What benefits can online communities offer to members?

Image ShutterStock
Image ShutterStock

Online communities can be beneficial to members and customers in many ways. Communities exist but to “capture” them and let them grow, you need to know what the members of your (future) community want.

Setting clear and actionable goals is vital to the launch and development of any successful online community. Goals and objectives will differ depending on your target group (market, job function, topics of interest, etc.) and your strategy. They can range from providing great value for existing customers or developing a community to ‘claim’ a specific topic to developing resources and helpful content that go beyond the brand and can even take the form of so-called ‘powered by’ community platforms whereby you are just an initiator.

The most important thing, however, is to know what – future – members want, or in other words: what benefits and value can you offer so people join your online community.

An overview of some potential community benefits for members

A. Customer support

Customers often visit online business communities for the purpose of gaining customer support. Sometimes this support comes in the form of an employee providing guidance and feedback while other times the feedback may come from other customers. Either way, the customer gets the help they are looking for.

B. Self-esteem

People feel accomplished when they contribute useful information to the online community. If an individual helps a fellow customer with a problem, that person usually gets a feeling of satisfaction from the experience. Humans need to feel important in some way or form. By helping others, members can gain a feeling of being needed and appreciated by others.

C. Reputation

Some people post helpful information on a regular basis to online business communities. When someone becomes regularly involved in contributing useful information in company discussions, the person can gain a good reputation in that community.

D. Companionship

While some members enjoy helping other members in the online community, some people attend the community discussions for companionship. Customers can interact with one another and discuss the things that they like and dislike about the company and its products. In addition, some customers may discuss their personal interests and everyday lives. Online communities can give people a fresh group of people to talk to instead of the people they see on a daily basis.

E. The unexpected and unique

People join communities because it offers them a benefit and most of the time, if not always, it’s an emotional benefit (even if we rationalize it). Understanding these emotional benefits is a powerful way to tap into them. Some of them, such as reputation, are good arguments for participating in communities of others as well.

The most valuable communities often are built for existing or loyal customers. Simple benefits don’t suffice for the ‘best’ customers. They will join when we offer them the unexpected, the sense of exclusivity, the right answers to make them succeed and high perceived value. If this can be achieved for other target groups, these communities will turn into powerful brand reputation and sales instruments.

The question to ask: what can we provide that is unexpected and goes beyond the obvious benefits most communities offer for particular target groups?

F. Content and information

Often, an online community is powered by exchanging and sharing content and information. If that’s the case and your community members are looking for good information and content (ask them!) make sure you learn the essential principles of content marketing. From an online and social community perspective, take a look at the role and essentials of social content marketing.