Online customer community: 28 of your community questions answered

Here at LoyaltyLion, we’ve been lifting the lid on what “community” really means in 2021. Big shifts are afoot and only 53% of merchants are actively investing time and money in an online customer community. That means over half of merchants in the ecommerce space are missing out on a 10x ROI initiative – a loyal and engaged community of Insiders. 

In our recent Community Matters report, we asked consumers what they want from a community. And, ultimately, what would make them advocate more, convert quicker, create content on a brand’s behalf, and be more loyal. Get the report to read the results and advice from 10 experts.

Throughout May we also answered questions about customer communities in a series of Ask Me Anything sessions (rewatch them all using the links below). For each one, we were joined by experts from platforms like Gorgias, ReCharge, Omnisend, and Justuno. 

But with online customer communities becoming all the rage, there was a lot you all wanted to know. Below, we’ve collected answers to the questions we didn’t have time to answer live. We’ve split the Qs and As into the below themes. Enjoy!

  • Defining online an online customer community 
  • Setting up an online customer community
  • The day-to-day running of an online customer community
  • Encouraging advocacy with a community
  • Community data and insights

Want to build a buzzing community of Insiders? Get the Community Matters report


Defining an online customer community

1. What really is an online customer community?

There are a lot of definitions out there about what an online customer community really is. At the heart of it, an online customer community is more than just a hodgepodge collection of customers who have bought from you before. A real brand community is a subsection of loyal customers who, on your balance sheet, are valuable. They interact with your brand and each other:

  • 81% of the most engaged community members say that being able to connect with likeminded people in a community would make them join it
  • 84% say that the ability to communicate directly with the brand they’re buying from would motivate them to participate in an online customer community

Because this emotional connection is established, they spend more with your store over time than average, unengaged shoppers. They also drive incremental gains for your store through shared conversations, common interests, and relationships with other shoppers. 

Online customer communities have been a staple for ecommerce brands for a while. But, now more than ever, communities are what connect shoppers – regardless of geography or time zone. They become a place of “comfort and coziness” where shoppers feel like they belong and want to return and engage. 

That’s all well and good. But, what are the benefits to you?

Well, on average, brands with communities see a +1,352% ROI after just two years. That number compounds every year the community ages. After 10 years, brands can see as much as a +10,000% ROI. 

This is because when customers feel connected to brands, more than half (57%) increase their spending. The other benefits for your brand are: 

  • Cost-effective acquisition: Thanks to more word-of-mouth (WOM) and brand conversations
  • Greater conversion: Because of an increased sense of trust
  • An open and honest feedback loop: Providing future direction for your brand
  • High customer lifetime value and brand loyalty: Thanks to longer-lasting, emotional connections

Setting up an online customer community

2. What’s the very first thing we should do to start to understand our online customer community?

The very first thing you should do is speak to the customers who have the potential to be Insiders. These will be the customers who repeat purchases from you often, leave reviews and advocate for you on social media. 

Don’t be scared to set up a call with them and ask them what they like about your brand, what they want to see more of from your community, and what kind of perks and incentives would make them more proactive and engaged members. You could also send this group an email that includes a survey asking what they will want from your community as you grow it. 

If you involve these customers at the early stages of building your community, they’ll be more likely to advocate it once it’s taken off. They’ve got more skin in the game as they’ve been heavily involved in its set-up. 

You could also reach out to the “squeaky wheels” within your business too – they will give you the most honest feedback. Ask them what their problem was and if community initiatives (like early access to products) will make them return to your brand, despite their negative experience. 

3. How to set up an online customer community for optimal success?

To set up a community for optimal success you need to have initiatives that contribute to the continued growth of your community. As well as initiatives that prevent customers from churning.

To stop your community from going stale, give your existing Insiders the opportunity and incentives to refer others into your community. This could be by giving them loyalty points for a successful referral they make. You could also set up an automated email that prompts people who have left a four or five-star review to recommend others too.

