or not, I hadn't even heard of the position of a Virtual Brand Community Manager before"". But years down the lane, building and managing an online brand community becomes one of the most creatively stimulating experiences for them.

But becoming a virtual brand community manager isn't all fun and play. One needs to have certain skills that are important for becoming an online brand community manager. Below are the 3 skills that you need to have in order to excel at building the best online brand communities:

1. Empathy: This is a skill that will definitely help you a lot in your virtual brand community building journey. Being empathetic is what will help you in building relationships in your online brand community. This includes professional relationships as well as enabling friendships amongst the members of the virtual brand community.

Having both professional and personal relationships are very instrumental when you're building an online brand community.

2. Understanding Of Community Objective: To be a good virtual brand community manager, you need to be very close to the members and understand what the online brand community essentially is about. In any virtual brand community, there will always be 2 groups of people: (a) people who are already customers of the brand and (b) people who are not the customers of the brand.

So, in order to retain the existing customers and turn the non-customers into potential customers, it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of what the online brand community stands for. And to have a deeper and proper understanding of that, you need to be clear about these 4 things:

  • What the virtual brand community actually stands for?
  • What is the core agenda of the group?
  • Why has the group been formed?
  • What are you trying to achieve from it?

Having clarity on the questions above will enable you to build an online brand community that stays connected with the users and the customers. And, in the sense, you'll be able to go beyond just the transactional relationship that a brand has with its customers. Like, okay, fine, you've bought our product, you're using a product so, okay. You can only talk to us only when you have a problem or something like that.

That won't be the perception of your virtual brand community. You'll be able to make them feel more connected with your product. This also includes the other people in the online brand community who are using the product. Or even the people who might potentially want to use your product. So, you also need to understand that a virtual brand community consists of like a varied range of people.

3. Communication: A few skills that would be good to have would be writing, speaking, and listening. These 3 skills aren't absolutely necessary, but these definitely come in handy because these are all things that you'd have to do. You will have to write, listen to and speak to a lot of people.

So, if this is something that you're not entirely comfortable with, maybe you could bring this into your focus area and work on it. Because these will be instrumental as well.

So, it's very important to cultivate empathy and to try to never lose the sense of your objective - what is that particular online brand community stands for? And keep it on top of your head every day while you are managing that virtual brand community. Lastly, learn how to communicate. And the communication channel can be written, verbal, or maybe your facial cues as well.

But learn how to communicate. And these three things are the skills that anyone can hone up. But, also, think of it in this way - that these 3 skills are the action items that you'd have to do every day to build an online brand community. 

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What Is The Need For Building An Online Brand Community?

One needs to look at building the best online brand communities as the new-age brand marketing strategy. There are many brands that have a product that is very dynamic in nature. This means a product that keeps adding features and makes changes actively to it. For such brands creating a virtual brand community is a must.

It is important for a brand to keep the users in the loop of all the updates that are coming across and there is no better way than to do it via an online brand community. And, the best online brand communities usually have a huge and diverse range of customer base within the communities as mentioned above.

This means, that 60% of them would probably be users and the other 40% would be potential users. Or they could be just there to understand more about how your product works. So, the idea of creating a virtual brand community is to keep everybody updated. It helps in keeping the customers abreast with what is happening with the brand and sharing relevant resources.

So, that's the idea of creating an online brand community. And there is like a 2-way benefit to it. As an ever-evolving company, you'll have the opportunity to seek feedback actively from the virtual brand community. And even if the online brand community members aren't your users, you still can have a healthy discussion with them.

If the other members are considering buying your product then you can gather feedback on things like what is something that they are looking at? What is something that is holding them back if they are not already using your product? So, that gives a brand a good understanding of what the audiences are considering.

And you'll have good quality and reliable data as feedback because people from all corners of the country can be a part of a virtual brand community. So, from tier 2 to tier 3 towns and even metros for that matter, you'll have product feedback from across the country literally. It'll give you a good understanding of where your audiences are in terms of business.

So, creating the best online brand communities helps brands in collecting feedback from customers actively. And as mentioned above, you can keep them updated about any new product launches or new sales that are coming up. And additionally, it also helps you in giving them online brand community-specific discounts, for that matter.

For example, if someone is a part of your virtual brand community, you can personalize the message and tell them this particular discount will apply to you. The personalization or the exclusivity of that offer for that person is also something that is a benefit for brands.

And, for the online brand community members, the virtual brand community also sometimes doubles up as a support branch wherein they can reach out to the online brand community by saying, ""Hey, I've run into this particular error. Has anyone else seen this error somewhere?"" So, if somebody else has, they will obviously help them out, and if they haven't, then the virtual brand community manager is always there.

So, because of this, the online brand community manager also needs to have a good understanding of the product. And if the virtual brand community manager is not able to help them out, then they can escalate their query on priority to the support team. So, the members can get their queries also addressed very quickly.

In an online brand community, the virtual brand community managers become the go-to person for all the online brand community members. And in order to be successful at this new-age brand marketing strategy, the virtual brand community managers need to liaise with a bunch of other internal teams.

