Throughout this series, we’ve talked about creating valuable content for your customers through a number of different streams, including social media, your website landing pages, and the customer portal. But another important channel of content we’d be remiss not to cover is community forums.
Whether your brand owns the forum or you become an active participant in one that already exists—like a Facebook group, for example—community forums are a great way for brands to engage with their customers in a natural, easygoing way.
Plus, when you have loyal customers, they may even act as brand ambassadors for you within these groups. These loyal customers can also act as word-of-mouth marketers, winning you new consumers, and respond to comments on your behalf.
In this blog, we’ll cover the different audiences and platforms of community forums, and share some tips for DTC brands to use as they include these online spaces in their marketing and content strategies. Plus, we’ll highlight a few Recharge merchants who are hitting it out of the park with their community forums, leading the way for other ecommerce stores to do the same.
- Ecommerce brands can connect and engage with customers in meaningful ways through online community forums.
- Giving customers an organic space to share information about your products or services is a valuable way to deepen your relationship with them.
What is a community forum?
A community forum is an online community or discussion site where people can come together and have conversations via posted messages. Unlike a chat room, the messages are usually longer than just one or two sentences and are typically archived for a set period of time. This means members can go back through and revisit previous conversations, or find answers to questions that were previously asked in the group.
Think about a Facebook group, as an example. Members can post messages in the group with text, images, and/or videos, and other members of the group can respond through comments on their posts. These posts are displayed chronologically on a single page, so members can scroll through and see if there’s anything they’d like to interact with.
The different platforms for community forums
Before we talk about the users of community forums for DTC brands, let’s cover the two different types of platforms where community forums can take place.
Branded community forum
Ecommerce brands can create their own online platform to host a community forum. When choosing this option, brands have full control over how the platform looks, how it operates, and they can actively moderate the conversations that happen. Plus, brands can reward participants with special badges or other perks for being active in the community.
Merchants who’d like to create their own community forum will need developer resources, which is why they may not be a fit for every company. Those who don’t have the resources should consider platforms that already exist, which we’ll get into next.
Social media platform
Another option for community forums is a social media platform. A member of your team could create and own a group on a platform like Facebook or Reddit, facilitating discussion among group members. This option may be easier for shoppers to join if they spend a lot of time on that particular social media platform.
Another way ecommerce brands can get involved is by joining community groups that already exist on social media. For example, Chris Bowman, Co-Founder and CEO of Simply Nutrients, talked on our podcast about sharing information in mom groups that already exist on Facebook. By making helpful resources available to these moms—in a way that’s relevant to the group and the topics typically discussed—they can naturally win customers from a community forum setting.
Who is the typical audience for community forums?
To understand the audience of community forums, we have to take into account the two different types of platforms. With a branded community forum, the users are typically only current or existing customers. However, with a social media platform, you could potentially have more reach. People who are curious about your products could join a group to see what current customers are saying, or your brand could engage with potential customers in groups you don’t own.
Community forum tips for DTC brands
Now that you know more about community forums, let’s jump right into some tips ecommerce stores can use when creating or participating in online communities.
1. Identify clear goals
What does your brand hope to achieve by getting involved in an online community with customers? Some goals could include:
- Boosting brand loyalty
- Building brand awareness
- Increasing retention and customer satisfaction
- Learning what customers think about your products
- Gaining new customers
Once you’ve identified goals, your team can move forward with a clear idea about how best to interact with customers within your community forum, whether it’s in-house or on a social media platform.
2. Share quality content
As we mentioned at the beginning, a community forum is an excellent way for your brand to share relevant content with your shoppers—both prospective and existing customers. You can share product recommendations, new releases, current and upcoming sales, and more through your community forum.
Online stores should also consider sharing other resources with their shoppers through the community forum. Relevant blogs, videos, and other information that could be helpful to customers is all fair game for sharing within your community. This way, it becomes a reliable source for customers to find information they’re looking for.
One Recharge merchant with a thriving community platform is Mixhers. It’s full of customers asking questions, with helpful responses from their brand and other customers. They also share resources and information related to health and wellness, fitness, and more—all topics their customers are united around.
The Wordy Traveler is another Recharge merchant sharing quality content and creating a strong community around travel. Each season readers are transported to a new location through a book, but the content doesn’t stop there. They have playlists, blogs, podcasts, contests, and more to engage with their community, plus a log-in only section of their website just for subscribers.
3. Engage & acknowledge customers
Community forums are a great place to earn customer trust—which is why it’s crucial that your brand engages with customers in a friendly and approachable way. Merchants should also be intentional about the tone and voice they use, matching their branding to make every interaction with their store cohesive. Be specific about word choice, communication style, and even emoji usage so that your brand stays true to its voice.
Within your online community, ecommerce merchants should consider rewarding customers for their participation. This could be through special badges earned after a certain number of posts or interactions, or special rewards they can access as community members.
4. Listen to what your customers have to say
One huge advantage of community forums is that they allow customers to share about their experience with your products or services, without a filter. Brands can learn so much in this type of online space—and the knowledge can then be used to shape future marketing and product strategies.
5. Lean on brand ambassadors to respond on behalf of your brand
Loyal fans of your brand can be important members in your online community. Having actual customers respond to other customer’s posts gives evidence of how real people use and enjoy your products.
Think about the last time a friend recommended a brand. Did you trust them? Of course you did! Having brand ambassadors is a similar tactic—by engaging with customers in an organic way, responding to posts with actual facts about your products, and sharing their knowledge about your brand, customers will feel like a friend is sharing this information with them.
Brands can encourage customers to act as an ambassador either through an official brand ambassador program, or by cultivating loyal customers who act on their behalf. When customers love your product and your brand, they’ll be more likely to recommend it and share their thoughts in a community setting.
Connect with customers through a community forum
If your brand hasn’t already engaged with customers in a community forum, now is the time. Learning valuable insights from customers and creating a brand experience that goes beyond just products and services is possible with an online community. Plus, you can share valuable content and resources organically, helping your customers and gaining trust.