How to Build Powerful Brand Communities (And Why Influencers Might Just Be Your Secret Weapon)
Let’s face the facts: brand communities are not a new concept… far from it.
For decades, brands have embraced and fostered communities to cultivate and encourage long term business growth – shaped around genuine love for their products and brand.
Just consider Harley Davidson. A company which faced extinction in the late 80s now exists as one of the most well known brands in the world. How? By creating and growing a dedicated brand community rooted in the values, activities and lifestyle that reflects the brand's consumer.
But as social media platforms continue to evolve, and the creator economy opens more and more opportunities for brands to tap into the people already in their sales funnel, brands are afforded more access in creating truly influential brand communities, with the reach to take their brand to the next level.
From the evolution of brand communities to the benefits for your brand, we’re going to cover some of the key elements needed to build a powerful community, and how influencers could be the secret weapon in creating a community people truly want to be part of.
Let’s get started.
So, what is a brand community?
A brand community is a space where passionate, loyal customers can meet and engage with one another; collectively drawn together by a shared love of the brand itself, or its products and services.
Traditionally these communities existed primarily offline; formed via in-person meetups and gatherings organized through offline forums or via word of mouth. But the evolution of the internet and meteoric rise of social media has seen a shift in brand communities moving online, to formats such as fan pages, group chats, and even the comments section of notable social media posts.
For example, Ganni Girls is a global brand community built and nurtured by fashion brand Ganni, around the notable hashtag of the same name. Here, the coolest of cool girls come together around a shared appreciation of fashion, sustainability and creativity.
Importantly, brand communities provide a platform where people who actually use your products can authentically share their genuine feelings about them or the brand in question. They can connect over a common area of interest, swap brand-related stories, offer tips and advice to other community members, or swoon over the latest product lines.
Communities will always form organically over a common interest. But, more and more we’re seeing brands take a leading role in cultivating communities both online and in person through community events, loyalty programs, reward channels – to name just a few!
What are the benefits of an influential brand community?
It’s clear to see why brand communities are so beneficial for the consumer. They have somewhere to connect with likeminded people over a common interest while potentially gaining some tips and tricks to get even more out of the products they already love. In addition to that, most communities offer some kind of incentive that makes it exciting to be part of the community, like rewards, discounts, first access or access to special events.
The benefits for brands are also plentiful. They include:
- Growing brand awareness
- Driving online and offline sales
- Online engagement (which in turn drives discoverability and can be an indicator of future purchase intent)
- Gaining insights about customers needs
- Providing brand authority to both new and existing customers
- Shaping the brand’s values (particularly great for new to market brands)
- Managing and controlling online reputation
- Authentically sharing of brand's story and products
Ultimately, by offering a platform for brands to authentically engage with their customers, brand communities elevate a brand’s standing on many levels, enabling them to foster strong long-term relationships with existing customers, raise their profile to reach new audiences, and establish the authority and credibility to drive sales and profits.
How to build an influential brand community
Brand communities offer brands a huge myriad of benefits. But, let’s be honest, building an influential community doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you are tapping into an existing online community or creating one from scratch, there are a few key steps to take to truly maximize the outcomes for your brand.
1. Determine your brand’s goals
Before stepping into the world of brand communities – existing or otherwise – it’s crucial to first establish your objectives. What are you trying to accomplish?
Perhaps you are aiming to increase sign ups to a service, encourage authentic user-generated content, boost awareness of new products or gain valuable product feedback. While brand communities are highly effective in supporting a whole number of marketing goals, exact outcomes will depend on the platforms and strategies you use (we’ll come to these shortly!).
Having your most important goals top of mind can help you make the right decisions on these platforms and strategies, as well as ensuring the benefits gained from your brand community are closely aligned with your wider business objectives too.
2. Go where your audience is
The next step in building an influential community? Choosing the right platform. For any brand community to become successful, it’s crucial to meet your consumers where they are. Where does your target audience like to hang out online?
NOTE: While finding out where your target market spends their time online is one thing, discovering the platforms where your target audience are already chatting about you is where you’ll strike gold.
Tapping into an established community that already loves your brand (or the types of product you sell) can save you a huge chunk of time and resources rather than building them from scratch, as well as making it much easier to connect and engage. Of course, these brand communities can come in many forms, across a number of different formats, so it’s important to explore every avenue available.
Some online platforms where your customers may already be talking about your brand include:
- Social media fan pages
- In the comments of your social media posts
- Trending topics on social platforms
- Meetups that already exist
- Public community groups on social media
- Chatroom forums where they can share tips, advice, and demonstrations
Tapping into existing niche communities is a great avenue for brands to liaise directly with advocates, while saving time and startup costs. But, if this isn’t the case for your brand, don’t worry. There are now many platforms available for brands to build influential online brand communities from scratch.
