Why Online Community Is More Important (and Easier to Grow) Than Ever

June 24, 2020

Woman working on a couch holding her baby

At a time where many brands and marketers are pulling back digital ad spend due to forces out of their control, the importance of organic community-building has arguably never been greater. 

LinkedIn members are embracing organic engagement. We’ve seen a surge on the platform. We’ve seen a 60% year-over-year increase in content creation and a 55% year-over-year increase in conversations.

An active, inclusive, supportive online community brings tremendous value to both marketers and the audiences they serve.

To marketers, online community represents:

  • A cost-effective option for reaching loyal followers and customers.
  • A real-time market research function. Customers’ values and attitudes are shifting in every industry, making it even more critical that they be engaged with more closely. Insight-driven responsiveness to questions and concerns will be paramount. 
  • A low-cost investment which, executed thoughtfully, can yield sustained results and considerable ROI. 
  • A way to stay connected to the industries and audiences served. 

To audience members, online community represents:

  • Interaction. It’s a place where it’s possible to interact with other community members. 
  • Guidance. We’re all trying to figure this out together and clear direction is at a premium. 
  • Empathy. We want relatability in those instances where clear direction does not exist. Knowing others are facing similar challenges gives audience members a sense of comfort.  
  • Opportunity. People everywhere are looking for jobs, projects, new methods, timely advice – anything to keep the wheels of business turning. 

As members yearn for connection, marketers can rise to the opportunity by creating content and facilitating conversations that are valuable, relevant, and supportive. And in doing so, we can earn lasting brand awareness and audience trust. But what’s the best way to approach building online communities during a time of uncertainty? Here are three ways to strengthen online communities at this critical time. 

Community-Building in the Time of Crisis

If you’re kicking yourself for keeping community-building on the back burner, there’s no need. There’s still time to take on this initiative and create a foundation for long-term success. 

While the economy is facing new challenges, the LinkedIn platform is filled with members who are eager to connect with brands and one another. There's an old saying about how the toughest steel is forged in the hottest fire; similarly, communities can come out of these difficult circumstances stronger than ever -- if they are well managed and bring value to all members.

As for building a community that embodies these qualities, it’s hard to blame anyone for putting it off because it sounds like such a monumental task, and impossible, Herculean effort. 

Thankfully, it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds because communities already exist and can often become largely self-sustaining. It’s not so much creating the wave as it is riding it in your own signature style. Any brand or person can do it. The secret is in being a good community member, and giving value to get value. After all, if everybody focused on being the lead voice and amassing followers, and nobody focused on being a good community member, the very purpose would be lost. 

Followers and an increased share of voice are natural byproducts of putting a community's interests above your own. As Seth Godin explained on the Tim Ferriss Show, “In an economy based on connection, real connection, comes from people who seek to contribute to the community first.”

You may also think that your industry’s community is too well-established or has already reached maximum capacity. That’s not true, either. 

Think of it as a physical community, like a city, where community members congregate in all sorts of places. There are usually ample ways to serve specific interests or niche needs. Meanwhile, people are always curious to check out a new joint, whether it’s in-person or online. 

A community may have too few options, but it’s never too full. The opportunity to earn influence and build a following is enduring. 

Building Your Community with LinkedIn

On LinkedIn, you can connect with the communities you’re part of in unlimited ways. From an attraction and growth standpoint, the goal is to encourage community members to regularly drop by your LinkedIn Page or your LinkedIn Group

When people follow your Page or join your Group, you can then reach them organically because your activity shows up in their feed. Thus, your community can easily stay apprised of any of your content or events that might be worth their while. 

Then there’s the matter of attracting the right crowd to these virtual spaces. Just as a physical establishment would buy advertising or facilitate word-of-mouth marketing to make their presence known, community builders can do the same online. The mechanisms for attracting community members on LinkedIn include: 

Your employee network. Aka, the low-hanging fruit of community-building. These are people in your network and your colleagues’ networks. Because these professionals are already familiar with your brand due to having a personal connection to it, they’re more apt to follow and evangelize it. 

Hashtagged conversations are like an on-demand parade. You can use them to insert your float in a larger parade, like #marketing for instance. Or you can create your own content parade, marking each float with the same hashtag, making it super easy for your audience to find related content and conversations, like American Express does here with it’s #StandforSmall campaign. 

LinkedIn Events are currently surging in popularity because people want to congregate and online events are among the few options for doing so. So don’t cancel your in-person event, bring it online instead. Or create a new event using one of these ideas for virtual events on LinkedIn. 

LinkedIn Ads are a good way to expand your brand’s presence among a targeted audience that might be difficult to reach organically. Follower ads are dynamic ads built specifically for community-building, though every ad format can serve this purpose in some way. 

How Do I Advertise on LinkedIn During Times of Uncertainty ?

About six decades ago, an advertising big-timer named Rich Gossage was quoted as saying, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them and sometimes it’s an ad.”

These words couldn’t be truer. COVID-19 is changing the conversation on LinkedIn, and brands have an opportunity to create ads that breathe life into these new, ongoing conversations, helping to make them more interesting, insightful, or practical. 

The American Express ad above is a perfect example of a community-oriented ad. Not only does it stimulate necessary conversation, but it also aims to connect community members who can benefit from talking with each other.This example also pays to heed the lessons learned about advertising during a recession

And of course there are budgetary concerns. When the balance sheet becomes off-kilter, it may be hard to justify advertising over other expenditures, but that doesn’t make it any less vital. Needing to cut back on advertising is understandable in some cases. If you must, try to do so with a scalpel, not a hacksaw. 

Having the ability to track results and measure the ROI of your ads will become even more important in the months ahead, so consider prioritizing channels where it’s easier to attribute results to spend. 

Right now, community building is simpler than ever before because we’re all going through a challenging time and we can all relate in that way. It may stink, but it does bind us. So go forth, be a good community member, make good things happen, and before long, you’ll have a loyal band of followers who’ll be happy to accompany you through any challenge. 

As we continue to learn what’s working and what isn’t, we’ll be sure to share it. So stay connected to timely insight by subscribing to the LinkedIn Marketing Blog.


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