Will 2015 Be The Year Of Branded Social Communities?

With brand reach in decline on Face­book and Twit­ter, is it time to engage social­ly with con­sumers on ded­i­cat­ed, brand-host­ed com­mu­ni­ties?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 1 comment

Face­book has announced that, as of Jan­u­ary 2015, users will see a sig­nif­i­cant­ly less pro­mo­tion­al posts in their feeds. It puts a huge dent into the plans of brand who engage in organ­ic social media mar­ket­ing. A recent For­rester report has indi­cat­ed that the change could lead to the rise of ded­i­cat­ed brand com­mu­ni­ties, which will rede­fine the way brands approach social media mar­ket­ing.

The news that pro­mo­tion­al page posts will see sig­nif­i­cant­ly less dis­tri­b­u­tion on Face­book start­ing in 2015, has rocked the social media world.

It’s a trend that is begin­ning to be seen across var­i­ous social media net­works, not just Face­book. As TopRank Online Mar­ket­ing CEO Lee Odd­en point­ed out in Momen­tol­ogy’s recent social media trends arti­cle:

Social media is no longer organ­ic: Grow­ing mon­e­ti­za­tion by social net­works will dimin­ish organ­ic ampli­fi­ca­tion to near insignif­i­cant lev­els. At the same time, social plat­forms will pro­vide even more effec­tive adver­tis­ing options to reach spe­cif­ic audi­ence tar­gets.”

It stems from a response by social media net­works, and par­tic­u­lar­ly Face­book, to cut down on the num­ber of pro­mo­tion­al posts in user’s news feeds, some­thing that was both detri­men­tal for the over­all usabil­i­ty of the social net­work, and inef­fec­tive for brands (with some reports indi­cat­ing that as lit­tle as 2 per­cent of Face­book posts ever end up reach­ing a fan).

The decline of organ­ic social rep­re­sents one of a num­ber of changes that are fac­ing social media mar­ket­ing in 2015. A recent study by mar­ket research com­pa­ny For­rester, “Pre­dic­tions 2015: Social Media Grows Up”, has put forth a num­ber of key insights. Per­haps one of the most sig­nif­i­cant points explored how as social media matures, brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties will become much more influ­en­tial and sig­nif­i­cant.

Why Branded Communities?

When you con­sid­er that only 2 per­cent of Face­book posts reach fans, it’s no won­der that mar­keters have indi­cat­ed that they are much more sat­is­fied with engage­ment lev­els on brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties than that achieved on Face­book or Twit­ter. Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties offer more val­ue than social post­ing for three key rea­sons:

  • Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties dri­ve greater reach: While brands can encour­age word-of-mouth mar­ket­ing by post­ing con­tent on social net­works and hop­ing it gets shared, this is very hit and miss. It can end up being a drain on resources and a bit of a gam­ble for brands. Instead, brands could stim­u­late advo­ca­cy amongst com­mu­ni­ties – by encour­ag­ing sat­is­fied cus­tomers to act as advo­cates and pro­mote a cam­paign or prod­uct via word of mouth, brands have a much more effec­tive way of ensur­ing reach and ampli­fi­ca­tion.
  • Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties con­vert prospects into cus­tomers: When con­sumers are research­ing and con­sid­er­ing the prod­ucts or ser­vices of a brand, they place a great deal of val­ue on con­sumer reviews, and rec­om­men­da­tions. Adding rat­ings and reviews to prod­uct pages has been shown to increase rev­enues and con­ver­sions.
  • Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties cement exist­ing cus­tomer rela­tion­ships: The study revealed a key sta­tis­tic about the behav­ior of a brand’s exist­ing cus­tomers: adults in the U.S. who are already cus­tomers are three times more like­ly to vis­it a brand site than to engage on Face­book. A brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty pres­ence on a web­site helps to cre­ate loy­al­ty and long-term (or life­time) cus­tomers than Face­book or Twit­ter, which are, at least to a degree, dis­con­nect­ed from a brand.

Building A Branded Community

2012 report about the  “State of Online Brand­ed Com­mu­ni­ties” by Comblu out­line three pil­lars of engage­ment for build­ing a brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty:

  1. Feed­back: Such as that gained from crowd­sourc­ing new ideas for prod­ucts or ser­vices, or on exist­ing prod­uct qual­i­ty, as well as mar­ket­ing cam­paigns and pro­vi­sion for cus­tomer expe­ri­ence jour­neys. This pro­vides essen­tial data and ulti­mate­ly, guid­ance for brands to adapt to cus­tomers and become more cus­tomer-cen­tric.
  2. Advo­ca­cy: Such as encour­ag­ing word-of-mouth mar­ket­ing around a prod­uct or ser­vice. This both devel­ops deep­er rela­tion­ships with stake­hold­ers, and acti­vates them to sup­port spe­cif­ic brand mis­sions and ideas.
  3. Sup­port: Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties can be led by brand and cus­tomer experts, that pro­vides an excel­lent means for brands to extend their cus­tomer ser­vice deliv­ery.


