In part 1 of the “Real Business Value of Brand Communities: A Beautiful Blend of Benefits”, I introduced you to some of the main spin-offs of online communities that can be of great value to firms. Customer insights, customer satisfaction, brand advocacy, increased sales etc. are some of the examples I talked about. Of course it is important to also realize that an online community will require investments. It will require continuous time, money, effort and great community management to create and maintain a lively community that serves your goals.Some managers are still reluctant to invest in brand communities; they sense risk and see disadvantages. It is a long-term investment that will maybe not directly pay off. Besides that, there are some other downsides to online communities that managers should be aware of upfront.
A community is a platform where you consumers come and get a voice: opinions, experiences and stories can quickly spread throughout your brand community. It is important to realize that these stories can also be negative and influence others. Often, negative news travels faster than positive – and is likely to stick longer. I think this is one of the main risks of hosting a brand community. Although I understand that brands might see this as a significant risk (they might fear a damaged brand image), it is a huge opportunity as well. I agree with the quote of Michael Dell mentioned earlier on this blog: “these (negative) conversations are going to occur anyway, whether you like it or not. I think it is better to join the conversations and respond so that you can quickly deal with dissatisfaction to avoid negative-word-of mouth”.
There is another main downside to brand communities that can be quite time-difficult to deal with. Because your brand hosted a platform – consumers will expect that you will instantly do something with their dissatisfaction. Richard Millington calls it the 24-hour response rule. He states that managers should try to ensure that “every post in your community gets a response within 24 hours. If your community members do not get a response to their posts within 24 hours, especially if it is their first post, they will not return”. If you do not respond to feedback fast enough, or deal with in a wrong way, it can harm your entire community and the relationships with your consumers. I think that good, professional community management is the key to avoid this. Still, companies should realize that building and managing an online community is time-consuming and will require continuous investment of resources (effort, management, effective leadership etc.)
Schau et al. have given some interesting perspectives on the value of online brand communities and the possible negative events that can occur. In their study they explain that specific behaviour or your community members can have negative effects. “Practices such as discouragement of participation in the community, lending support when it is in relation to conflicts within the group or extreme and annoying evangelizing can lead to harmful surroundings in the community” (133). He notes that it is fascinating to see that “positive behaviour leading to a cohesive and healthy, vibrant community can also turn into negativity and harm the community instead” (134).
In a later post, I will introduce you to the different roles that members can take in online communities. It is possible that highly engaged and fully committed members can take on a leadership role. They can become dominant and harm the needs fulfilment and joy of other members. Algesheimers et al. stated: “a community’s positive influence is also what gives birth to its negative influences” (69).
I think that managers can overcome these risks by being aware at an early stage that people will take on different roles in your community and that conflicts can easily arise. Therefore, a brand (the organization) should not be too dominant in the community and join every conversation – but do respond properly when there is a negative atmosphere. Richard Millington has listed an important competency that professional community managers should have: “they should excel at conflict resolution and work from proven techniques to resolve potentially detrimental disputes”. I agree and think it is a crucial competency that community managers should have.
I hope this post has given you some more insights into the possible downsides of online communities.
Are you curious to hear my thoughts on why non-profits in specific should invest in brand communities? Read my next post!
Untile next time,
Photography: Thomas Hawk