As a brand manager, you’re inundated with hundreds of “quick tips” and exciting new ideas that promise to help you grow your brand and increase brand awareness within your target audience.
But, if you’ve learned anything over the course of your career, it’s that not every “fun” new idea is worth your time and effort. And if you tried each one, your marketing strategy would be all over the map — which is the last thing a smart marketer wants.
However, that’s where online brand communities stand apart. For pretty much any and every brand out there, creating a successful online brand community will only benefit your business.
From helping foster stronger emotional connections to converting customers into brand advocates, there are plenty of solid reasons to set up an online brand community in 2022. This article will take a look at what they are, as well as the ways in which they benefit brands.
What Is An Online Brand Community?
Online brand communities are exactly what they sound like — an online hub where consumers can connect & discuss your brand. According to Vesta’s expanded definition:
“an online brand community is an online destination where people can come together with a shared interest in a product or service. This is a space connected to your website where your consumers can join and interact with both your brand and other like-minded people. Beyond that, an online brand community is also about your audience sharing the lifestyle and purpose of your brand.”
Clearly, online brand communities are not just a place for customers to discuss your products and services — they’re a place for consumers of all kinds to connect with one another, discover new information, and learn about your brand in an organic, unforced manner.
Creating an emotional connection with consumers is a tall order in 2022, when most people are somewhat immune to 21st-century marketing tactics. In a recent article for , Joanna Coles, the former Chief Content Officer of Hearst Magazines, said “People hate advertising. And it’s all advertisers’ fault.”
The article extrapolates, quoting Marc Pritchard, the Chief Brand Officer at P&G, as saying that ads are often “irrelevant” and sometimes “just silly, ridiculous or stupid.” While a somewhat harsh statement, it does make sense.
According to the article’s author, Tiffany Hsu, as “advertisers bombard consumers across platforms like Twitch, Facebook, television, billboards and more, consumers are trying to get away, signing up for ad blockers and subscription services.” Clearly, traditional forms of advertising are losing their effectiveness — so what’s a brand to do?
Invest in other, more compelling methods of connecting with and educating consumers.
How Do Online Brand Communities Benefit Companies?
There are myriad ways that online brand communities can benefit businesses, which we’ll discuss at length in this section — but it’s not as easy as setting up a dedicated community space on your website and calling it a day.
Creating, maintaining, and growing a successful online brand community requires a great deal of research, effort, and continual upkeep. If you want consumers to experience a more natural, humanized version of your brand — one that they can forge an emotional connection with — you need to put in the work.
From responding to questions to adding comments to conversation threads to keeping an eye out for inappropriate content — brand and social media managers (or whichever marketing team member runs your online brand community) need to remain vigilant and fully tapped into community content.
So, now that we’re all aware of the work that goes into creating and nurturing an online brand community, let’s discuss some of the benefits.
1. They’re a Goldmine for Authentic, User-Generated Content
If you’re trying to grow your brand in an authentic, scalable manner, tapping into user-generated content (UGC) is a great tactic. Not only does UGC increase user engagement, but it also inspires greater consumer trust in your brand — as consumers see that real people are interacting with your brand.
In the age of the internet and social media, positive social proof is the pinnacle of success. According to research from Nielsen, “92% of consumers around the world said they trust word-of-mouth, or recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.”
So when it comes to marketing to savvy, modern consumers — traditional methods will no longer cut it. Brand managers need to find more effective, sustainable ways to garner consumer attention — and transform it into real interest.
That’s where USG really shines. By providing consumers with authentic content from real people, you can grab their attention more easily. And because modern consumers place so much trust in others’ opinions, it’s also a great way to educate and influence potential customers.
Finally, UGC gleaned from a strong online brand community is a breeding ground for brand advocates. When a company can make people feel heard, respected, and part of a community, they’re far more likely to reward said brand with their trust and loyalty.
And when you really like a brand, you tell other people about it. Therefore, through a domino effect, online brand communities help create user-generated content, which, in turn, helps turn regular customers into brand advocates.
2. They Foster Greater Emotional Connections With & Between Consumers
Don’t get us wrong — a well-made video ad can certainly tug at consumers’ heartstrings, just like a clever billboard campaign can make them laugh. But to foster genuine emotional connections with consumers, brands have to be willing to go the extra mile.