Per­haps one of the best exam­ples of a thriv­ing brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty is the SAP Com­mu­ni­ty Net­work (SCN). With more than 2.5 mil­lion engaged mem­bers, the soft­ware provider deliv­ers all three pil­lars of engage­ment via SCN: feed­back, advo­ca­cy, and sup­port. sap-community-network-comblu

One of the secrets of the SCN’s suc­cess is in its abil­i­ty to pro­vide a stream­lined, com­pelling expe­ri­ence that is aligned to user needs and inter­ests. The com­mu­ni­ty itself is orga­nized into 300 “spaces,” each focused on a top­ic, prod­uct or indus­try, mean­ing users are able to con­nect with oth­ers who have the same needs, prob­lems, and are seek­ing sim­i­lar solu­tions.

The net­work has been rec­og­nized by experts as being one of the best exam­ples of a suc­cess­ful brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty.

Richard Adler of The Aspen Insti­tute said, “The SAP Com­mu­ni­ty Net­work… may be the most exten­sive use to date of social media by a cor­po­ra­tion.”

Chris Andrews of For­rester said, “SAP has ele­vat­ed its com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment into an entire prac­tice… it allows the most ded­i­cat­ed mem­bers of its com­mu­ni­ty direct access to senior man­age­ment to pro­vide feed­back on prod­ucts, ser­vices, and strat­e­gy.”

SCN also fea­tures a cred­i­ble and effec­tive rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment sys­tem. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers earn points for shar­ing exper­tise and help­ing oth­ers, and high­ly regard­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers can lead spaces as com­mu­ni­ty man­agers, tak­ing on the respon­si­bil­i­ty to help new mem­bers nav­i­gate the com­mu­ni­ty and learn com­mu­ni­ty struc­tures.

Random House

The abil­i­ty for users to engage on super-spe­cif­ic nich­es is a bonus, and it is also a char­ac­ter­is­tic of oth­er suc­cess­ful social net­works. Fig­ment, a brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty fos­tered by pub­lish­er Ran­dom House, did­n’t seek to tar­get their entire book-lov­ing audi­ence (a huge, and diverse group), but specif­i­cal­ly their a small, high­ly engaged group with a strong com­mon inter­est: teenage girls who love to read and write fan fic­tion. figment-branded-community

Fig­ment users share, cre­ate, and mod­er­ate con­tent, as well as rais­ing aware­ness and rec­om­mend­ing prod­ucts. High­ly engaged indi­vid­u­als become brand advo­cates giv­ing sin­cere and earnest reviews of the prod­ucts they enjoy, and this ful­fills mul­ti­ple touch­points for oth­er com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers.

While on a small­er scale than the SAP com­mu­ni­ty net­work, it shows that all con­sumer-fac­ing brands can gen­er­ate brand­ed com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment by focus­ing on spe­cif­ic, high­ly engaged nich­es with­in their audi­ences.

The Changing Role Of Social Media Marketing?

Essen­tial­ly, the decline of pro­mo­tion­al posts on social media means that the chan­nel is no longer being viewed as an aware­ness gen­er­at­ing chan­nel to the extent that it has been in the past few years. Post­ing con­tent with the hope that it will be shared and trav­el well has been a bit of a game of luck, and mar­keters are per­haps begin­ning to real­ize that this isn’t the best use of the chan­nel.

Brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties may not be able to achieve the same reach as a viral post. Rather, a brand com­mu­ni­ty relies on the advo­ca­cy of engaged indi­vid­u­als to spread mes­sages and rec­om­men­da­tions to imme­di­ate cir­cles. The val­ue of these per­son­al rec­om­men­da­tions will be much greater and more reli­able.

Addi­tion­al­ly, these com­mu­ni­ties serve as a cru­cial, addi­tion­al touch­point. In addi­tion to rais­ing aware­ness, and reas­sur­ing con­sumers via user-gen­er­at­ed reviews and rec­om­men­da­tions, it also builds loy­al­ty with­in the com­mu­ni­ty itself.

With the reach of brand­ed com­mu­ni­ties per­me­at­ing through mul­ti­ple stages of user jour­neys, the change to social media mar­ket­ing in 2015 could begin to see brands find­ing new footholds and gain­ing new val­ue from their work on the chan­nel.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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