You should also give your most engaged community members experiences that they’ll be itching to tell others about so they’ll be less likely to leave it.

By making your Insiders feel like VIPs they’ll recommend you to others and will be less likely to leave your community as they’re emotionally tied. You could give these shoppers a unique unboxing experience or bonus loyalty points on their birthday.

4. How do I grow and manage the community?

To grow your community you’ve got to give your Supporters and Insiders ample reasons to shout about your community and to recruit others into it. This could be through exclusive experiences or extra perks and discounts for referrals. 

When it comes to community management, conversations with customers will go a long way. The magnetic eyelash brand, Glamnetic, engages with its biggest advocates in their private Facebook community – watch our interview with the brand to learn more. They post make-up competitions and ask the community for opinions on products. 

Another thing to think about when it comes to growing and managing your community is how you’re going to get unengaged customers enrolled and excited about it. This can be achieved by encouraging guest checkouts – or Drifters – to create an account with added incentives. Never Fully Dressed offers one-time shoppers £10 of their order if they sign up to their “Loyalty Love” program. 

5. How much will it cost to set up an online customer community?

Setting up a community can cost as much or as little as you like. A quick and low-cost way to set one up is to use channels you work on every day. 

Social media is a prime place to grow and engage your community – Facebook in particular. Muscle Nation has a private Facebook group for their community to connect with one another, chat and ask questions. The brand rewards customers for following them on social media to get more sign-ups to the online space. 

Glamnetic also uses Facebook to grow its community. In the private Facebook group, they post around five to six times a week. The posts range from asking their customers about product feedback to weekly challenges. 

To run these communities cost-effectively, tweak existing content you were planning on posting so it’s tailored to your high-value customers. 

So, if you’re posting about a new product on your general channels, put time aside to curate a post for your community that asks for their feedback on the product. This way you’re only spending a little added time on top of your existing workload (and barely any cash too). 

If you want to put some more spend behind growing your community, build an on-site community hub. 

Astrid & Miyu set theirs up during the pandemic to connect their customers. Here, they share curated playlists that the community can enjoy together. Watch our interview with Astrid & Miyu for more

Or you could set up a simple loyalty program that rewards customers for completing community-centric activities (like a social media follow). This is a relatively low-effort way to get them enrolled. A loyalty program can start small and scale up as your community grows. 

6. How do I set up a community within a high consideration/ low purchase frequency industry?

Try using content and advocacy together. High consideration, low purchase frequency items require more buy-in from the customer meaning they’re more tied to your brand when they make a purchase. Build on this emotional connection they’ve made with you. 

Create super sharable content that unites these shoppers around common interests. 81% of brand Insiders say they want to access content around topics they’re interested in to be more active participants in a community. Give them what they want.

If you’re a bicycle brand, your community is interested in cycling. Why not interview stories of customers loving your bikes and the adventure they go on? If you’re selling luxury fashion items, share content (blogs and video tutorials, for example) about how to style your products for different events and looks. 

Content like this could make your already engaged shoppers share it with others in their social circles and convince them to convert. It will also make them return between purchases and engage with your brand beyond the transactional. Bingo. You’ve got a community who’s emotionally tied but doesn’t feel like they have to buy often.


The day-to-day running of an online customer community

7. What are the alternative financial perks you can give to your community other than discounts? 

We found that 90% of Insiders want free delivery for being a member of a community. This is another financial perk you can give. You could also encourage your community to sign up for a loyalty program where they can earn points they can redeem for discounts on future orders. 

Supergoods, the eco-fashion brand, gives shoppers five points per euro they spend. When the shopper reaches 1,000 points they can then redeem it for a €10 voucher. This goes up to €15 when they earn 1,500 points.

By offering points that be redeemed for discounts down the line, you’re not getting caught in a downward discount spiral and losing the loyalty of shoppers to low prices. Instead, you’re motivating customers to return more over time and engage beyond the transactional.