Online brand communities offer companies the unique opportunity to not only connect with consumers but to allow like-minded consumers to connect with one another. This is what “community” really means in this sense. Consumers are able to see your brand as more than just a business that sells them products — but as a facilitator of meaningful connections.
Therefore, a well-run online brand community is about more than just selling services or products — it creates a lifestyle and hub where like-minded people can connect — therefore increasing their loyalty.
3. They Allow for Organic Brand Education
Educating consumers on what your brand is, what it stands for, what it sells, etc. isn’t as easy as it looks. And with so many brands vying for consumers' attention these days, forcing brand education on people just doesn’t work.
That’s where online brand communities really take center stage — they allow consumers to be introduced to your brand in a natural, organic way. Within your online brand community, they can discover everything from top FAQs to user reviews to conversation threads between real customers.
And because they’re taking the initiative to explore your online brand community, learning about your brand won’t feel forced or unwanted. Instead, it will be a welcome adventure that they’re choosing to embark on.
In 2022, the importance of brand education cannot be underestimated. After all, brand education directly impacts brand understanding — which is a brand KPI that allows you to measure how well your target audience actually understands what your brand does.
While it’s great to make consumers aware of your brand, if they don’t understand what it is your brand does or sells, their awareness isn’t as valuable. Online brand communities allow companies the opportunity to educate users in an organic fashion, which will, in turn, improve their brand understanding. It’s a win-win.
4. They Are a Hub of Insights for Brand Managers
Gathering consumer feedback is a complex process — and one that many brand managers don’t have time for themselves. Therefore, using information and feedback offered up within your online brand community is a great way to learn more about how your customers are feeling — as well as how they perceive your brand, products, and services.
Maybe you stumble on a conversation thread where a large number of customers are expressing their confusion over a recent update to your service. With this knowledge at hand, you decide to publish a detailed blog post addressing their main questions, as well as providing links to similar FAQs.
The outcome? Your customers feel heard and valued — and future users won’t struggle with the same confusion.
However, keep in mind that while these kinds of ad-hoc insights can be helpful, they do not replace the need for your brand to collect regular brand tracking data — which allows you to get a much more consistent, accurate overview of your most important brand KPIs.
Using brand monitoring software, you can rest assured that your data is reliable, accurate, and statistically significant — the same of which can’t be said about ad-hoc insights from your online brand community.
Case Study: Sephora
Now that we all understand what an online brand community is and the many ways in which it can benefit a brand, let’s take a look at a great example.
Sephora launched its online brand community, called Sephora Beauty Insider, a few years back — and it’s been a stunning success. The program is multifunctional — part loyalty program, part online community.
For the loyalty program side, Beauty Insider members earn points for all of their purchases, which then be redeemed via the Beauty Insider rewards program. The “rewards” in question range from access to free beauty classes to custom makeovers to invitations to exclusive events. It incentivizes customers to spend more and allows Sephora to show its appreciation for consumers’ continued brand loyalty.
The other half, dubbed the Beauty Insider Community, allows members to get recommendations, join challenges, ask and answer questions, and generally just connect with fellow beauty buffs.
The community homepage recommends trending groups, with topics like “Dry Skin” and “Skincare Aware”, and features real users’ photos — easily drawing in consumers with its authentic look and feel.
With more than five million members, Sephora has proved how successful and instrumental a strong online brand community can be. According to Mike Harrower of — from the Beauty Board to Beauty Talk to Ratings and Reviews — with the Beauty Insider Community, Sephora managed to “create a community experience that’s cohesive, immersive, and fuels conversational shopping.”
Brands that are considering creating their own online brand communities should look to examples like Sephora — a brand that managed to conceive and maintain an incredibly successful digital community for its users.
While hosting an online brand community can benefit your brand in a multitude of ways, before you add one to your brand strategy, make sure you have enough personnel, budget, and bandwidth to make it a success.
While consumers may be somewhat disappointed to learn that your company doesn’t have an online brand community to join, they’d be even less impressed to stumble upon a disorganized, neglected one.
Therefore, if you decide to establish an online brand community in order to grow your brand more efficiently and sustainably, make sure you have a realistic idea of how much time, money, and effort will need to be put aside to make it a success.