In this second paper (here for first paper), I am going to look at brand communities.
Brand communities are examples of shared interest communities. They are communities whose raison d’être is to focus upon a particular brand or branded product in order to benefit it and in many cases celebrate it. Examples of brands around which communities have been built are Apple, Nike, Ford, BMW, and Harley Davidson.
Brand communities are most likely to form around brands with a strong image and a rich and lengthy history. Members often perform important brand functions, such as sharing information, maintaining the culture, meanings and values of the brand, and providing assistance. Membership often translates into subsequent behaviours, for example advocacy, consideration and purchase . Although brand communities have traditionally existed offline, the internet has seen a strong growth in the range of brand communities, and people use the internet to facilitate communication, enquiry and sharing of information between people who more often than not do not know each other and who have never met offline.
Brand communities counter the notion that modernity and commerce are strongly implicated in the destruction of community. Research shows they often develop over time to include friendships and conversations outside of the focus of the community. In some cases, brand communities even serve to strengthen family and other interpersonal ties.
- Brand communities are more useful to brand owners when used as customer retention devices, rather than customer acquisition tools . This is because existing customers are more likely to have an already existing positive relationship with the brand who will help to create a vibrant, self-sustaining brand community.
- Brand communities demonstrate that people actively co-create brands. Conversations and activities may even counter intentions of brand owners. When this happens, they can create significant control problems. Examples include some Apple and Saab communities whose members have often been critical of brand owners’ decisions.
- Any large discrepancies between a brand community’s activities and how a brand is positioned may indicate there is something seriously wrong .
- Ensuring that brand activity is relevant to a brand community is crucial. For instance, Unlilever created a brand community around its Sunsilk shampoo where members discuss shampoos, make-up, music, sport, politics, and so on .
- Members of brand communities often have a closer relationship with a specific product than the brand itself, for example, the Ford Explorer or the Volkswagen Passat, rather than Ford or Volkswagen. Brand owners need to leverage relationships with products in order to create relationships with and thus loyalty to the whole brand.
- Brand owners should think about providing communities with materials and ideas to collaboratively design experiences, products and services. Jeep targeted its brand community to create bumper stickers, T-shirts, newsletters, websites and advertisements . Chevrolet gave people video clips, music, and customizable titles to create video ads for the Chevy Tahoe .
Brands on Facebook
Brands on Facebook should be understood as brands’ own personal communities. Nearly all communications are between the brand and its ‘fans’ (participants), and ‘fans’ tend not to be in each others’ personal communities. In this sense, brands’ on Facebook look like a bicycle wheel, with communications being the spokes.
An issue is how often a brand should post to Facebook. Zarrella looked at over 2,600 of the most liked Facebook pages and their posts per day rates. He found that as brands posted more than once a day they tended to have fewer likes, especially once they got past a 3 posts per day level. In fact the optimum seems to be three times a week. Of course, these are only averages, and the frequency of posting will change according to your brand, the characteristics and wants of its Facebook visitors and 'fans', and what your brand wants to achieve, meaning there isn't a 'right' figure.
- Build loyalty to a brand on Facebook by building interactions between members rather than just interactions between the brand and its fans
- To understand what you should post and how often, you have to know your Facebook fans. People want what is useful to them, but they do not want to feel swamped or shouted at. As I shall argue in a future post, brands must think and behave like people. People like people who are interesting and who meet their needs in some way, but they also want people to know when to be quiet and listen.
In the next article I look at why communities are important to people, and further opportunities for brand owners.
Steve Smith is Head of Thought Leadership, London. If you would like to discuss anything in this paper or anything else, please get in contact. firstname.lastname@example.org