Getting the most out of online communities

Digital communities are a boon for brands looking to foster authentic connection on a consumer's terms, as we discover

Digital technologies have delivered a host of ways for observing the behaviours of customers and listening in to their conversations. They have also introduced methods for marketers to engage with customers in their natural environment – if they dare.

Online communities take one of the earliest ideas from the Internet – bulletin boards – and wrap them in clever digital front ends, increasing their functionality and making them easier to use.

The largest platform for online communities is Facebook, with 2.89 billion users, well ahead of the professional-oriented community LinkedIn and its 740 million users. Following on from these are a host of communities specific to interests, regions or languages, many of which still count their users in the tens of millions.

Each community platform presents an opportunity for marketers to listen in to the public conversations relating to their brands, products and industries, including the chance to hear the thoughts of people who are not their customers. They also provide an opportunity for marketers to join in the community and offer their voice to the discussion.

But as some marketers have learned, leaning into a community conversation with an ill-thought-out message can quickly make them wish they never had.

Community minded

With more than 50 million active users, Reddit represents a highly engaged community of online users who participate in discussions on almost any topic imaginable across more than 100,000 communities. The vast majority of Reddit communities are run by users, although the platform also hosts brand-moderated communities such as r/FidelityInvestments and r/XboxInsiders.

“There is truly a community for everyone on Reddit – all interests, hobbies and passions,” Reddit global head of marketing sciences, Jack Koch, tells CMO. “What has made Reddit unique, and why it has become such a large part of people’s lives, is you can engage any way you really want to – text, video, audio, meme, whatever it might be.

“But what also makes Reddit really powerful is as simple as the upvote/downvote technology, which ensures the most relevant content is going to be surfaced. And based on your interests, it is going to be the most important content for you.”

In 2021, Reddit built out its presence in Australia to attract more brand engagement, offering both straightforward advertising opportunities through promoted posts and banners and advice on community engagement through its Karma Lab service.

While examples abound of brands fumbling their community engagement on all platforms abound, Koch says Reddit users want brands to participate in conversations, with 69 per cent of respondents to its Power of Community report saying they respect when brands make the effort to be on Reddit.

“On Reddit, what consumers are looking for are honest, authentic interactions,” Koch says. “We have seen brands really have success by taking on a human tone. It can be hard, but it is the human and authentic tone that really drives the trust and humanism for the brand.”

One successful example occurred with the Heineken craft beer brand, Lagunitas, which in August this year worked with Karma Lab to conduct an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session in the r/beer community. The company’s brewmaster talked to beer lovers about what it takes to brew an IPA and listened to their thoughts on product innovation.

Other brands that have successfully engaged on Reddit include Netflix, which provided suggestions for community members on programs they might like, and cryptocurrency trading platform, Coinbase, which provided information to Reddit users in the lead up to its IPO.

Koch cautions, however, that it is essential brands come to Reddit in the spirit of honesty and authenticity.

“We have seen a lot of brand loyalty come from being transparent and being honest,” Koch says. “We tell brands to understand the aspects of the community they are engaging with. Every community has little quirks.

“When brands are authentic, honest, transparent and human, and they engage with the community, this is something that benefits them. That increases everything from loyalty to share of voice, to conversations, and all that leads into people purchasing and reviewing the product.”

Up next: How brands such as Review and Spotlight are building community connection, plus how digital communities are driving brand responses and actions around social causes

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