Depending on your goals, these platforms might include:
- Social media sites or messenger platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp and WeChat
- Customer loyalty programs and reward sites
- Promotional discount and seasonal campaign landing pages
- Online event pages to encourage offline meetups
One example of a brand which has effectively built its own influential brand community around skincare and make-up enthusiasts is Sephora. The beauty brand built its own brand community incentive program and invited people to join via a bespoke community landing page.
Coined ‘The Sephora Beauty Insider Community’, skincare and makeup enthusiasts can connect with one another, share beauty tips, ideas, and be the first to hear about Sephora beauty events. Sephora remains highly engaged across the platform and frequently posts fun challenges for the community to promote outside the online forum to attract new members and customers.
Once you’ve established where and how your target audience likes to engage in community, the next question to consider is where your brand’s message will resonate the most. If social media platforms are the way forward for your brand – which is the case now for many D2C ecommerce companies – choosing the right channel is key.
Do your customers and fans prefer to use Instagram, or are they more TikTok-oriented? Delving into your customer personas, demographics and online behaviors should give you all the information you need to choose the best platform for your brand community.
3. Speak in your audience’s language
With your brand goals established and a community platform in mind, it’s time to make contact. As with any marketing channel, effective communication with your community members is crucial.
Because brand communities are safe spaces for genuine brand evangelists to gather, it becomes all the more important to engage in an honest and authentic way.
While it can be tempting to dive right in with introductions, incentives or promos (especially when engaging with an existing brand community), instead, be led by your brand community members. Listen to the tone of the conversations, the questions they are asking, and the way they interact with one another.
Successful brands build brand trust and encourage engagement by interacting with the branded community in their language; responding to posts and answering questions within the group.
A great example of an interactive brand community is LEGO’s ‘LEGO Ideas’ brand community. With over 1.5m members, LEGO has created a multipurpose brand community where community patrons can participate in competitions and help with product innovation through idea suggestions.
By engaging with these hardcore fans regularly, LEGO has embraced its brand community, further influencing members to remain dedicated to their flagship product, and driving additional online purchases.
4. Partner with the right influential people
Now we’ve covered some of the core foundations of building a brand community, it’s time to consider the strategies available to really help scale your community and generate interest within your target audience. The starting point? Partnering with the right influential people.
How influencers help grow brand communities
For over a decade, brands have looked to influencers to promote products, increase brand awareness and drive sales. But, they can be fundamental figures in building brand communities too.
Why? Because influencers are often expert community builders of their own. By creating authentic online spaces where people can connect around shared interests, influencers build trust and authority with their followers, which can be effectively transferred over to a brand if introduced the right way.
This is echoed by an industry-wide shift towards influencer marketing that taps into tighter-knit and hyper-local online communities. As new influencers enter the space everyday, brands are placing less focus on high follower counts, and instead investing in hyper-niche influencers, who have the ability to tell their brand story in a more genuine way.
One such example is Fila and Flock Together. Flock Together is an online community of birdwatching enthusiasts who create engaging content around their shared hobby, including advice, updates and information about in-person get-togethers. In October 2021, Fila partnered with the Flock Together to create a hiking sneaker – with an embedded digital tag that wearers could scan to discover all of the top UK destinations to spot a Kingfisher bird.
By engaging with an existing and highly-engaged community, and introducing itself authentically by creating a bespoke product that aligned with the members’ shared interest, Fila effectively enhanced brand awareness and created a new audience which felt connected to the brand through shared values.
This is just one example – using influencers to grow a community can take many shapes and is highly dependent on your brand, product, the market you're in and how crowded it is. There are many different types of influential people you could invite to be part of your community, and who you choose should be highly dependent on your goals and desired business outcomes.
Who has influence within a brand community?
So, who has influence within a brand community? Simple answer: many people. Over recent years, the term ‘influencer’ has evolved to encompass all people with influence online.
While some influential people are perfectly placed to grow awareness due to having a large social media following, others will be ideal for providing brand validation, advice, expertise, and improving brand trust.
Some of the key people who might encourage involvement in your brand community include:
- Social Media Influencers
- Brand Ambassadors
- Content Creators
- Affiliate Partners
- Industry Experts
- Existing Customers
- Current Employees
As we mentioned, choosing the right influencers is highly dependent on your desired business goals and outcomes. For example, if you are creating a new brand community with the goal of over 100k members, you might want to partner with an influencer who is popular among your target audience However, if you want to create a community to improve customer retention, you might start by inviting your top existing customers and empower them to grow the community with you.
Here are some of the ways these influential individuals can help magnify your brand community:
Social Media Influencer
Social media influencers are essential if you're looking to extend the reach of your brand community to a more significant number of your preferred target market. Not only can they quickly promote your brand to a vast number of highly-engaged followers, but they can also act as brand community moderators – driving community engagement and starting brand-orientated conversations on your chosen platform.
Brand ambassador programs encourage partnerships within your brand communities, providing authentic feedback and validation to their qualified network of followers. By nature, brand ambassadors are completely in tune with your brand, making them perfectly placed to promote your values and showcase your brand personality with like-minded audiences.
