I’m Just Here for the Comments

Opinion: Why online communities are essential to future-facing brands

Many of the best ideas are coming to life in the comments - Credit by undefined undefined/iStock

Ever since Emily Weiss announced that her cult-status beauty blog, Into the Gloss, was expanding out of editorial and into product development with a skincare brand called Glossier, the concepts of “customer-centricity” and “brand community” have evolved from marketing buzzwords into a standalone business strategy.

Today, the disruptive beauty brand has yet to launch a product that hasn’t sold out, and it reports that audience size has more than tripled in the past 12 months and revenues are up 600 percent year over year. The secret sauce? Putting community at the center of every business decision.

Weiss said she is constantly asked how she makes her customers “feel involved,” and the answer is simple: “Involve her. Don’t just make her feel involved,” she said. “Reward her if she’s involved. Get her involved and say thank you. Use that information, that feedback loop.”

While Glossier might sound like a unicorn, there are countless other brands that have taken the same track: Volition, True & Co. and Everlane have had similar success by making and innovating in tandem with consumer feedback. Community isn’t just a mechanism by which to influence customer loyalty: When successfully leveraged, engaged consumers have the power to influence product development and uncover entirely new innovations, ideas and customers, ultimately leading to growth.

These breakaway brands leverage social to not only drive sales and discovery, but to also get input on product innovation via community engagement. It begins by tapping into conversations on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to discover trends, uncover problems and ultimately align on opportunities, and then tapping back into these platforms with both paid and organic content to drive product discovery and sales.

Brands like Glossier also create their own communities (see Facebook groups Who What Wear and The Ordinary and Lego’s Ideas Platform) to capture even more pointed consumer feedback and drive conversation, ultimately improving brand affinity and further engaging them within the brand ecosystem.

In this age of digital connectedness and seemingly endless options, engagement—that personal, emotional, loyalty-inspiring connection to a company—is increasingly important for a brand to rise above the fray.

When we apply a consumer-centric philosophy to the community of people with disabilities—a massive group whose needs have been wildly underserved—the implications are massive. If we deployed their deep well of wisdom to solve the problems of inclusive design, can you imagine the implications? The power of one idea—or one person—can be infinite, and when we crowdsource ideas and let the people actually using products impact the way we develop them, not only are consumers’ needs met, but brands and businesses have the opportunity to impact cultural change.

As writer and disability activist, Keah Brown says, “if any of you are unsure about the next step, just ask one of us.”

If you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you already know that many of the best ideas are coming to life in the comments. It’s up to us to ask the right questions, uncover the brilliant nuggets and ultimately empower consumers to engage by proving to them that we’re listening.

Lesley Parks is senior social strategist at creative agency Possible.