From the off, Silicon Valley tech behemoths have leveraged the power of tribalism, becoming hugely successful as a result. You’d be hard-pushed to find an on-the-fence Apple customer, for instance – they tend to believe its products are the best in the world and have absolute loyalty to the brand.
What’s even cleverer is the way the company has moved to own, foster, and ultimately capitalise on this passion. The Apple support community is more than just a forum after all – it’s a live, fly-on-the-wall pool of customer insight, that the company is constantly listening and responding to.
And it’s not like Apple reinvented the wheel here. Supermarkets have long since understood the value of what we call “social commerce” – particularly in the virtual landscape – and used it to drive deeper levels of engagement with customers. So why aren’t more brands doing the same? With the coronavirus pandemic rapidly accelerating the shift to online shopping, virtual communities have never been more valuable, for businesses, influencers, and audiences – and here’s why.
ROOM FOR HONEST FEEDBACK
Virtual communities are truly one of the best-known tools for securing honest customer feedback on your products and services. Just think how much more relaxed you feel chatting to your friends about things – this is exactly the kind of culture that virtual communities foster.
Informal, conversational environments allow customers to be a lot more honest, patient and enthused than they would be in official feedback forms, which makes even the tiniest of customer observations extremely valuable.
AN IDEAS CANVAS
This peer-to-peer environment of virtual communities has other benefits too. It can be a way to canvas fresh and useful ideas from your customers that you might not
have thought of. This can be indirect – perhaps an observation in a particular forum, for instance – or a clear call to action. A good example of the latter is Starbucks’ dedicated customer idea submission page – a follow-on from the successful “My Starbucks Idea” platform which reportedly attracted over 150,000 innovation submissions of which hundreds were put to use.
Brands don’t always know best, so finding more ways to extract and respond to their customers’ needs is invaluable.
POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP
As both social media and influencer culture has proven, receiving social validation is hugely important for driving purchase decisions. Similarly, sharing product or service reviews in virtual communities can encourage a positive feedback loop between customers, which can really help nurture faith in a brand, and in turn, generate more sales.
With shopping no longer being the haptic experience it once was, more and more people are making decisions based on the reviews of their peers, so brands urgently need to tap into this same mindset, and create environments within which this kind of behaviour can thrive.
People generally like to help each other. And it’s the same in the online world. In digital communities, when people raise issues, you’ll find that loyal customers are all too happy to offer support. Giffgaff’s support community is a great example of this working in practise.
When this behavior is allowed to thrive of its own accord, it leaves brands with more time to spend simply moderating the community and rewarding the most active participants and influencers. That might include offering them access to the latest innovations, sharing selective freebies or offering discounts on their most bought items – all of which goes a long in helping customers feel valued, and encouraging them to keep engaging with the brand.
A CHANCE TO OWN (BUT NOT DOMINATE) THE CONVERSATION
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift toward online shopping, and now more and more of us are engaging with businesses online. As such, there’s never been a better time for brands to tap into the power of tribalism and put themselves in the driving seat.
A lot of brands think they’re already doing this via social media – but why put yourself at the mercy of another business and tech stack? By having complete control of their virtual communities and the data within it, brands are much better positioned to mine them for insight, foster their followings, and ultimately create better experiences for their customers.
Rob Nash is the founder of 4 Roads. Experts in intelligent Self Service, 4 Roads is redefining the way businesses build relationships online, with particular expertise in building virtual communities and events.