Brand communities offer both companies and customers new ways to engage with each other. Whilst companies aim to engage with customers and influence their perceptions regarding the brand they also learn from their customers,this creates a community engagement that customers benefit from as it gives them a feeling of special interest and involvement with the brand.
A recently published study looked at how brands can use customer engagement to create and influence Facebook communities. The study is the 1st of its kind to look at this specific area and was produced by researchers from Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki.
The report highlights that changes in behaviour have been brought about by social media integration and engagement and focussed on Facebook as it has the largest data source having hit 1bn users in 2012. it linked brands engagement with customers as key in creating trust, commitment, satisfaction and loyalty but also looks at the benefits both to brands and consumers that participation within Facebook communities can bring.
An important factor which is emphasised within the report is that to create a brand community, is that there has to be a beneficial gain to both parties. The report highlights that,
Brand communities on Facebook are characterized by certain special elements compared with other virtual brand communities that may offer clues to the kind of benefits consumers are seeking, brand communities in social media share three characteristics;
1. They enable social presence in the form of acoustic, visual and physical contact, which emerges between communication partners.
2. The goal of any communication is avoiding uncertainty and reducing ambiguity. Some media are more effective than others in resolving these concerns, and brand communities in social media are especially well suited for this purpose due to the large amount of information being transmitted at any given time.
3. Brand communities in social media are also strongly connected to the concept of self-presentation, meaning that individuals desire to control the impression that other people form of them in all types of social interaction. Self-disclosure is also an important part of relationship development, which often occurs in social media and especially on social networking sites like Facebook.
These goals indicate that customers may gain social and practical information benefits by engaging in community behaviors. It is also likely that consumers experience other types of relationship benefits, such as entertainment benefits, by engaging in Facebook communities.
Entertainment benefits are derived from relaxation and fun and could be motivating community participation. Entertainment is also an experiential value that customers derive from using online services In a brand community context, entertainment can be expected to be even more important than on electronic commerce sites. People spend their time browsing the community pages and applications such as games can be incorporated to a Facebook site. Economic benefits refer to people joining brand communities in order to gain discounts and time savings, or to take part in raffles and competitions.
The study specifically looked at an online gaming community with over 70,000 active members the game is free and offers an integrated experience not just online but also offline in that it organises trips and events as an opportunity for the members to meet socially offline. The customer engagement was measured with a combination of brand community and transactional behaviours, including frequency of brand community visits, content liking, commenting, and news reading, as well as frequency of playing, and money spent on the internet gaming site.
The study was based on 289 respondents of on online questionnaire posted in the online community site of the game. of those; 27% visited the community daily and 32% visited 1-3 times per week. 38% of community members were happy to ‘consume’ the postings of the other members, but they never commented on them.
This ‘passive consumption’ doesn’t mean that they are uninterested but that they did not feel the need to comment. The use of the ‘Like’ symbol within facebook was shown to be popular with 62% overall using it to show agreement. Despite the game being free to members there are associated merchandise that the member are able to purchase, the responses indicated that over 50% had spent between $0-$50, which indicated the potential returns on communities within Facebook.
By large customer behavioural engagement has a positive effect on relationship benefits, in that customer engagement behaviours such as liking content, writing comments and reading messages influenced positively all relationship benefits, whereas Transactional engagement behaviours (gaming and spending money) had a positive impact on social benefits and entertainment benefits, but not on economic benefits.
The results indicate that a Facebook brand community, although situated in a social networking site, connects the members to the brand rather than to each other. In line with the findings, brand community providers should focus on offering entertainment and social benefits to their visitors. These were the most important factor in enhancing satisfaction and loyalty towards the firm.
The lack of importance of economic benefits indicates that current business practices of using Facebook sites to attract new customers with economic benefits may not be productive in the long run. Visitors who are attracted by lotteries and competitions are not necessarily loyal to the Facebook brand community provider in their buying behaviours. Therefore, ensuring long term engagement behaviours both in the form of community actions and purchase behavior requires strategies that emphasize entertaining content and possibilities for socialisation within the Facebook community.