People and modern technology connection

The rebirth of social communities

Explore what makes an effective social community, what you can learn from them and how they can benefit your holistic marketing strategy

Around 10 years ago, social communities were considered the holy grail of digital marketing. At that time, the organic reach of social platforms was still ample and it was uncommon to invest in paid media to reach customers. If you had active followers, it was likely that your page engagement and interactions were extremely high.

Fast forward to 2021 and organic reach is at an all-time low and media investment is becoming a no-brainer if you want to reach specific audience segments. Even if you influenced a large community in the 2010s, today’s algorithms determining organic reach would prevent you from addressing more than 1-5% of your followers.

As a result of the drastic changes in the social distribution algorithms, social communities were increasingly ignored in favour of niche paid media targeting tactics, which proved to perform better.

This is because many brands attracted customers to their communities using tactics such as contests or rewards, and, as a result, unconsciously attracted ‘fans’ that had little connection with the brand.  

Social communities, however, still provide added value in a crowded, mistrusted and sometimes toxic social media environment. While communities may not be the answer to every short-term business objective, they can prove helpful in the long run and act as a useful addition to your digital marketing strategy.

Benefits of social communities:

Insights into customers’ preferences and needs

By listening to and analysing customers conversations or frequent themes within social communities, brands can understand their customers’ preferences, and their current and future needs. Brands can extract these insights from online conversations (manually or with social listening technology) but can also run quick surveys or polls within the community, which can substitute for massive survey panels.

Increase in customer retention and loyalty

The most powerful sales increases come from communities where customer retention/loyalty is the goal and the focus is helping existing customers to succeed. Conversely, failing to use community efforts for essential yet crucial business functions such as customer support, can lead to diminished loyalty. According to Gartner, customer fallout will drive down customer satisfaction in 70% of organisations if they fail to integrate communities into support.

Improvement of reputation

Another great thing about online customers and branded communities is that the community members freely discuss the pros and cons of brands and products. If members of the community are satisfied with what the brand/products do, it’s likely that they will share their positive experiences with the rest of the community and beyond. It means this reputation will spread outside the community as well.

Decrease support costs

In good customer communities, customers interact with one another, and questions get answered by other community members. Customer communities can lead to cheaper costs in support but also in up-selling and generating new contacts. Gartner states that if organisations integrate communities into their customer support, it can lead to cost reductions of up to 50%. Similarly, well-curated and managed communities can also inform the programming of conversational interfaces for support, for example with FAQs.


When people are brought together in a community to discuss new ideas or address issues, unexpected solutions are often the result. Public communities can be used for collaboration if they are properly designed for it and can enable you to identify and involve the members in a mutually beneficial way.

In some cases, community feedback and close customer/fan relationships can contribute to product and service improvement or additional engineering. In the US, for example, the emerging cooking appliance manufacturer Blackstone taps into its online communities for product hacks and to find out which accessories they should be producing for a better experience.

Communities can benefit your holistic digital marketing strategy in many ways, on a short-term or long-term basis. These ways include improving brand preference, reputation, locking in clients, increasing loyalty, delivering increased value, decreasing customer support costs or even helping with innovation.

Social communities (no matter the form nor the place) provide a playground for individual, relevant and meaningful relationships, and will be key as social environments become more impersonal and more crowded than ever. Lastly and most importantly, there is an opportunity to create and engage a community around virtually any brand, topic or theme.

For more insights and analysis download Ogilvy Social.Lab's The Rebirth of Social Communities

Arnaud Vanhemelryck

Ogilvy Social.Lab

published on

17 November 2021


Communications Experience

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