What are virtual (online) communities?
Have you ever heard the term “online community”? And virtual communities?
Do you know why virtual communities are an excellent option for doing research?
Just like our personal lives, our professional lives are increasingly digital.
In this sense, companies use these means to interact with the target audience and obtain more information about the people who habitually consume their products.
For that, it is necessary to know how to adapt to new technologies in a non-invasive way and that allows its consumers to offer the necessary information.
With this, virtual (online) market research communities arise.
What are virtual communities?
Let’s go in parts. Let’s define what the dictionary tells us about these words separately.
Community: “a ensemble or congregation of people who share common characteristics and who live together under certain constitutions and rules.”
Virtual: “Which has the virtue of producing an effect, although it does not produce it from the present, often in opposition to actual or real.”
According to sociologist Howard Rheingold, virtual communities are: “social aggregations that emerge from the Web when enough people engage in public discussions for a long enough time, with enough human sense to form networks of personal relationships in cyberspace.”
In a simple sense. A Virtual Community is a group of people with common goals who use the same form of communication to interact with each other in an online environment.
Types of virtual communities
Depending on the purpose of creating communities, they can be classified as follows:
Social Media Communities
There are virtual communities that have no other objective than to create social bonds. Therefore, social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, among others, manage this type of interaction.
There are also communities based on content written through articles and blogs that allow interaction and feedback from people related to the topic. Some of the platforms to create a blog is WordPress.
Multiple User Dialogue (MUD)
They are virtual systems and spaces that allow users to navigate, interact, participate, chat and learn in real time, creating communities. Example: The chat system in Clash Royale, a strategy video game.
Role of a Virtual Community
Elliot Volkman lists several categories of users who have their roles in the social network cycle, which are:
• Architect – Creates the community saying your goals, creates your website and online structure.
• Administrator – Sets the rules, encourages social norms, helps new members, and outreaches the community.
• Paying Member – Contributes money for the purpose of keeping the community active, in addition to being a contributing content member.
• Non-Paying Member – Contributes content only.
• Power Users – Best friends of admins, they advertise how good the community is to the general public and contribute their best to the environment.
• Active Observers: Users who do not contribute to the community with content, but consume the content and share in other communities, who participate.
• Passive Observers: Don’t contribute content, don’t share, just consume.
What Makes Virtual Communities Successful?
Before presenting the virtual community examples, it is important that you know what makes a virtual community successful:
Develop a comprehensive participation strategy
Many companies use social networks as the only strategy to manage their communities of followers. While these types of media can connect different customers with each other, they pose significant problems such as trolling, hate, and various antisocial behaviors.
Therefore, they must be considered as a component of a broader strategy , to which you can add online events and online community management platforms that allow you to enrich and manage interaction, as well as take advantage of the data obtained for decision-making. .
Focus on the community first, the brand later
The community exists for the people who make it up and not for the company. For a business-focused mind, this goes against their thinking, as if the community was created to benefit the business, why not just try to do exactly that.
However, the purpose of a community is to serve the people who comprise it , since the community is a living entity. A community-based brand creates loyalty not by driving sales transactions, but by helping people meet their needs.
Many people join a community to interact with others and form social connections. Brand promotion itself is not your top priority. If you can meet their needs, members will in turn provide you with the information you need to grow your brand.
Connect your community with global goals
With a number of your target market concentrated in one place online, you might be tempted to have a one-way relationship with them. As a business it’s hard not to remove the persuasive marketing stance, but you should.
Keep in mind that online communities are not just another marketing channel. The information you obtain from members influences the decisions of other departments and goes beyond the marketing department, so it is highly recommended that you be able to position the strategies of your community with the global objectives of your brand.
Examples of successful virtual communities
Currently there are different types of virtual communities . Here are some examples of successful virtual communities in various places in Latin America and the world:
1. HavaLovers: An example of a brand community
“HavaLovers” is an example of a global brand community created in 2021 by Havaianas, the Brazilian sandal brand that has an 80% share of the Brazilian sandals market, and as part of its online strategy, it opted for technological innovation and sophistication of the digital customer experience.
Havaianas’ online community, Havalovers, was created through QuestionPro Communities , a platform that provides the ability to conduct quantitative and qualitative research through online surveys, discussion forums, group ideas, chat, reward system, and more.
Through this virtual community, Havaianas has been able to segment its target audience not only by demographic aspects, but also by behavior and attitudes. This strategy provides a greater engagement of your audience and works as an information gathering channel through continuous contact with your customers.
