How online community can empower your marketing strategy for an e-commerce project

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Nowadays the competitiveness in e-commerce is huge and customers have a massive list of alternatives to choose from. In the case of complex products or services, users are tended to do online research before making the decision. Thus, companies need to create useful and helpful content for their potential consumers in order to attract their attention and help to make a choice. As the online community creates a massive volume of user-generated content it could be a great solution for attracting and persuading new customers. 

The purchasing process became a real adventure and now it is called "a customer journey". In simplified version it looks like this:


The purchase itself is just one step in a big customer-business relationship.  And what is most important - it is not the first one. Before paying for something, customers need to be sure that they are making the right choice. By working on conversion rate optimization BEFORE and AFTER the purchase you dramatically increase your income from e-commerce. That's why understanding of the user journey is vital.

How online community improves the user journey


Now let’s take a look at the way the online community platform can increase conversion rates at each step of the user journeys.


Online Community is a great source of organic traffic and it may perfectly complement your user acquisition strategy especially if your product or service is not an emotional “1-minute decision”. When users are in the process of choosing a complex product they do research online a lot. To write hundreds of blog posts or landing pages for all those keywords is simply impossible. The solution here is user-generated content which is created by members of the online community forum. This how your potential customers will find you.


Posts made by your customers could be equal to those “long tail” searches in Google and help the new consumers to find your product.  And what is more valuable in this case - comments below the post. The real feedback, answers, suggestions, and even complaints show that product is popular, constantly developing and improving. 

And this is not the end of good news! Google likes websites with many pages. With an online community, you will automatically get dozens of thousands of pages created by community forum members (1 post = 1 page for Google).


(step 1) Sara is a young entrepreneur and looking for a tool for marketing automation. She is not very experienced in it, so she started to search online for the best solutions. Sara googled “best marketing automation tools for the online cosmetic store” (quite long, yeah?). The second link Sara found was the forum post where another girl shared her experience of using the XX tool for her store and asked other members some recommendations...


What do people need to know about the product before the purchase? They need to know that products or services worked well for other customers. At this stage, the user is searching for other consumers’ feedback. The shared experience is more valuable than it may seem. 85% of consumers report that they trust online reviewers as much as personal recommendations. How to encourage your consumers to write reviews each time they make a purchase? By rewarding them! Giving virtual points for activity is a solution that does not require manual work. Those points can be exchanged for discounts or branded gifts. Besides classical reviews on the product page, you can set up a special reward for a long-read stories posted in the forum with a detailed description of using a specific product during a particular period of time. 



(step 2) ...the post was about the 1-month successful experience of using a marketing tool but now there is a need to upgrade some flows and the girl asked for advice. Sara read posts, comments below and some other pages on that platform. She found much useful information and feedback from real customers... 



At this stage, besides online customer support businesses also need to think about what comes after. Here we are talking about product adoption. The complex products and services usually have many use cases and features and it is important to teach the customers how to get maximum from them. The higher product adoption is, the higher retention rate will be on the next step. Knowledge base, regular webinars, and community discussions are the tools for a proper product adoption strategy. 


(step 3) ...Sara bought an online marketing tool for her startup and got some questions during its set up. In the online chat, the first welcome message was from the bot which suggested she find the answer within a minute in a huge online community without waiting for Customer Support Manager, what Sara did. She found several posts with the same problem and comments below helped her find a quick solution.


The online community helps to engage customers, turns them into brand advocates and, as a result, increases retention. How does it work? Gamification is one of the features which can engage users in a funny and easy way. You can reward customers with the virtual points for activity inside an online community, new purchases, successful referrals, give privileges and exclusive discounts for community members or even launch the Premium Membership Club for users who earned a particular amount points. A classical loyalty program could be significantly advanced and generate more profit.

Besides gamification, there is also one (not the obvious but important one) factor that increases loyalty and it is an influence. Users who help other members to solve their issues, suggest product ideas and give feedback about their experience feel more valuable and loyal. 



(step 4) ...after the first purchase, Sara became a community member and got access to exclusive discounts and sales. As an active community member, she was able to buy an annual subscription with an additional 3% discount, what she did and stay with a brand for one more year.



Brand advocacy has been a huge topic in marketing during the last years because engaged users are 3x more willing to recommend the product than average users. How an online community can help to “grow” them? Firstly, with access to users’ profiles, data companies can identify the most active users. After discovering a group of TOP-users it’s possible to implement different marketing activities: launch a “Premium Club”, send gifts, provide exclusive bonuses or discounts and so on.

There is also another way to turn a customer into a brand advocate and it’s related to work with the negative customer experience.  It is crucial to give a timely answer to each negative feedback and the online community can be a perfect platform for communication. It works differently compared to online chat because in the case of the community the communication is open and seen by other members. Timely answers and open communication creates more trustful relationships between a brand and its customers.



(step 5) ...Sara had an amazing experience with the brand, so she became ready to recommend it. The online community has implemented a rewarding system for referrals, so she shared her link with friends. Later, as a member of a big number of successful referrals, she got a special gift from the brand. 

Those steps are very simplified, however, they help to understand the basic mechanics of the online community.  When your online community is active and engaged it generates additional profit for your business. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations while only 14% trust advertising,  so one of your aims should be encouraging your existing customers to share their experience.


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