8. How do I stay connected with my community?

Stay connected with your community by always responding to their comments and feedback. Do this by replying to them on social media, thanking them for their reviews, and making sure your customer service teams are equipped to make your community feel valued.

You also want to keep your ear on the ground and close to what your customers really want as they’re your most honest and valuable source of feedback: 

  • 71% of companies use their community for market research and 66% turn to them for product development

When you know what they want, adapt your product offering and customer experience to their desires. This way they’ll feel more connected as they’ll know they’ve contributed to your brand’s development.

Another way to connect with your community is to show them that you have common values to them: 

  • 80% of Insiders say they would be active in a community if they could contribute to a cause they care about
  • 76% say they want to know what the brand stands for or believes in and 74% want an understanding of the brand’s story

In your welcome emails, communicate the values your brand is centered around. If you have eco-friendly products, tell them about where your products are sourced and how they’re made. If you contribute to charitable initiatives, showcase them on your homepage.

Zorali uses its loyalty program to allow its community to contribute to its mission to give back to the planet. For every 10 points a customer earns through making a purchase or completing an activity, Zolari promises to plant 10 trees. 

By connecting with your community through mutual values, customers will relate more personally to your brand. 

9. How do I build community engagement and how often should I be engaging?

This depends on what kind of engagement you’re hoping to build. This could be email engagement (in the form of opens and click-throughs) or social media engagement (in the form of likes, shares, and comments). A few ways to build engagement on these channels are 

  1. Personalization: Give shoppers unique experiences based on the customer data you have. Eliminate the feeling of being “just another shopper” 
  2. Incentivization: Set up a loyalty program that gifts customers points for engaging that they can redeem for rewards
  3. Learn from your data and insights: Look back at historical data and drill down on the kinds of emails and social content that gets the most engagement, then recreate these pieces with a fresh spin

When it comes to how often you engage with your community, think about what your customers would want. You don’t want to bombard them with sales messages that will put them off and prevent them from engaging in your community. But you also want to reach out often enough that they don’t forget you.

To strike the balance, make sure every time you reach out, you communicate something of value to them. This could be an email telling them they have a reward to redeem. Or, an SMS messaging notifying them that they have early access to your latest product launch.

10. How can a community be a part of our marketing plans as our business grows?

The good thing about a community is that it grows with you. Plus, as your brand gets bigger, you’ll have more individuals in your community. This means there are more opportunities for individuals to talk about you with others and grow your word-of-mouth influence. But you have to make sure the way you care for your community is scalable as it grows.

To achieve this, you should leverage automations, flows, and triggers. Most of your marketing tools can be easily integrated with one another so you can nurture your growing community with few hiccups.

For example, link up your email service provider (ESP) with your loyalty program to automate emails that get sent to your Insider segment. 

An example trigger would be an Insider’s birthday. Set up an action that sends customers a happy birthday email when it hits that date. Make it extra special by including a celebratory bonus inside (like the opportunity to redeem a free gift or extra loyalty points added to their account).

Or, set up an automation that sends an email to Supporters that leave reviews asking them to go on and refer you to others. 

11. How different is the community of a B2B business compared to a B2C one? Should they be treated differently, and if yes, what tips do you have for that?

There aren’t too many differences between the two. You still need to give individuals reasons to engage and opportunities to connect.

One difference though is when you chose to reach out to your community. For a B2C or DTC brand, sending emails and posting within the community is best done in the evening. This is when individuals are relaxing, browsing social, or are in the mood to shop. 

For a B2B brand, reaching out during the working day would be better. Look at when you get the most general email opens or social media engagement and reach out to your B2B community at this time.

Another difference may be the channel you build your community on. Where a B2C store may be building its brand on platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook a B2B brand may be better suited to build its community on a space like LinkedIn or Slack. 

Be sure to use the platform your prospects and customers spend their time. You could even run a focus group or send out a survey to find out the primary place your customers and prospects hang out and the kind of content they want to see.

12. How can I run a community around a non-profit store?

Non-profit stores are great for community building. This is because you already have a common cause that motivates you and your customers. 

