For this weeks post, I’ll be examining virtual communities which may be a new topic for many smaller businesses, despite this properly managed business has much to gain from virtual communities.
Defining Virtual Community
Before diving into the post I feel its important to define exactly what a virtual community is, one definition is as follows
A virtual community is a social network of individuals who interact through specific social media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals.’(source: Wikipedia)
Going from the above description you may already be a member of number of virtual communities, popular social networks such as Facebook, Google plus Twitter & LinkedIn could be categorised as virtual communities although the description is more applicable to groups which coalesce around specific interests such as a computer game, political party, music genre or football team, it certainly applies to LinkedIn groups which are formed around topics of interest such as SEO, Marketing or Content, out of all of the major networks I mentioned about its Google plus which supports Communities most effectively, especially around shared interests
Benefit or Risk?
Social Media books & blogs are replete with stories concerning virtual communities, however for the sake of balance its important to note that virtual communities can be very positive or nightmarishly bad, I’ve witnessed both extremes, online gamers & football fans can be pretty vitriolic at times, especially if dissatisfied
Community 1: Dessert Gallery
In his book Social Media explained (2014), Mark Schaefer draws attention to Desert Gallery a Houston based bakery amongst the benefits he attributes to the bakery’s 3000 member strong Facebook community which he describes as ‘small but loyal’ at the time of writing this had climbed to 3733 members (I wouldn’t mind a small but loyal group of 3000+ Facebook fans!) the following benefits are attributed to the group
• 36 % more visits than non-Facebook customers
• 45 % spent more of their dining budget spent at the bakery
• 33 % spent more at the bakery than at other restaurants
• greater emotional attachment to the brand
Virtual communities can completely revitalise a companies digital marketing however they do require maintaining, its not just a case of ‘build it and they will come’ failing to adequately nurture or moderate a community will lead to problems, especially if complaints & questions remain unanswered. Although Small Business owners may be forgiven for thinking that virtual communities sound like a LOT of hard work, if they get it right in terms of engagement & brand loyalty they are in a league of their own
In case of emergency break glass!
It is imperative that virtual communities have measures in place in case of problems develop within the community, examples being trolling (where someone has deliberately set out to upset other community members or arguments between community members