Creating engaging online communities – the key to post-pandemic brand success

People raising their hands at a community event..
Francesca Gargaglia is the COO and CBO at Amity.

Over the last 18 months, marketers have had their playbooks completely transformed. The traditional standards and rules defining customer relationships have evolved – and they’re predominantly digital. According to McKinsey, a decade’s worth of digital adoption has been uncovered in a manner of days due to the economic downturn, preference shifts and the acceleration of digital consumption.

Consumers have changed their behaviour and preferences and it’s redefining the decision-making journey. To ensure they don’t get left behind, companies need to adapt, and fast. But how can marketers engage customers and drive better brand loyalty despite the rapidly shifting market?

Digital Evolution: Don’t be the frog

When people talk about Climate Change, they often use the boiling frog metaphor. If the water temperature rises slowly, the frog simply won’t notice until it’s too late. Indeed prior to Covid, it’s highly likely that many companies would not have digitised fast enough. The Walt Disney Company, for example, was quite content with the income it made from cinema releases and had it not been for Covid, it originally planned to reach 60-90 million subscribers on Disney+ only by 2024. Instead, with the sudden closure of theatres worldwide, Disney+ became the only real outlet for its content, and demand surged. They passed the 100 million subscriber mark early in 2021, well ahead of the original 2024/2025 target. Indeed, this effect and transformation can be seen in millions of businesses around the world as Covid made digital transformation a matter of survival for so many. The digitisation of customer interactions increased by an average of three years globally while the share of partially or fully digitised products was accelerated by a staggering seven years after the pandemic hit. For the first time ever, many customer interactions and products offered by companies are digital or partially digital in nature. The digital evolution is here and companies that were slow to hop on board are falling behind competition.

AirAsia, Southeast Asia’s largest budget airline, took the pandemic as an opportunity to completely re-work their business with the goal of becoming digital in nature. So, they launched a social network for travellers on their main app, food delivery, ride-hailing, and travel booking services. Now, they are seeing better engagement than pre-pandemic levels and with international travel opening – their bookings are through the roof. With focus, innovation, creativity and enhanced social experiences – any organisation can find this kind of success.

Make customer experiences matter

AirAsia’s success wasn’t just down to launching a social network and hoping for the best, they emphasised customer experience and community. A positive customer experience is fundamental, as it helps increase customer engagement, loyalty, satisfaction, and better reviews to pass on to their family and friends. 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. As customers crave connection and social interactions, adding social features to platforms, such as in-app messaging, group chat, social feed, and video, is an effective way to guarantee a great customer experience. As social beings, we need to be part of a group where we feel valued. And what better way to leverage our social natures than by integrating better social features into an application? By adopting features such as social feeds, groups, and profiles, brands can create in-app communities and allow users to express themselves and communicate with like-minded individuals.

Ultimately, everyone benefits from this collective social involvement. Brands’ users are more attentive and drive better app engagement and interaction. Having these types of communities also contributes to

building trust between users because users view user-generated content as more authentic and valuable than the messages coming directly from the brand. Also, strong communities help businesses acquire new members, resulting in lower customer acquisition costs and a tight viral loop. That’s why it’s necessary to make the most of your digital community, especially with brand and product marketing efforts post-pandemic. Online communities are the future

The importance of community

Many people are taking time out from larger social platforms like Facebook and Instagram now, especially after the recent shutdown of the platforms where many brands and smaller companies were unable to do business. Brands that stick to these traditional platforms entirely are likely to spend a fortune on advertising and miss being seen by their audience. Without a clear strategy, it’ll be hard to formulate the steps to take in the future. By 2022 we can foresee the number of app downloads reaching up to 258.2 billion, which means shifting towards building an app community will be more possible than ever. When brands build a community-owned platform, they create a level of trust with customers, which boosts sales. Additionally, brands gain loyal customers and this, in turn, helps bring on board more community members. It’s like having your own membership site at your fingertips – where customers are providing constant feedback.

Having a social media presence alone is no longer enough to drive brand loyalty and customer engagement. Therefore, building a branded app community is essential for any brand that wants to ensure success in the emerging digitally based economy post-pandemic.

The global pandemic has been the most dramatic and powerful shift for businesses as they are forced to make adaptations such as implementing new strategies and innovative technologies including how brands can maximise digital channels like social media. Don’t be the frog and realise it’s too late the importance of revolutionising digitalisation for your brand. Embrace digitisation and enhanced social features to enable, and empower, better customer experiences – the result will be more users, engagement, loyalty and finally – sales.

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