Online Community Engagement is Essential: COVID-19 Makes That Clear

Associations, Corporations, Retention, Customer Stories // The benefits of building a community around your brand aren’t limited to a pandemic – forward-looking organizations were investing in online community engagement before COVID-19.

Alex Mastrianni
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With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing in-person work and social gatherings to a halt, virtual engagement has gotten time in the spotlight. We’ve always known we needed human connection, but the pandemic made it very clear that engagement is essential to our personal and professional lives.

That increase in virtual engagement showed itself in our customers’ online communities, too. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw 81% of our customers get a significant uptick in online community engagement. And since March, we’ve seen a 33% increase in usage and new members across our platforms.

Here are just a few examples of how our customers have used community to engage their members and customers during COVID-19:

The Australian Medical Association of Queensland launched their online community in November, and their former CEO Jane Schmitt put it like this: “We implemented our Higher Logic Community a couple months before the COVID-19 crisis. And because we have the community (which has seen a four-fold increase in engagement during the pandemic), members have a platform to engage where their privacy is protected, outside of places like Facebook where they don’t feel as safe.”

The pandemic has certainly shone a light on the value of virtual engagement.

Online engagement in a branded community is a logical step for socially distanced times. But it’s not just a short-term fix until we can get back to in-person events.

How will the value of building community translate when things get back to “normal?”

Why Online Community Engagement Is a Growth-Oriented Approach

Whenever we do get back together in person, it’s true – virtual engagement may look different.

But forward-looking, growth-oriented organizations recognized the benefits of building community around their brands before the pandemic. Organizations were investing in online communities to consistently engage their member or customer base long before March of 2020.

For example, the Future Business Leaders of America – Phi Beta Lambda, Inc. was in the process of implementing their Higher Logic Community before the pandemic. Their CEO, Alexander T. Graham, shares:

“Pandemic or not, we were moving ahead with our community. But our Higher Logic Community has certainly served its purpose even more now. We spent so much time responding to the same questions over email, and communications were leaving people with more follow-up questions. We were only talking to, not with advisers, and we realized there had to be a better way. Our community has truly made a difference. It’s helped us deliver information better and use our time for more strategic planning.”

Similarly, Imperva launched their community in late 2019. They’ve spent the past year building high value engagement with customers in their new community. They know community engagement is the key to achieving their customer retention, upsell/cross-sell, and case deflection goals.

Imperva’s Global Enterprise Community Manager, Chris Detzel, created an online community webinar program covering product roadmaps, expert interviews, AMA-style sessions, and new product launches. Once the webinar is over, Chris creates even more opportunities for engagement by turning webinars into digestible videos, discussion threads, product Q&As, and product blogs. With each event, the company gets a new wealth of content and SEO opportunities that increase their reach and create value for their community.

By creating exciting and engaging community programming, Imperva is increasing high-value customer engagement that they’re already seeing lead to renewals and upsells.

“Customers want to know more about our products. We go in-depth in the product, show customers things they might not know they can do, and give them a chance to ask questions. We know when customers engage with us this way, they get excited about all the ways Imperva can help them – going deeper within the products and buying more.”

Chris Detzel, Global Enterprise Community Manager, Imperva

In just six months, Imperva’s community total login averages increased 40% and unique contact logins increased 25%.

Organizations who recognize the high value of consistent, online engagement are already making progress. They have been and continue to build online communities to create deep, consistent engagement with their members and customers.

But don’t just take our word for it. The Community Roundtable backs the idea of community engagement and loyalty up in their 2020 report, The State of Community Management.

Community Engagement Drives Loyalty

Their 2020 report demonstrates the impact of community on loyalty, making it undeniable that community is a must-have.

Organizations have historically seen communities as having a siloed use case like deflecting costs for customer support or product innovation.

That viewpoint is still reflected somewhat in the research, but the data also indicates that many are starting to realize the true value of communities in revenue growth through customer or member loyalty.

Based on the top five use cases for external communities, as listed in this year’s report, we’re seeing community use cases move toward advanced use cases that reflect customer loyalty, such as retention, satisfaction, and organizational growth.

When you look at the bigger picture of retention and loyalty, the potential for the upside and growth is much greater than cost reduction. According to The State of Community Management Report:

“For communities that can connect engagement directly to business value, 77% of Advanced External Community programs impact customer loyalty – a top line, complex objective being pursued aggressively in today’s business climate.”

When your customers and members are able to collaborate with each other, and able to participate in an active dialogue with organizations themselves, they develop stronger connections and grow into brand loyalists.

When organizations create that infrastructure, they benefit from a wealth of data that is produced in a healthy community.

And with that data comes powerful business insights. Smart organizations are building the structure to support those business insights and leveraging them.

“Community engagement supports every member’s success by giving them access to the knowledge and value of the entire community. By supporting them in their work, it inspires their loyalty. It exposes people to new ideas, prompts product and service use, and rapidly surfaces shifting needs.”

The State of Community Management Report 2020

Communities are an important step toward building a loyal customer, member, or employee base. When a community is built into your way of doing business, it becomes an agent of change.

Is 2021 the Year You’ll Build Loyalty with Consistent Engagement?

No matter what happens with the pandemic, one thing is certain: You need to be able to engage with your customers or members consistently, because that’s the way to loyalty.

Online customer and member engagement was and is the best way to future-proof yourself for the expected and the unexpected.

Building a community means you’re going to learn more and more about your customers’ and members’ wants and needs. You can respond to them with effective products and programs. They’re able to develop real connections with you and with each other, creating enduring bonds.

Could investing in online community engagement be a step toward success in 2021? We think so.

Alex Mastrianni

Senior Customer Marketing Manager

As the Senior Customer Marketing Manager at Higher Logic, Alex drives the development and implementation of our content marketing plan and marketing campaigns for Higher Logic’s customers. Outside of work, Alex is a pop culture junkie, ice cream fanatic, and semi-pro vacation planner.

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