People in a crowd shaped like a person holding a wrench - Audience vs Community Concept

The audience is the currency of marketing, or it used to be until recently. Over the years, marketers have emphasized building audiences as the go-to method for closing sales and converting visitors into customers. Yet, sometimes marketers take a clinical approach to segmentation, which results in a lack of inclusiveness that impacts conversions and sales. 

The concept of audience implies addressing a passive spectator who needs to be engaged to make a decision. Still, things have changed, and consumers are not the passive spectators of past generations. They are empowered, actively seeking information about what they want and need and actively talking about what they like. In fact, according to GlobalWebIndex, 76% of internet users in Q3 2019 engaged with online forums, blogs, portals, and web communities. 

To understand the reasons behind the growth of online communities and how savvy marketers are switching from audience-building to community-building, we've approached marketers and executives for their opinions. 

Audiences and Communities: Who is Who? 

Building an audience equals building a group of people who trust you. This is one of the most challenging yet most rewarding aspects of marketing. Once you build trust, it becomes effortless to connect with your audience. Building a community instead of just an audience gives you a chance to build customer loyalty and brand recognition. Consumers want to feel they're a part of something useful, right, or worthy when they make purchases. Being a part of your carefully cultivated community is how they'll learn if you align with their needs, beliefs, or desires.

But the truth is that you can't build a community without building an audience first. According to Sarah Cascone, Director of Marketing at New York, NY.-based Bluecore, "Building a successful community starts with an understanding of your audience: their values, preferences, and affinities. Brands can do this by providing platforms for consumers that offer value beyond price and convenience, and foster an open dialogue to allow consumers to share their affinity for the brand and its products." 

Thus, it seems that to build a community, you need to outline an audience first. You have to build a profile of those who are more likely to engage with your product or service. That starts with answering the question, What kind of community does your customer want? Maybe they just want a group to share their experiences or a place to ask others how to make the most of the project, but unless you find the answer to that question, you won't be able to build one. 

Related Article: How to Build a Successful B2B Customer Community

Types of Online Communities 

There is not such a thing as a single type of online community. On the contrary, every business needs to build a community that adjusts to their customers' demands. Some have corporate blogs for news, updates, and tips, but others have more complicated or sophisticated communities. Here is a list of different types of online communities. 

Social 

Social communities are those groups of people you see on Facebook, for example. They're often centered around something, but can be leveraged to create brand awareness broadcast updates about your company, or identify customer trends. 

Branded 

Branded communities are usually centered around a brand. In this case, only people who have purchased a product or service can access the community, which means that these communities are often full of engaged users who are actively talking about their experiences and how a given product impacts them.

Action 

This kind of community spawns around societal issues or events. Shared values often unite members of these communities. Think of environmentalism. For instance, people advocating for climate change band together in communities like this and for brands with a similar vision, these type of communities present a treasure trove of data to gauge customer sentiment. 

Professional 

You can see professional communities in websites like LinkedIn. Professional communities are places where people can share similar work and experience. In this case, companies need to make sure that if they create a professional network, such a place needs to offer information for both newcomers and seasoned professionals.

Tips For Building an Online Community

We've already established that you need an audience to build and develop a community but goes beyond that. According to Kristian Borghesan, Director of Marketing at Lehi, UT.-based Savology, "developing a successful relationship goes beyond just pushing out content that they may (or may not) read. And I think that's why it's important to also focus on building a community. Building a community is what will help to differentiate you from your competitors. You're showing them that you care about them, their challenges, and their needs." 

We can take from Borghesan's words that one of the main tips for building a community is to listen and respond to your members' concerns actively. It means serving the community without thinking on the bottom line to drive real interest.

Similarly, Robb Hecht, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the New York, NY.-based Baruch College considers that "community building has become more important with the rise of customer success goals and metrics, particularly with the rise of D2C subscription model services/products. Now, it's not only important to reach audiences and drive them down the funnel, but to be able to develop an engaged community and fuel customer lifetime value." 

If we think of what Hecht is saying, it seems that there is a correlation between customer lifetime value and a successful community because the more engaged people are, the more time they will spend using your products and services. 

Therefore, while building and architecting an audience is fundamental to gathering interest in your business, building a community is the next step to creating a real connection with your customers. It doesn't matter what kind of community you build as long as it serves and supports the people in it. Without a community, you will always be chasing users and customers, with a community people will come to you.