The majority of the coordination happens with the content team and the design team. These two teams help the online brand community managers with developing strategies and all the content. And as we know that the role of a virtual brand community manager isn't just restricted to building the online brand community. So responsibilities can also include social media marketing.

These are just some of the few overarching points because of which a brand should consider creating the best online brand communities. And of course, it's a great tool to bring or create strong relationships between the brand and the consumer. That being the main role. 

Again, the first top need is feedback. The virtual brand community can give you a lot of feedback on your products. And obviously, when they are giving you feedback, you can always give them a lot of support on how to use this product. So, it's a two-way channel. The online brand community is a two-way channel where a lot of conversations happen.

So, a communication channel is set up by the company itself or by the brand itself to have a clear crystal communication with the people who are using it or want to use it as part of that ecosystem. A two-way feedback loop is there where the information is passed on and the feedback is taken.

So, these are the two big overarching points and obviously, there are online community benefits to it. You can share a lot of discount coupons in the virtual brand community to keep the members using your product.

Online Brand Community: Top Hacks And Skills For Building A Virtual Brand Community

What Is The Difference Between Social Media Marketing And Community Building?

A lot of jobs are usually very monotonous and boring. And online brand community management is anything but monotonous. Although, there is a set structure, and a set strategy that virtual brand community managers follow, you can always shake it up according to how you would want to approach it. And, there is always something new that you can bring into the same strategy.

Every day is a new day, and every day you learn something new about online brand community management. The everyday discussions that happen in a virtual brand community, give you a bunch of learnings to take away every day.

When people do research on online brand community management, at the surface level, social media and virtual brand community management seem to be the same thing. It is because both follow the same chronology, which is:

You create content, you share the content for the audience to consume, and then you expect a certain engagement level from it. And the end result of that is you're teasing your audience, so you're growing your audience.

So, people think it's the same thing. But, they couldn't be more wrong, because it's very different.  There is a huge difference between social media and online brand community management. So, when people get into the virtual brand community management role is when they understand that there is a big difference. The 2 major differences between social media marketing and online brand community management are:

1. The engagement strategy

The way you engage with the audience, and the voice that you use for social media marketing, it's very different. A social media manager would speak as the brand. They would often be speaking as per a social media strategy. Whereas a virtual brand community manager would be speaking as themselves. They are more like a brand ambassador endorsing the brand.

Online brand community managers speak differently, and more importantly, they listen to the members of the virtual brand community. On social media, a lot of listening doesn't happen. There, the connection is very-very impersonal which is a bang opposite of how it is in an online brand community. In a virtual brand community, it's more about the personal connection that you have with the people.

So, that's how the online brand community is tight-knit. Where in there is a personal connection. On the other hand, social media requires you to mostly broadcast information with very minimal interaction. Whereas in a virtual brand community, you will have to talk, listen, and engage actively. And at the same time, you just cannot engage for the sake of engaging.

If somebody is sharing something with the group, it could be something that they are actually looking help for. So, you need to understand that and add value to what they are asking you. You actually need to help them out to be able to build that trust with them. It's basically like building relationships in an online brand community.

On social media, it's really not like that.

2. Key performance indicators

The second, and most important differentiating factor between both is the key performance indicators (KPIs). The KPIs, basically the metrics that you track on social media are very different from virtual brand community. Although, as mentioned above, the chronology that is followed is pretty much the same.

But the KPIs are very-very different. On social media, you will probably track conversion metrics like impressions, reach, etc. For an online brand community, the goals would be very very different. It'll be around the number of members and the online brand community engagement rate of the content that you are posting.

You'd want to track and observe things like how is the content performing in terms of how are the people reacting to it? And not just in terms of how many likes or comments your content is getting within the virtual brand community. Not like that. But like how is it helping people? What is the conversation that is coming out of that particular piece of content that you're putting out.

And more importantly, it's also about how the content that you are putting out is helping in cultivating relationships with the members. That's one of the key metrics that you should be tracking. Are they finding it useful and are they coming back to the online brand community and asking for more content that can help them out.

So, 2 major pointers on what is the difference between a social media marketer and a virtual brand community manager are that online brand community management is a humanized form of social media marketing. And because it's a humanized form, it allows you for two-way communication. Whereas on social media, there is a brand talking, which is one-way communication.

On social media, it goes like - okay, this is what it is. But a virtual brand community is all about triggering those conversations and having those ideas where you can have a platform to share those ideas. And maybe build on it and use it. On social media, a lot of communication does happen in the comments section, but online brand community management is a profound way to handle those comments.

Because those comments on social media may get lost. But if the same conversation takes place in a virtual brand community, others can actually contribute to it. And it won't be a situation where everyone is trying to put somebody down in the comments section. But it will be a healthy conversation. That is where the beauty of the online brand community lies.

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How Should Internal Teams Coordinate In A Community-led Organization?

Generally, it is difficult to manage and collaborate with people on the same track. So, there needs to be a process of collaborating with other internal teams, like the content and the graphic team. You should communicate on a daily level and plan smaller tasks on a daily basis. For broader level things, you can have a weekly meeting and plan things on a weekly level.