Use a loyalty program to encourage your community to contribute to the causes you back as a brand. You could let your customers earn points for completing charitable initiatives your organization believes in – like donating to a food bank or participating in a beach clean-up. 

Then, let your customers redeem their points for rewards that also contribute to the cause. The pet food brand, Edgard & Cooper, lets shoppers exchange points to plant a tree or donate a meal to an animal in need. 

13. How do I make the most of social media to engage my community and make sure it’s sincere?

To make your social content sincere, post content your community is going to trust. User-generated content is a good place to begin as 79% of people say it highly impacts their purchasing decisions. This is because they see it as authentic. 

Try setting up a hashtag that encourages loyal customers to post about you when they’re wearing or using your products. Then re-share this content on your own social profiles. This way your community will see your products being used and loved by people just like them. You could also use reviews written by customers as social media content too. 

Because this social proof is created by your community, customers will believe it to be honest and trustworthy as it’s created by people they relate to.

14. How do I reach low usage, new subscribers when they aren’t opening emails or engaging on traditional channels?

Try adding personalization tokens into your email subject lines that stand out in the inbox. This can be achieved by integrating your loyalty program with your subscription platform and ESP.

Subject lines like, “You have 100 points to be redeemed on your next subscription” or, “Get a free gift with your next subscription box” will encourage opens and click-throughs as they’re more eye-catching than generic sales emails.

15. I want to do a “subscription drive”. What are the best ways to encourage people to sign up for subscribing and rewarding them for doing so?

Incentivize more customers to subscribe by setting up a subscriber tier alongside a loyalty program. Here you can offer exclusive benefits to subscribers only like:

  • Free or discounted shipping 
  • Special occasion benefits (a birthday gift or a subscriber anniversary surprise) 
  • Exclusive or early access to sales, member-only products, or events 
  • Ability to jump the queue when you have a new product 
  • Free trial or bonus items with purchases 
  • Free products

Annmarie Skin Care offers triple point days, first-look at new products, educational resources, surprise gifts, and much more to their subscribers. They also build the community feeling by giving subscribers access to a private Facebook group. Here, individuals can chat with each other and share beauty secrets. 

Once you’ve got your subscriber tier set up, this is where you can run the “subscriber drive”. 

Reach out to your regular customers telling them they get more bonus perks for becoming a subscriber. You could even include a notification on popular subscription product pages with more information. You should also tell these customers they get loyalty points for every recurring order they make as a subscriber that they can redeem for future discounts and free gifts.

16. How do I improve community sign-ups? 

Getting more customers to sign up for your community is valuable. Particularly because customers who sign up for your site are 47% more likely to buy a second time as you’re able to reach out to them and remind them you’re there. 

But, only 18% of customers share personal information with their favorite brands, and only 52% log in to complete their purchases. 

To get customers to sign up to your tribe reward them with a hefty bonus of a few hundred loyalty points for creating an account. Underwear brand, LIVELY, gives customers 100 points.

You could also A/B test a notification that tells Lurkers they’ll get loyalty points for creating an account after they’ve completed their purchase. Ofra Cosmetics has a notification that informs customers they’ll earn loyalty points for signing up and making purchases.

17. How do I keep Lurkers coming back?

To keep Lurkers coming back you’ve got to give them reasons to click on your marketing emails and engage with your brand on social media. 

To get more email clicks, take a step back and examine what you’re flooding your customers’ inboxes with, and how personal it is. When it comes to email, personalization is key:

Make your email marketing more clickable with personalized loyalty emails. They have a 2.5X higher open rate than the industry average because they’re full of tailored, useful information. 

Astrid & Miyu sends personalized emails that include each individual’s personal points balance at the top. Seeing the points they’ve got waiting will make them itch to click-through and spend the points on their next splurge.

When it comes to social media, retargeting is your friend here. Use it to reach out to the customers who have shopped with you or follow you but haven’t completed any more community-based actions (like Lurkers).

