Commentary

Ready, Set, Grow: Consumer Community Outreach Best Practices

Great! You’ve established an online community of consumers. You’ve included them in sampling campaigns and maybe a few other engagement activities. But how do you ensure your community’s long-term success beyond specific campaigns? How do you continually keep the community active, engaged and growing? How often should you reach out — what’s not enough or, maybe worse, too much? And what kind of two-way interaction will your consumers welcome? What’s the right cadence?

Very often when I’m out talking about the power of consumer communities, these are the kinds of questions I’m asked. What’s notable is that they are reminiscent of the questions marketers posed when social media channels began emerging — or any new channel for that matter. As marketers, we tend to get caught in the nitty-gritty weeds: how often should we post … let’s blow out the content calendar … we need topics, stat! While tactical details are important, I’d encourage marketers to first focus on their long-term “community health” strategy, an approach that ensures all ensuing outreach stays robust and relevant. The goal is to drive community participation, quality, and growth while encouraging affinity and advocacy. 

Three Pillars of Consumer Community Health

A comprehensive community health philosophy is grounded in three pillars. First, there must be a clear value exchange between the consumer and the brand. The brand must commit to providing a relevant experience so that the consumer can trust when the brand reaches out, it’s worthy of the consumer’s time and attention. Second, the brand must engage in targeted communication with community members, once again ensuring that the outreach is meaningful and relevant. And, third, communities thrive when there is a clearly articulated shared sense of purpose — it might be a socially driven aspiration (e.g., decreasing one’s carbon footprint) or a personal goal (e.g., leading a healthier lifestyle) or around an emotional connection (visceral brand love). Consumers who identify with the brand’s purpose have a higher propensity for advocacy and influence; think The Honest Company, Toms Shoes, or Lululemon. And there are bottom-line benefits, too. Consumers who describe themselves as “emotionally connected,” says HBR, are 52% more valuable to brands than those who describe themselves as “highly satisfied.”

Intention-driven Communication

With the community solidly established on the three pillars, marketers can now focus on communication tactics driven by intention: brand equity, community loyalty, and community collaboration. Brand equity communication might include helpful articles, community premiums, and promotions, or insiders-only opportunities or announcements. Community loyalty tactics might feature a newsletter that profiles members and their ideas, or gamification that inspires repeat engagement. Finally, outreach around community collaboration creates a feedback loop as members are invited to express their stake in the brand’s development and success — a two-way channel for sharing about new products, line extensions, messaging, and overall brand experience.

It Can Be as Simple as 1-2-3

While there’s no cookie-cutter communication cadence formula, a general guideline we often recommend is the 1-2-3 approach. Brand Equity, once a month. Community Loyalty, twice a month. Community Collaboration, three times a month. With this approach, self-serving brand communication should be deployed strategically and sparingly – clearly articulating how the brand provides value to the consumer. Just like in real life, listening to someone drone on about themselves can get pretty boring. Make sure your audience quickly understands what’s in it for them. Alternatively, consumer-centric communication like the outreach around loyalty and collaboration can be leveraged more frequently because the value to consumer proposition is more explicit.

No Escaping Quality Over Quantity

While the reason for reaching out and how often to do it for that purpose may vary, one principle remains the same. It’s better to engage less often with your community with high-quality content than frequently with less compelling communication that ultimately dilutes the message and connection you’ve worked so hard to establish. According to Pardot, 64% of customers say that “content authenticity” and “the helpfulness of content” are major factors in their loyalty. Another 63% reported having engaged with content that disappointed them. Of those, almost all said that this negative content experience affected their trust in the brand. This just reinforces why marketers must commit to the three pillars of consumer community health. If it’s not valuable, targeted and purposeful, better to refrain — or risk having today’s empowered, content-curating, connected consumers abandon the community.

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