2. Eyes on the World: a virtual community of Colombians abroad
Ojos en el Mundo is the first virtual community of Colombians living abroad that helps make products made in Colombia fall in love with everyone.
This community was created by ProColombia , the official government entity in charge of promoting non-traditional exports, foreign direct investment and international tourism to Colombia, upon detecting that there was insufficient data for small and medium-sized companies to make the decision to export. .
To meet this need for information, this platform created with QuestionPro allows generating insights in real time that are useful for Colombian companies to break borders and expand their market, in addition to joining ties with residents abroad.
Ojos en el mundo works on 3 fundamentals mainly for generating insights:
- Use of online panels to obtain information on particular markets.
- Databases that group existing knowledge for decision-making in companies.
- Collection of information for the generation of specific actions of sectorial impact.
In this way, ProColombia makes known where the business opportunity lies between sectors, unions and companies, thereby helping to reduce investment risk and contributing to the success of its market strategies.
Energizer ® had the challenge of collecting information from its customers and potential buyers for the development of new products , managing the online panel service and recruiting people to participate in an online panel , as well as obtaining reports to perform a deep analysis of the data generated. .
In addition, they did not have consultants who could provide key suggestions on the characteristics of their products and achieve adequate review of concepts and post-use tests.
To overcome these obstacles, the leading company in the battery industry opted for QuestionPro’s online communities platform, through which it was able to complete projects and collect information 200% faster, as well as increase participant engagement up to 55% week by week.
Among the benefits that the use of its own virtual community has brought to this world-scale company are:
- Provide in-depth feedback on usability testing, including multimedia data collection .
- Increase the response rate and data collection to improve proofs of concept thanks to the use of an online communities application .
- Optimize investigation processes through push alerts and location-based information gathering.
- Exponential increase in the customer satisfaction and retention rate.
4. Institute of Metal Treatment
The Metal Treatment Institute (MTI) is a non-profit trade association created to support its members, made up of companies in the heat treatment sector.
MTI uses its online community to allow members of different generations to connect and participate in the way that is most meaningful to them. Community users can take advantage of the content and experience of other members.
Members can post questions, concerns or comments and get answers overnight from MTI’s membership base of more than 1,500 people.
By embracing its community as a tool in its digital transformation , MTI has achieved the following successes with fewer than 4 full-time staff members:
- 50% decrease in transactional requests thanks to the community.
- 2,600% revenue growth in 14 years.
- 97% member retention rate.
5. Belcorp: Virtual community of beauty consultants
Belcorp is a company dedicated to beauty products that has stood out through its brands Ésika, L’Bel, and Cyzone. Its direct sales model is a success today, and it has more than 860,000 female entrepreneurs who trust its products.
The Insights Belcorp area, specialized in market research , needed to have answers in less time with respect to their consultants , so they decided to implement an online research panel to receive feedback from their consultants and carry out their own studies.
Through this virtual community, they managed to obtain a better knowledge of the needs, interests and motivations of the consulting firms in order to strengthen their value proposition, obtain better insights and make decisions by listening to their voice and ideas.
Benefits of a successful virtual community
In the examples of virtual communities mentioned above you can find that some of the benefits of using this type of platform are:
The biggest sales increases come from communities where customer retention and loyalty are the goal, with activities focused on helping existing customers be more successful.
Failure to use community efforts for essential business functions like customer service can lead to decreased loyalty.
In good customer communities, customers interact with each other and questions are answered by other members of the community. In this way, customer communities can lower the costs of support, but also additional sales, the generation of new contacts, etc.
Be a source of information
When customers have questions or concerns about services, they tend to look to the Internet for the answers. Keywords from online customer communities or communities related to topics and content will appear in search results.
For this reason, online communities can serve as great places for customers to find answers to their questions of interest.
Positive brand reputation
Another positive aspect of online brand and customer communities is that community members freely discuss the pros and cons of what brands offer and share.
If community members are happy with what you do, they are likely to share your praise with the rest of the community and beyond. As a consequence, this reputation will also spread outside the community.
When people come together in a community to discuss new ideas or tackle problems, the result is often unexpected solutions. This is one of the main reasons why internal communities are very popular.
However, public communities can also be used for collaboration if they are properly designed to do so and allow members to be identified and engaged in mutually relevant ways.
This can be used for co-creation or crowdsourcing efforts in which members engage to fight for a common goal and thus feel more involved and engaged.