Your social activity should talk about your brand values and story in an honest and compelling way. Half of the consumers said that a deep understanding of a brand’s story or history would make them more community-minded. This jumps to 74% for Insiders. 


Encouraging advocacy with a community

18. We have over 100 “superfans” – how can we leverage them to improve our community and drive sales?

Give these “superfans” something to write home about. This could be an extra special VIP experience (like invites to your latest pop-up store or a first look at your new products). By giving these fans more perks than regular customers they’re going to feel important and you’re showing you care about them.

Once they’re emotionally connected, these fans are going to complete more Insider-like behaviors. They’ll chat to other customers in your online community – bringing up engagement there. Or, may even create UGC on behalf of your brand, posting curated images of them using and loving your products. 

With them advocating for your brand in public spaces, you’ll acquire more customers who will convert quicker as they trust the recommendation.

If you’re struggling with getting your fans to create content on your behalf, you could encourage them to do so with loyalty points for posting the content too. 

19. How do you get customers to make referrals offline?

The best way to do this so it’s trackable is to assign customers a unique referral URL. A referral program, like LoyaltyLion, will allow you to do this. You can then add in a flyer with your customers’ order that encourages shoppers to refer others and includes their referral link. This way, you’ll be able to track who comes to your site from offline sources and purchases through that specific link. 

20. What do the most successful referral marketing programs look like?

The most successful referral programs are easy for customers to use and provide both the referrer and referee with ample benefits. 

For example, Manuka Doctor has a clear “refer-a-friend” button in its site’s main navigation. This immediately tempts curious shoppers to click and find out more, When they do, they’re shown a landing page that shares the benefits of making a referral and the steps to complete the action. 

When they’re ready to refer, customers are shown a referral modal where they can share their URL on key online channels with just a click (like email, Facebook, or WhatsApp). They can also easily copy their referral URL and share it however they choose. 

The brand’s referrals are also beneficial for all parties. The referred shopper gets 15% off their first order if they buy through a referral link. In return, the advocate gets £10 in loyalty credit. Manuka Doctor sees almost 100% of those who are referred convert into customers.

21. How can we expand the reach of product reviews via an online customer community that supports product sales and additional PR support?

Reviews are incredibly useful content that can be used in a variety of ways to support sales and positive word of mouth around your brand. 

First off, use product reviews in your emails and on social media to cross-promote particular products or services. You could send a testimonial of your new product after it’s been tested by an Insider. This will drive up intrigue. You can also use reviews on your main site to encourage customers to trust you from the get-go. 

Pushing your reviews out publicly and beyond the product pages will help press outlets pick up on the quality of your product and service – particularly if your community is posting plenty of UGC to support the positive reviews.

22. How can my online customer community help brand my content?

Your online customer community has a lot of stories around your brand to tell. They’re therefore in the perfect position to brand it for you. 

The first way is to use their user-generated content on your own social channels. You could re-share images of them styling your products on your Instagram feed or have an Instagram highlight for customer posts. You can also include this content in your emails too. 

Customer stories are also super valuable here. They make your brand and product relatable and show customers how you can be a part of their day-to-day.

Zox (a company producing affirmation wristbands) encourages customers to submit their personal stories and challenges they’re facing to help inspire and uplift others in the community. Zox then shares these stories as highlights in their email marketing.

Similarly, Astrid & Miyu tell stories of how their community members met by mutually shopping with the brand and celebrate these stories in emails to their wider customer base.

Using your community to brand content this way helps you promote a lifestyle, not just a brand. This will make it easier for an emotional connection to form and they’ll be more loyal to your store over time.


Community data and insights

23. What incentives increase conversions and average order value

Incentives at the checkout are a smart way to increase conversions and average order value (AOV). This is because you’re giving customers benefits before they change their minds and abandon their baskets. 

Increase conversions by showing customers they’ll get points and rewards through your loyalty program for signing up and making a purchase. Try sending out cart abandonment emails that communicate the same offer. You could even display a notification on your site that tells them about the perk.