Unique content creators are a fantastic avenue to generate original content and bring your product to life. When applied within your brand communities, user-generated content appears more organic and has the potential to go viral.
As part of an affiliate marketing campaign, brand partners organically create content with referral codes and promotional links attached. Affiliates provide a form of authentic advertising to friends, family members, and co-workers via your brand community before directing them toward a desired sale or promotion page.
Inviting key professionals within your business niche to promote, discuss, or review your products and services, adds additional credibility and trust to both your existing and new potential customers. Some brands involve experts and top influencers in product development, compounding their alignment with the brand.
Why not ask the people who value your brand to recommend you to others? Opportunities within brand communities to offer reviews, brand experiences, and feedback provides huge validation to prospective consumers.
Who better to explain your brand’s message and how your products and services can help people than the staff who make your brand what it is? Successful brands often promote staff podcasts, blogs, and industry white papers.
There is no limit to the number of influencers or types of influencers you may want to use when building an influential brand community. But ultimately, influencers are the experts who can drive conversations and engagement to help truly deliver on your marketing goals.
So, how to get them on board?
How To Engage Influencers
Identifying the right influencers for your brand community is one thing, but you also need to encourage them to want to be a part of your community. Here’s our advice:
Write a compelling invite: put together a personalized message to invite them to your community. Tell them why you think they’d be a great fit for your brand and your vision for your partnership. And don’t forget to sell them on your brand too! Share info on your goals, values and ethos, to show them why you’re a perfect match. Need inspiration? Explore our 16 influencer brief templates.
Write a clear brief: what can the influencer expect from this partnership? What will their role in the community look like? How will they be compensated? This is your chance to share the mission and intention behind the community and let the influencer know exactly how they’ll be involved. Here’s a template to help you get started.
Establish your incentives: as part of the briefing process, it’s important to determine how you will incentivize your influencers. Traditional influencer relationships are likely to be led by monetary compensation (see more on how much to pay influencers), but relationships with affiliates and existing customers may be happy to be reimbursed with free products or affiliate links.
Assign a dedicated community manager: brand communities are living breathing entities that change and evolve over time. Assigning a community manager internally to coordinate and nurture influencer relationships will make the world of difference – especially as your brand and community continues to grow.
Nurture your brand community
Once you’ve established your brand community online and enlisted the right influential people to help it grow, it’s important to nurture your community so your members remain as engaged and enthused as when they first joined. The easiest way to do this – aside from frequent engagement – is via incentives.
These incentives typically take the form of promo codes and discounts but can range to wider incentives too. For example, product seeding involves brands sending free gifts to key brand community members to thank them for their loyalty or let them have a first look at new products. If they wish, community members can then share these products on their own channels, offering further exposure to the brand as a result.
Another technique is customer referrals. This allows community members to take advantage of discounts and freebies if they encourage a friend to join the community or complete a purchase online. Not only does the original customer feel valued and benefit from discounted goods, but your brand community can continue to recruit like-minded consumers with similar tastes.
I’m ready. Where can I find the right influencers to expand my brand community?
With a clear picture of the influential people that can help your brand, and some strategies in mind to harness their influence in the most effective ways, it’s time for the fun part – finding the right influential people for your brand.
We cover 8 key ways to find influencers the easy way in our recent blog, but some techniques include:
- Social listening: identify brand advocates who are already talking about your brand online and what they’re saying about you. They may have already created a niche brand community dedicated to promoting your brand’s products and services for you. If not, this is the perfect opportunity to invite them to your new community.
- Using social media tools to your advantage: Literally built for discoverability, every social media platform is equipped with search tools to find your favorite content and creators. Use these tools wisely to browse accounts, tags, hashtags and existing communities that may introduce you to your ideal brand partners.
- Analyze your competition: While you may not want to partner with the same influencers as your competition, analyzing how they have built influential brand communities can help you in building yours. Is there a particular type of content that works well? Do customers and brand ambassadors drive the most engagement? Think about how you can harness some of these learnings for your own brand.
While there are some great techniques out there to help you find influencers for free, these are often time consuming and can prevent the ability of brands to achieve the right amount of momentum to build influential brand communities. That’s why many brands choose to opt for an influencer marketing platform, to streamline the process and tap into a huge database of pre-vetted influential people to find the right brand partners for every campaign.
Some advantages of an influencer marketing platform for building influential brand communities include:
- Advanced filters to streamline your search by audience demographics, engagement metrics, follower growth, visual aesthetic and more.
- A Creator Marketplace to share upcoming campaigns and allow influential people to come to you.
- Social listening tools which make it easier to monitor engagement and conversation across all social media platforms in one place.
- Ecommerce integrations to easily check out the social media platforms of your existing customers to find those with true influence.
Influencer marketing platforms also make it easier for brands to nurture their online brand communities, making it easy to set up product seeding campaigns, generate promo codes and develop customer referral programs.
Want to learn more about how an influencer marketing platform like Aspire can help you build influential brand communities? Book a demo today.