Here’s What Happens When Brands Start Micro-Communities for Digital Engagement

As the end of third-party cookies draws near and brands invest in new privacy-focused approaches to reach customers, the concept of micro-communities is moving into the forefront.

Micro-communities are a marketing concept born out of social media. Facebook’s shift in focus away from the News Feed and toward groups after the 2016 election has been well documented. The number of users belonging to groups on the platform jumped from 100 million in 2017 to 400 million just two years later. Today, the company says more than 1.8 billion people use Facebook groups each month, and more than half of all users are in five or more groups.

The shift in how people use Facebook, and other social networks, has been felt by brand marketers. Groups have become a valuable way for social media users to connect with other people with similar interests and needs. They’ve also become a tool for brands that are interested in connecting with fans in a non-intrusive way.

“[Micro-communities] foster a collaborative relationship between brands and customers. So instead of spying on consumers through cookies, brands can simply ask consumers for feedback and offer them recommendations based on their likes and dislikes,” says Philip Smolin, chief platform officer at 100.co, an AI-powered consumer brand group that works in the CPG space.

Marketers turn to micro-communities

A confluence of several major trends is contributing to the growth in micro-communities. Covid fatigue and emotional isolation are causing more people to seek out new experiences and communities where they can create connections. At the same time, Covid has made every demographic more comfortable connecting with others through digital experiences.

Facebook isn’t the only place where micro-communities are sprouting up. Brands are launching micro-communities on their own websites, on forums like Reddit, and on video platforms like Zoom. 

Monthly tea parties hosted on Zoom have become a major selling point in SAMA Tea’s subscription program. Members who sign up to receive regular shipments of tea are invited to participate in online tea parties with the company’s founders, Jay Shetty and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty. More than just selling tea, the online events bring together a community of like-minded consumers who are interested in health, wellness, and mindfulness.

Virtual events like SAMA’s can even segue into the real world, where consumers are increasingly seeking out more experiential events at stores and malls.

“When done right, a community is bespoke to the brand, its values, and the audience,” Smolin says. “For founder-driven brands, I expect we’ll increasingly see communities based around interaction with the founder. Twitter was the start of this accessibility—think Elon Musk—but with skyrocketing adoption of TikTok, Zoom, and the pending metaverse, founder access will move from text tweets to more interactive experiences.”

Product-driven brands are also finding success creating communities with, and between, their customers based on common interests. One of the best examples is Sephora, which has built its Beauty Insider Community into a collaborative space where customers are an important resource to each other.

Smolin says the type of experiences brands develop within their micro-communities aren’t as important as the authenticity of those experiences. A 45-minute Zoom call with a company’s founder is more powerful than a generic email or a forum post that goes up automatically at regular intervals. Q&As, live discussions, and even online courses are all examples of the types of interactive activities consumers are looking for right now.

“At the end of the day, community is part brand building, product marketing, demand generation and customer retention. What percentage of each depends on your bespoke community strategy. Want to be aggressive in driving product sales? Offer incentives like exclusive products, purchase discounts or even your own tradable crypto coins to community participants. Want to take a longer view and focus instead on increasing customer loyalty and lifetime value? Then design community experiences which are helpful, educational, and supportive,” Smolin says. “You won’t get the immediate ROI measurability every marketer craves, but you’ll see the benefits over the coming quarters and years.”

​​Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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