In both brand-owned and social media communities, people are interacting with each other and the brand has a presence within this – but do they both achieve the same thing?
Superficially, they can feel similar but with a deeper look, we can see real differences. Picking which one will work best for you depends on your strategy, goals and resources. It’s always important to remember they they do not need to be mutually exclusive; they can work in tandem. In order to fully control your strategy, learning some of the key differences is a good first step to planning.

The platform a brand chooses to interact with people on can radically change the nature of the interactions and brand experience, mainly because of the different functionalities and associated rules, and customer perception. Globally speaking Facebook is still the most popular social media platform given its astonishing reach, so we’ll use it as our example.

How you can use analytics

A benefit to using Facebook is that you do not have to build a large infrastructure to pull people together and many, many people are already on the platform – increasing chances to share stuff and make the world aware of you. However, it is not a platform that you can have complete control over and your pages/content are subject to the policies of another organisation. If for any reason their policies, rules or guidelines change, it may affect your output and ability to engage.

Gathering useful insight data behind your social media community can be difficult as you may have to request it from the platform provider. In certain cases it’s not even possible, as you are not the entity with whom people have chosen entrust their data (e.g. contact details with which you can use for customer comms).

On a brand-owned community, you are the entity people choose to be in connect with; they have agreed to share data with you. Of course, firms need to meet the regulatory requirements of collecting, processing and storing data but you’ll still have a much greater degree of control over your member communications and analysing how community members behave. You have more options on deciding how to use the data to learn about how your customers behave and interact with your brand.

Social vs Professional

The reason why people are on social media is mainly other people, not brands.

Sticking with our Facebook example, it was initially created for people. In a recent conversation, (January 2018) Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook will facilitate “more meaningful social interactions with family and friends” and is going to prioritize posts from actual people in a user’s network over pages from businesses. Mark himself posted on his feed: “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience.” This means that brands are not at the core focus of Facebook. Friends that we have already met in real life are the core of Facebook, interactions with companies often happen while we are trying to talk with people (See more here).

Conversely, online communities are built around the brand. Community users have probably never met before: the main thing they have in common is the product. That’s the root of their interactions: people share experiences, problems, support and obviously enthusiasm about the brand. All this material is precious (feedback, advocacy, support content, reviews, the list goes on) and a specialised community platform is the best way to house and present it. It works as a people-created repository of information, while social media is rooted in the here and now.

Customer retention vs. brand awareness

On social media, people tend to engage with a brand because they post fun/interesting content or because there’s efficient customer care.

There’s not always a guarantee that a brand’s social media fans are actually customers. On social media, brands need to have a personality and to engage with people in a way that is, indeed personal. A good social media presence can help to build brand awareness and when this has been established, it can help a brand to keep themselves fresh in peoples’ minds and stay in contact with the customer base, providing light-hearted content that people engage with socially.

Social media is also a good place to discover new products: a friend of a friend is talking about a product, or you have seen an interesting advertising post while you were reading your wall and have decided to follow it up to a brand page or website. Facebook, and social media platforms in general, are a good place to discover, while communities are a good place to come.

On a brand-owned community, however, it is a little different. People are there because they know the product very well or have struggled to find an answer somewhere else. If they have taken the time to join the community, they are already engaged and have a potential to provide more significant contributions, even if they may have had a negative experience up until they enter.

A brand-owned community is a place where users/customers talk in more detail about service and products. It’s a place where the company doesn’t talk at you, but with you. It’s a place where the brand can facilitate the right conversations that will help them learn insights on a daily basis. It’s like conversations at a party – some you start, but a lot of them are started by other people at the party. You can listen in to all of them and have the ability to dip in out of each of those conversations and engage in any way you wish as a representative of an organisation but also, as yourself.

Both kinds of platform have their merits and both can serve you very well. It’s all about how you use them to their best potential.

For any questions on how a brand-owned community might help you and your organisation, send us a message and we can talk about it further.

About the author

Francesca Farina

Community Manager

Fran works in the Standing on Giants team as a community manager – Currently working with AIrbnb Italy. She’s passionate about international literature and has worked as a Journalist with a soft spot for art and theatre. She’s also deeply curious about people-end social dynamics.

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