In-cart rewards are a great way to up your customers’ AOV. With this feature, you can show customers how many points they are away from getting an added reward with their purchase. They’ll want to add more to their cart to meet the threshold and get a free gift with their purchase.

24. How does a community generate a high CLV?

A community is an ideal tactic to generate a high customer lifetime value. This is because community-based perks and initiatives give customers reasons to return to your brand often to engage. When they return more often, there’s a higher chance they’ll shop with you again while they’re there. 

With a community, you can also establish emotional connections with your customers that are long-lasting. When a customer is connected to your brand on a personal level, they’re going to choose to shop with you for their needs over a competitor. Therefore, contributing to a high lifetime value and more brand loyalty.

25. How to structure loyalty programs to drive consistent ROI

First-time customers who join a loyalty program spend 40% more than those who don’t. They’re also 47% more likely to return and make a second purchase. This is because the points and rewards redeemable give shoppers reasons to return and engage, even when they weren’t planning to. All in all, giving merchants, like you, the opportunity to cross-sell to customers even when their intent isn’t to buy. 

When it comes to structuring the program, make sure the rewards customers can redeem are within reach but also something to aspire towards. You don’t want to make it too easy otherwise customers will redeem the first reward and never return. But if you make it too far out of their reach customers will give up earning and won’t see the value of the program. 

Loyalty tiers are a great way to drive consistent ROI. By having tiers in your program – where members get more perks the more they spend – customers will always return and give you a larger share of their wallet over time and you’ll cover the costs of running one. 

Another way to make sure your loyalty program is always delivering a consistent ROI is to encourage more referrals. This way you’re making sure you’ll always have new members joining who spend 200% more than customers attracted other ways. 

Boost referrals by rewarding loyalty program members for completing the activity. You should also make sure there’s a nice discount in it for the new customer that shops using the referral URL. 

26. What’s the best way to collect actionable insights from your top personas?

Begin by understanding what kind of content they engage with on social media and in emails. Do they respond best to social media competitions? It’s time to run more of them to encourage Drifters and Lurkers to interact more. Or if they’re really fond of reading stories of other community members? Make that a consistent part of your email newsletter. 

You can also analyze what community perks your top personas engage with the most. This will help you understand the kind of customer experience your top personas want. It’s then easy to replicate the same experience for all your customers so you can acquire more who are like-minded and retain the shoppers who matter. With a loyalty program, you can easily see the actions your community members complete and the rewards they’re more likely to redeem. 

27. How do you simultaneously track loyalty online and offline?

Luckily it’s easy to link and measure loyalty across your physical and online store by integrating your loyalty program with Shopify POS. This will help you create a differentiated experience as you’ll be showing you’re paying close attention to your customers’ buying behaviors both on and offline. 

Once connected, you’ll be able to see how many loyalty points a customer has earned for their purchases as well as the points they’ve redeemed. This will help you see who’s loyal and who isn’t both in-person and online. You could also use the overall lifetime value of the customer and their average order value as a marker of loyalty too. 

28. How do you really find out who makes up your Supporter community?

Finding out who’s in your Supporter community is pretty simple. You want to segment the customers who have an account with your brand and who leave reviews for your products or store experience. You should also include the customers who have referred friends to your brand once or more. If you’ve set up a referral program, this is simple to do as each customer has a unique referral URL and you can see how many times it’s been used to make a purchase.


Get the inside scoop on what customers want from a community

Check out the Community Matters report full of original research exposing what “community” looks like in 2021. Or, if you’re ready to up your community game, book a time to speak to one of our loyalty experts now.

Community Matters Report

About the author

Mollie Woolnough-Rai

Mollie is a Senior Content Marketing Executive at LoyaltyLion. After graduating she has worked both in-house and at marketing agencies providing expertise in content for both B2B and B2C clients. At LoyaltyLion, Mollie manages our content, making sure our readers get the best quality resources about customer loyalty and retention.

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