Building digital communities is seen as a way to create connectedness and a sense of belonging and at the same time is seen by digital marketers as a tool to create brand loyalty and drive business. This year - for the first time - we have created a module at WBS that provides students with insights on how to create digital communities. Based on three weeks of teaching, here are some key things to keep in mind when creating a digital community (for any educator reading this blog who teaches year 1 undergraduate students, what about creating a digital community for ‘commuting students?’).
So, what is important to consider when creating digital communities?
1. Define your purpose and target audience (we used Design Thinking to help us with this step)
One example of a digital community that defines its purpose and target audience well is Barry’s Bootcamp. The purpose is defined as providing high-intensity, boutique physical and digital fitness experiences that cater to individuals seeking challenging workouts and a dynamic community environment. Its target audience primarily includes fitness enthusiasts who value being part of a motivated, like-minded community that holds each other accountable.
Equinox Fitness sells a sense of belonging to achievement-oriented metropolitan influencers who want to define their life by both vitality and success. They strive to promote an ethos of achieving equilibrium between physical discipline, career ambitions, creative pursuits, and relationships by offering programming spanning mediums like dance, art, podcasts and more alongside Founder training.
2. Choose the right platform (for our own digital community we created we used Discord)
It is important to identify the right platform to reach your audience while creating digital communities. The current social media landscape hosts a variety of channels including Facebook, X, Instagram, Blog posts, Newsletters and TikTok among others. Different platforms appeal to different people based on age, interest, location etc. The focus should begin with first identifying your audience, then deciding on the most appropriate platform and communication channels to build a community.
We thought that the Kenyan company Healthy U chose their platform (Facebook) well. Questions that informed their decision-making for creating a digital community included: How can we best reach a community of individuals in Kenya and Uganda that is keen on living a happier, healthier life by consuming alternative health and organic food products? What product or service are we providing? Who is our audience? What platform do they commonly use to interact socially? What is the best way to engage with them and is this achievable on that platform?
3. Foster a welcoming and inclusive environment
We suggest creating a sense of belonging from the start: When you create a community, it's essential to provide a sense of belonging to ensure that participants feel welcomed. For instance, consider Asian Beauty's approach: when you join their community, they ask several questions about your preferences, such as 'What do you believe this community is about?', 'What is your skin type?' and also instead of ‘what is your name’: 'How would you prefer to be called?’
4. Create engaging content and activities
Another important thing to consider when creating digital communities is creating interesting content and fun activities to get each member engaged and interested in participating. To illustrate, our chosen industry was the racecourse industry. Here, the community owners offer members first-hand access to events and shows through displaying them on the membership apps and newsletters. Members are also given intel on renovations ongoing at the racecourse to ensure that they get first-hand access to the exclusive renovated spots by seeing them through an interactive map.
5. Build relationships and connections
Building relationships, connections, and networks among the wealthy seems to be one trend that we saw across many communities, and it is one of the primary aims of racecourses, such as the Warwick Racecourse. It can certainly be linked to capitalism and reflects how economic and social capital often intertwine. The influence of wealth in this community, and in many others, influences the access to opportunities.
6. Measure success and iterate
To know the performance of one of the digital communities that we reviewed, we measured the engagement rate of Asian Beauty on discord and found that the community has a relatively high engagement rate with 14,3% of members online at the exact time when we checked out the community (1 Feb 2024 12.30pm).
7. Promote your community outside your community
While Asian Beauty has very engaged members, we felt they could do better in promoting their community. Some suggestions:
Market your community through various channels to increase membership, e.g., for google search unlocking first page visibility.
- Advertising: A/B test with Google ads optimization
- Organic approach: write more blogs / articles that contain popular keywords that are trending. e.g., for beauty communities, the keyword 'skin barrier' on Google Trends increased by 1.5x in 2023; tap into these conversations!
Level Up Online Presence: Dive into the Digital Dialogue
- Create a social media that could attract more members. Conduct survey and apply design thinking (building personas) to find the suitable social media for Instagram/TikTok/Facebook
- Be where your audience is, e.g., for beauty communities, #KoreanSkincare on TikTok has 9.9m engagement, joining this conversation might increase visibility.
- Engage with influencers beyond the community wall!
8. Belonging and responsiveness
The one aspect successful communities have in common is that they do create a sense of belonging - with members feeling safe to communicate. This leads to our final tip: Be responsive: Address member concerns, be transparent and keep the community informed. This might require a good team of moderators across various time zones. It might also require AI, something we are going to focus on in the coming weeks.
For the next four weeks, we will drill down on specifics of important concepts and technical aspects in digital communities. For example, understanding user behaviours is essential to manage digital communities. Theoretically, we will discuss users’ innate psychological needs that motivate them to come to digital communities and how users engage with different affordances (action possibilities) provided by digital communities to satisfy those needs based on academic research. Practically, we will develop hands-on skills to analyse and understand user behaviours in digital communities, such as regression analysis and sentiment analysis with user data. We will explore other important agendas in a similar manner, such as user social networks, AI considerations (e.g., chatbots), and current challenges to digital communities (e.g., fake news).
Disclaimer: We wrote this blog collectively in one workshop. We used GenAI to provide us with the structure and found illustrative examples through internet research.
For further questions on the Creating Digital Communities module, please contact Isabel Fischer: Isabel.email@example.com