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How To Build A Brand Community With Your Audiences

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Building a brand community is hard. In part, that’s due to many marketers confusing “audience” and “community.”

While it’s important to build both, your brand community is the sweet spot.

Don’t know the difference between building an audience or community? Aren’t sure why you have to focus on both?

We’ll break down each group for you, and show you the benefits of using one to catapult the other.

What Are Brand Audiences?

Your brand audience is who you’re talking to with your branded content. An audience for your brand likely includes

  • Website visitors
  • Social media followers
  • Newsletter subscribers
  • Blog readers
  • People engaged in your speech, Facebook Live, or other event

As marketers, we want to build large, high-quality audiences because they can lead to a large, high-quality brand community.

Brand Audience vs Brand Community

However, an audience is not the same as a community.

Your audience may be made up of people who are fans of your brand, but it could also be your competitors keeping tabs on you. It’s said that 5-30% of audiences on Twitter are often bots.

And finally, an audience isn’t a community because brand community is defined by engagement between the members. “Audience” is a one-to-many experience and doesn’t usually include a one-to-one element.

Audiences = Passive Engagement

So, now that we know brand audiences are a one-to-many experience, what does that mean?

For starters, your audience has little incentive to engage with your content unless it interests them. Capturing attention today is harder than ever! And because “attention” is earned with content, that means you’ll need to be churning out different types of content on a consistent basis.

Then, once that content is created, you’ll need an outreach plan to ensure you’re staying top-of-mind with your brand audiences.

Think of audience as a “top-of-the-funnel” effort; your goal is to gain brand awareness from people who are not familiar — or are vaguely familiar — with your brand.

It probably goes a little something like this

  1. You create branded content
  2. You share that branded content on owned (website/blog) and rented platforms (social media)
  3. People consume your content across a mix of channels
  4. If interested, they become a follower (social media) or part of your audience (subscriber)
  5. REPEAT

An audience is passive. Interest is fleeting. The work to capture attention is exhaustive.

What’s A Brand Community?

On the other hand, a brand community is active. Whereas your brand audience is who you’re talking to, your brand community is who you’re talking with.

Ultimately, brand community is conversation based. Community is also defined as

  • A resource for members
  • A trusted source of information
  • Encouraging back-and-forth dialogue, with or without the “brand”

Sadly, “community” may be one of the most misused marketing words. Many marketers refer to their audience as their community when truly, it’s not the same thing.

Think of your brand community as a loyal group of superfans. Tapping into the passions of your community can help you flame their interest to stay committed to you.

In addition, you’ll need to embrace a “think conversation” attitude (our favorite!) and keep the conversation flowing with your engaged community members.

Audience Goals vs Community Goals

All that said, we still need audiences. Audiences are where you gain awareness for your community, so they certainly can’t be overlooked.

Audience Goals

The areas of focus for building your audience will center around

  • Define your audience/audience persona(s)
  • Content marketing & distribution
  • Engagement strategies
  • Audience growth & performance

Community Goals

Conversely, the focus for nurturing your community will likely involve

  • A strategy for serving the people (NOT the brand)
  • Fostering faithful brand advocates
  • Focusing on conversation and inclusion
  • Storytelling with the customer or community at the center of the story

Ultimately, you must give your brand community a reason to stay actively involved.

Cultivating Your Brand Community

So, now that you know the difference between audience and community, are you ready to start building?!

First, you should decide what the purpose of your brand community will be. Hint: it shouldn’t be brand focused! Are you looking for community members to help one another with questions about your products or service? Is it a local-community focused group?

Next, you’ll need to figure out how to keep your community coming back. What conversations and content have sparked lively discussion in the past?

You will also want to define the KPIs (key performance indicators) or goals you have for your community and the metrics that will help you track success.

Lastly, you’ll need to ensure there’s an element of customer care taking place within your brand community. That means answering all questions or requests in a timely fashion. It means having a plan for issues and crisis management.

While building a brand community isn’t something that will happen overnight, if you approach it with an altruistic mindset, you’ll be well on your way to creating one of the most sought after marketing “wins.”

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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media, advertising, and customer care agency. She's also the Co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer, where they discuss jaw-dropping marketing trends. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout!
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