Understanding the value of digital communities

Content is king. This has never been more true for publishers, brands and media houses, with the 24-hour news cycle meaning organisations have to work harder than ever to grow audiences and keep them engaged.

To not only survive, but thrive, in this new digital age, companies that relied on old print and product centric business models have had to embrace new ways of thinking about how they collect, curate, protect and communicate their purpose through digital media assets. But where some fear change, others see opportunity and those organisations that have embraced a philosophy of innovation and transformation have found their pot of gold at the end of the digital rainbow. How? By establishing new and meaningful ways of connecting with their audience. By understanding the value of digital communities.

UGC, CRM, personalisation … a host of marketing buzzwords that point to the same thing – your customers demand a voice. According to Publisher’s Toolbox CEO Richard Cheary, organisations need to provide a platform for their communities to not just connect, but be empowered to share their own experiences, knowing their stories will be appreciated and critiqued by like-minded members.

“Digital innovation and transformation isn’t just a decision. It’s a mindset shift towards embracement of technology in all aspects of your business,” says Cheary. “It’s becoming especially important for businesses to re-evaluate how they manage their relationships with their stakeholders, inside and outside the organisation, where sustainability requires uniqueness and media-enriched consumer experiences.

“So much of the story of your business is told through the eyes of your team members and your customers. Creating private brand digital communities in which they can share their own experiences, can unlock previously unseen community content on a new level to what’s currently being achieved. This brings a multitude of benefits for your digital content strategy, and community members can then be rewarded for their contributions, which allows organisations to tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day.”

Sounds good … but familiar. Organisations the world over spend considerable resources curating a social media presence to achieve these ends. So what benefit is there to the organisation in looking outside of the traditional social platforms?

“As far as organisations are concerned, the problems with external social media channels centre around issues of media ownership and user experience,” Cheary continues. “Firstly, these platforms provide little in the way of protection of your valuable media rights. They are controlled by external organisations that do not have the interests of your business at heart. Coupled to this are the vagaries of constantly changing algorithms, which make it harder for organisations to reach their intended audience, as well as limited scope for customisation or monetisation through e-commerce or paid memberships for example.

“By bringing your community into your own digital content ecosystem, you allow yourself to take ownership, protect brand media, and maximise its commercial potential. Essentially, you take the power back.”

“By bringing your community into your own digital content ecosystem, you take the power back”

Relationships work both ways though, and for any relationship to thrive, you need to give as good as you get.

To establish digital communities that are truly passionate about your brand, businesses need to create a space in which community members not only share their experiences, but are rewarded for their contributions and their loyalty. Collaboration is a two-way street. To incentivise is key and can be done by providing unique user experiences, flexible user access, recognition and adoption of innovative trends.

Commercial partnerships are a key component of this, and an essential element in any meaningful discussion on organisational communities. Cheary agrees.

“An important aspect of a digital community platform is the relationship between your commercial partners and your audience. Your partners have a key role to play in incentivising your community to contribute while conversely, you allow your customers to interact with your partners’ brands in new and exciting ways, whether through unique competitions or other means.

“This not only provides added value to your commercial partnerships by allowing your partners to better position their brands within your community, it will attract new partners looking to leverage a digital community centred around your brand.

“It’s all part of establishing a healthy digital ecosystem, one in which there is a symbiosis between all stakeholders to the benefit of everyone.”


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