But, you need to mindfully choose the communication channels and set the structure of these collaborations in a way that is comfortable and convenient for every team involved. And for major projects like virtual brand community events, you should start planning for them at least a month in advance.

You should also set goals on a quarterly basis for the organization. This should include KPIs for each team, as well as KPIs for each member of these teams. So, the idea is for the whole organization to move together towards achieving a particular goal. For example, one individual-level goal for an online brand community manager could be to achieve a particular number of members.

So, then the virtual brand community manager will slowly work towards reaching those numbers. Another example of an online brand community manager's goal could be to represent the organization in other groups. They'd have to talk about the company in the networking groups that they are a part of and try to understand if anybody from that particular group will be a relevant addition to their virtual brand community.

So, that's how an online brand community manager would go ahead with multiple goals that have been set for them on an individual level. And acquiring members could be just one of the goals that a virtual brand community manager can have. There can be other goals too in terms of maintaining the online brand community engagement rate and expanding the online brand community across geographies.

So, in order to achieve these individual goals, teams should catch up every day to understand who is working on what. And for things for which you have a certain date in a particular month, for example, in case of a sale or an event, you can start planning for these in advance. You can plan out your creatives and promotion strategies in advance.

But if on certain occasions, you get up in the morning and get an idea, then for executing this new, unplanned task, you'd need your daily coordination meeting. Like maybe you want to post a question for the day in your virtual brand community and you want to design it in a certain way. Then you'd need your daily catch-up meeting to reach out to the design team and tell them that let's do this today.

Only through a daily meeting, you'd be able to tell them how you want it to look and want on it. The colors that you want to use, and if they can give it to you quickly. Then only they'll work on it and send it to you as soon as they can. So, it's a mixture of both. When there is a set date for something, plan for it a month in advance, and for other random ideas, coordinate on a daily basis.

This is how exactly the internal teams of a community-led organization should go about it. There are certain challenges of course because everybody has their own work. It's not like the designers would be just sitting to make designs for the online brand community manager. They would also have multiple other things and bigger projects to work on.

And same goes for the content team too. They would have their own goals like writing articles that will help people in the related field or people who want to get into that field. So, everybody has their own work and you have to be mindful of the bandwidth. Give each other enough time to execute unplanned and random things.

Be prepared that the creative might not get ready the same day. You might need to wait a day for posting it in the virtual brand community because the design team doesn't have the bandwidth.

So, you need to have a balanced set of meetings for coordination that take place on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis depending on different tasks.

And it's not a big challenge to work with teams, especially if there is a structure in place. All you have to do is meet every day. And most people find it to be a challenge because of the new remote working culture. But if you have structures in place, then remote coordination can also go very smoothly.

And to summarize it all, there are going to be a lot of planned campaigns, where you will have enough notice. So, with a set structure in place, you can try to prepare a full-blown campaign day-by-day by coordinating with the other teams. And the teams then can execute their own work at their own pace. 

Then, of course, there will be times when you would want to have a real-time interaction with them. So, be ready with at least having an understanding with your team that there will be times when some of these communications will come. For example, a lot of times there are these trending topics that you want to go after. So, that is one example, where there is a lot of need of doing things in real-time. 

Online Brand Community Building: How To Do Content Seeding And Moderation?

What Are The Limitations Of Building A Brand Community?

When you speak about virtual brand community management as a whole, the 2 limitations and challenges you might face are: (a) platform-based and (b) member-based. Let us look at what each of these limitations is and how you can overcome them.

1. Platform-based challenges

When it comes to platform-based challenges, an online brand community manager should personally research and try to look at platforms that they can create a virtual brand community on. You also need to keep in mind where your audience is. Just because a platform might be good to host an online brand community, doesn't mean that you should do it.

You should also see whether the virtual brand community that you are forming, the members that you're forming it for, are the users of that platform or not? So, if in your research you find that not a lot of your target users are at a specific platform, then you shouldn't focus on those platforms at all. You shouldn't focus on those platforms till the time you see little traction from your members there.

2. Member-based challenges

Challenges that you might face with people or the members of the online brand community revolve basically around low online brand community engagement. For example, online brand community engagement on social media platforms is not as high as compared to communities that are built on platforms that are specifically made for building the best online brand communities.

It is because communication on social media platforms is very impersonal. Social media platforms are where everything is out in the open. And conversations are happening in the open. So, people aren't very comfortable putting their concerns on an open platform like that. However, on virtual brand community-specific platforms, the online brand community engagement is the highest.

And the online brand community engagement rate is really high because people find comfort in just responding to the messages when the platform is a private platform. If someone posts a question on an online brand community, people find it very easy to respond if it's on a virtual brand community-specific platform. This is not the case on social media platforms.

And online brand community managers use communities made on social media platforms mostly as a broadcasting channel. Wherein they broadcast information related to a newly published blog or some relevant news article. Virtual brand community managers don't prefer to put out content much over there which is very conversational.

It is because conversations don't happen much in communities that are built on social media platforms. Whereas, a lot of success with conversational content is seen on platforms that are specifically made for building the best online brand communities.

So, these are the 2 limitations that you might run into - a" right now! Our platform offers amazing features that will enable you to host live sessions and manage memberships seamlessly.