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Brand community vs. micro-community: What’s the difference?

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For as long as humans have been around, there have been communities. 

Think about it — long ago, people in close proximity shared sets of rituals and traditions that bonded them to one another. Now, with technological advances, people from around the world are joining communities online via social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Reddit. 

 According to psychologists, there are a few reasons people join communities:

  1. Joining groups of like-minded people satisfies our need to belong, allows us to gain understanding through social comparison, and helps us define our sense of self as well as our social identity. 
  2. There’s strength in numbers. Communities allow us to achieve goals that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish alone. When community members work together as a cohesive unit, the chances of success become more certain.
  3. Communities help individuals make important decisions. People turn to others when they need to justify their choices, and groups of like-minded individuals can provide social proof.

For all of these reasons, consumers also crave community when it comes to their favorite brands. They want to feel validated about their purchases, talk about their favorite products with other brand lovers, and discuss relevant industry topics with one another. Now, with social media, it’s possible to create this type of close-knit community around a brand, where consumers can interact with other shoppers who are interested in the same products — no matter where they are in the world. For instance, there is an Instant Pot Community group on Facebook, where nearly 3 million Instant Pot fanatics share their favorite recipes and ask questions about the wildly popular kitchen appliance. 

Today, leveraging the power of community is the key to marketing success. 

What is the difference between a micro-community and a brand community?

Every brand wants to be the next Glossier, or the next Lululemon, or the next Airbnb. Sure, these businesses are successful in terms of revenue. But what every marketer really admires about them is their ability to engage and grow a strong brand community

Vogue’s article “Keeping it private: How brands nurture micro-communities” echoes this view, but uses slightly different semantics. In the article, marketing experts, research analysts, and investors talk about the modern consumer’s growing interest in ‘micro-communities.’ Sucharita Kodali, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Retail at Forrester, says that micro-communities act like a backstage pass or an Amex Centurion card by “making people feel special.” 

But what exactly is a micro-community? And how is it different from a brand community?

We’ve identified the two terms as:

  • Micro-community: Based on common interests, such as gaming, vegan cooking, or any other niche
  • Brand community: Type of micro-community based on common interest in a brand or product

Both micro-community and brand community fall under the umbrella of ‘community.’ Here’s an example to help you visualize the relationship between the terms.

How can you expand your brand community to include more members of a micro-community?

It’s been proven that a strong brand community helps marketers hit their business goals. That’s why leading brands like Ruggable are investing more into their biggest advocates to expand their brand community.

Dmitri Cherner, Ruggable’s Associate Director of Influencer and Partnerships, explains, “Our most valued community members actually aren’t defined by their day jobs or how many followers they have; they’re defined by their passion for the brand and product. We’ve chosen to invest in the people that really believe the product makes a difference in theirs and their family’s lives. Without them, we wouldn’t be anywhere we are today.”

The smartest brands know that by turning their customers, employees, influencer partners, and other passionate community members into long-term brand ambassadors, they can build a huge network of brand fans that organically advocate for the company. 

Typically, these brand ambassadors belong to relevant micro-communities. This means they can spread the word about your company to audiences that would also benefit from your products and services. Here are 3 ways you can activate your brand ambassadors to reach more potential customers from relevant micro-communities.

Create private groups and message threads

According to a study by youth-focused creative agency Zak, nearly ⅔ of those surveyed said they prefer to talk in private message threads rather than on open forums and feeds. The study also revealed that 60% of respondents prefer talking in private groups because they can “share more openly.” 

That’s why some influencers are using the “close friends” feature on Instagram as a tool to build stronger relationships with their followers. Other creatives are also launching secondary social media accounts, which act as a more private space where closer-knit groups of people can gather around shared interests. 

You can implement these strategies with your brand ambassadors. Have them create more intimate spaces and lead smaller discussions around your brand or related industry topics. Since your brand ambassadors most likely have connections inside various micro-communities, having them rave about your brand and products to their existing audience will encourage others who are interested to join your brand community, as well. 

Build an attractive referral program

83% of people trust recommendations from their friends and family. That being said, create a rich referral program headed by your passionate brand ambassadors to expand your brand community in the most effective way. Because they genuinely love your brand, they’ll be able to talk about the benefits of joining your brand community in an authentic way. 

Here are some things to keep in mind as you build your referral program:

  • Allow your brand ambassadors creative freedom when it comes to referrals. They should promote your brand on the social media platform they are most active on, and personalize your brand messaging in their own authentic voice. After all, they know their audiences best.
  • Make sure you have some great incentives in place. Offer incentives like a sizable discount or credit for future use for both the referrer and the new customer. Give them a good reason to buy into your business. 
  • Make the referral process easy. The simpler the program, the easier it is for people to join.

Repurpose community-generated content (everywhere)

Today, personalized content is everything. Just take a look at these statistics:

  • 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized.
  • 67% of consumers say it’s important for brands to automatically adjust their content based on their current context for a real-time personalized experience.
  • 66% of consumers say encountering content that isn’t personalized would stop them from making a purchase.

So, repurpose content generated by your existing brand community members everywhere — from your brand’s social accounts and paid ads, to your email newsletters, website, and more. With a diverse group of brand ambassadors producing content, you can source images, videos, and testimonials that resonate with consumers that belong to many different micro-communities. 

Expand your brand community with the help of ambassadors

Turn your most loyal customers, passionate employees, and other brand fans into long-term brand ambassadors. Then, leverage their influence to reach members of bigger micro-communities. By building relationships through more intimate conversations, trusted referrals, and personalized content, you’ll be able to grow your brand community.

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