Creating an e-commerce store community — does it make any sense?

Martyna Tarnawska
Creating an e-commerce store community — does it make any sense?

Building authentic, engaging and transparent brand-customer communication is very difficult on social media, nevertheless doable. One of the recommended marketing tactics is creating a community for customers — check out what you need to prepare for and when you should invest in it.

Why are we talking more and more about communities?

It all started with the fact that social channels were supposed to help us co-create communication with customers — invite them to discuss, listen to their opinions, encourage them to make decisions together and become our prosumer. Social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were intended to help us open up to customers and enter the many-to-many communication model, where the brand is responsible for creating a space to exchange ideas, discuss and grow, but the customers are the main protagonists, not our products and services.

Prosumer — a consumer involved in co-creating the communication, business model, products and services of brands.

What went wrong in this case? 18 years after the inception of Facebook, 12 years after the inception of Instagram and 20 years after the inception of LinkedIn, we are at a point where companies are primarily using social media channels to promote their own products and services, brag about their successes, follow customers with remarketing, write about themselves and… often only for themselves, because due to the algorithms, most of our content simply doesn’t reach our target audience. For the most part, we operate in a one-to-many model, in which a brand creates communications primarily based on its KPIs and values, then distributes them to customers and… is surprised by the lack of response and engagement. This model is based on one-way communication, in which our customers have no benefit or value from following us on online channels, except to stay up to date with our offers and promotions. They soak up the information, but do not build a sense of identity with our company, and have no desire to exchange experiences or share their needs with us.

This is why more and more companies are investing in the one-to-one model, where the company directly engages in a dialogue with the customer, for example, using tactics such as conversational marketing (such as chatbots) or personalized emails. This allows the brand to establish a relationship with the customer, personalizing outgoing messages by examining their preferences, behavior, purchase or search history. The customer feels they are being listened to and appreciated. However, this model often fails to generate high engagement among customers, and our marketing effectiveness relatively declines. Frequently, it is because while a dialogue with the brand is interesting at the beginning of relationship building or when we give the customer something extra, in the long run it can be tiring, one-dimensional and not very diverse. We won’t answer all the customer’s needs and problems, even though we’d really like to, and at the same time, as a brand, we’re not as reliable to our customers as other consumers and their friends (read the latest edition of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer).

What exactly are online communities?

This brings us to the main topic of our article, the community model. It goes back to the basics of social media and web 2.0 — co-creation, discussion, exchange. The brand’s role is to take a step back, step off the pedestal and invite customers into the virtual space where their experiences, ideas, questions and suggestions are the most important. We, as a brand, can moderate this space, stimulate its development, manage its quality and nurture its diversity, and yet share it with a selected target group. This allows us to regularly survey our target group, test new ideas with them, ask their opinions, identify pain points and ideas about changing products, communications or our store.

Is it difficult? Yes, it requires designing properly and then running the community on a regular basis. Is it expensive? Yes, especially in terms of involving resources on the company’s side. Is it worth it? Yes, it’s one of the few ways to create a high-quality and engaging relationship with our customers — both existing and new.

A community revolving around an e-commerce store? What goals can communities help you accomplish?

A community is a space where a certain group of people providing mutual value to each other and are focused towards a common goal / theme / task / problem to be solved.

The key question to ask yourself at the very beginning is: what will be that guiding purpose, theme, task or problem to be solved? This will be the community’s main differentiator and the reason for new members to join. Our brand is just a signature, a guarantee of quality, a team that makes up the community, and without a differentiator that will give real value to members, the community will become just another marketing channel failing to engage the audience.

Divide the reflection process on the community’s purpose into three components:

  • the purpose of the communityWhat will be the main goal for all community members? Why should the participants join it?
  • The business purpose of the communityHow does your company want to contribute to this community, what is to be the role of the company and its employees? What do we want to achieve through it and how will we check it?
  • personal goals of creators and moderatorsWhy do you want to create this community? What do you want to achieve through it? What will motivate you to create and manage it?

When thinking about your target, consider the type of community your company can create. There are two main types of communities based on their main mission and what unites their members.

A. Communities of products — members of these communities are primarily focused on discussing and learning about the product/service/company, this includes Sephora’s Beauty Insiders, Twilio’s Champions program or Salesforce Trailblazers.

B. Communities of practice — members focus on developing a discipline or passion and connecting with other practitioners, regardless of any tool or platform. Examples include the On Deck cohort learning community or design communities such as Dribbble.

Make sure your company is ready

Not every company will be ready to create its own community. Don’t create a community if:

  • the company is not open to the audience and co-creating communication together with them (we are still stuck in the we-they model);
  • the company does not want to build a dialogue with customers and bridge the distance between them and the brand;
  • the company’s employees don’t feel a sense of belonging to the company and won’t want to be its facilitators, to engage transparently in its development;
  • you don’t have the resources to run and manage a separate channel (communities require a lot of attentiveness and regular activities!);
  • you have a plan to duplicate content from other channels and treat the community as just another social media channel;
  • you can’t find a distinguishing feature of the community and have no idea about its purpose – you will only create a group based on the example of others;
  • you only want to pursue sales goals in the community – this is rarely a proven recipe for an effective and engaged community. You can, however, conduct effective advisory communications.

How else can your company take advantage of communities?

Before deciding whether your brand should create its own community, consider the pros and cons of this option.

Remember that your company does not need to create a community to benefit from the many-to-many model. During the research stage, find other places where your target audience is already talking about your chosen topic, your brand or your products. Use social listening tactics on online forums, product directories, social media groups to identify where your target audience is already and consider whether and how your company can engage there.

Remember that your participation in another community should always be approved by its administrator. Avoid spamming, sharing content that doesn’t benefit its members or pushy selling.

Draw insights from discussions that happen in the groups — identify what customers are talking about, what they are asking, what product elements they are paying attention to, what they are complaining about. This can help you gather feedback, improve products, design better promotional and marketing campaigns, but also improve your e-commerce store.

And if you decide you’re ready, start with the following 10 steps.

  1. Choose a community goal.
  2. Identify the community’s target audience.
  3. Research what is missing from other places and channels where your target audience performs their tasks/needs/discusses on selected topics.
  4. Design a community business card (name, description, branding).
  5. Match the tool to your target audience’s preferences.
  6. Design the topics discussed in the community.
  7. Create promotional tactics and invite members to the community.
  8. Create rules for onboarding and deploying participants to the community.
  9. Write down rules for using and contributing to the community.
  10. Test new tactics to engage community participants – this step actually never ends….
Martyna Tarnawska
Socjomania Digital Innovation Lead
Enthusiast of the digital world and new technologies, trainer, facilitator, and project manager. The administrator of Transformers community – online development and change management, which brings together more than 700 change leaders. She has led over a thousand workshop hours on Service Design, Design Thinking, digital trends, content marketing, and online marketing. She has carried out strategic projects for brands such as PKO BP, DHL, EY, HPE, Orange, TESCO, Znak Publishing House, Warsaw University, Obsessive, Oriflame, and Kupiec.