In many online learning or eLearning platforms, the concept of community has been somewhat neglected. While it’s true that an online platform cannot replicate or compete with “real world” relationships, online communities can help people meet their needs such as finding emotional support or encouragement, sharing opinions and ideas, or learning new things outside the virtual classroom.
Often, a community-based brand would have better relationships with their audience. These brands are usually more likely to listen to their audience, interact with their audience, and drive conversations among their audience. In turn, the audience becomes emotionally attached to this approachable and open community, leading them to become more engaged with the brand itself.
Both your audience and community are composed of the people who care about what you are doing. This may include learners, prospects, employees, and other stakeholders. The difference lies in the way you measure and evaluate your interactions.
Your audience is the group of people who consumes your content independent of one another. They are the people you talk to and might listen to you, but you need to actively engage with them first. An audience is also unlikely to talk to each other - the relationship between you, them, and other members is largely impersonal.
Generally, an audience is hooked by fleeting interest. They try out one educational course then get distracted by something else. It takes consistent outreach and effort to capture their attention again. While it’s very difficult to grow a number of followers or subscribers, you can actually pay to put yourself in front of a new group of people in some cases. Unfortunately, relying on an ever-changing audience group isn’t the most sustainable way to build up your brand.
On the other hand, a community is the group of people who experience your brand together. They are not limited to a one-way conversation - in fact, community members might even be the ones striking up a discussion with your brand. It’s a dynamic, multi-way convo that includes you and other community members.
These people are aware of and engage with one another through their shared interests on a common platform. Your brand unifies them under a shared identity and enables their interaction. Over time, they engage with one another without your guidance.
When brands are community-oriented, they can feed customer retention and boost referrals. When a company focuses on resolving their audience’s needs, fixing problems, or filling in educational gaps, they earn the loyalty of that audience.
Even if your products or services are more expensive than your competitors, community members will stick with you out of loyalty and emotional attachment to one another. Community members are also more forgiving towards inevitable mistakes and may come quickly to your defense.
Marketers tend to think that the company owns the brand they promote. However, can a brand exist without the customers? Brands live in the minds of consumers as a set of beliefs or associations.
Think of a popular brand like Nike. When you look at their products, they are just sportswear and shoes - but the Nike brand itself conveys athleticism and being a go-getter, thanks to its “just do it” philosophy. When you apply this concept to eLearning platforms, you could be approachable like Khan Academy, creative like SkillShare, or professional like Udemy.
This is why a branded community is critical because you create an experience where the customer can genuinely have a say in the brand. It’s not a one time transaction. Instead of an ‘us-them’ customer relationship, you break down the boundaries and build a ‘we’ community around the brand. People are recognized and treated as individuals, while their contributions to the community are celebrated.
How can you apply the concept of community to online learning? There are a lot of great examples and practices out there. Here are three of our favorites:
Coursera was founded in 2012 and has since grown to accommodate over 71 million learners around the world. Part of their strategy is to host a Coursera Community where people can ask and answer questions, form discussions on the courses they’re taking, and meet other learners around the world.
Coursera Community has over 110,000 members actively sharing job search sources, discussing over 10,000 topics on subject matter forums, forming special groups and finding study buddies. Newcomers are encouraged to introduce themselves and the most helpful members are recognized by the platform. This creates a space for real conversations to happen for Coursera users.
Mindvalley is an online personal growth platform with more than 2.5 million active users. While some courses with top thought leaders and experts are free, other perks are more exclusive for paying enrollees. When you subscribe to a specific course, you get access to an exclusive Facebook group called a Tribe where you can interact with other people who are taking the course as well. The Tribe system creates a sense of belonging for members because they can partake in unique interactions.
Duolingo is a popular online language learning tool. Since its release in 2011, it has since garnered over 300 million users. They built their platform and launched 39 language courses with a team of less than 40 people by harnessing the power of online communities. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight.
Community members began to develop courses for languages the Duolingo team didn’t even dream of offering when they began. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, Duolingo empowered members to develop, test, and promote their language courses. Co-creation helps consumers be more invested in your brand because they become part of its development process. Not only are they more attached to the brand, but they are also more open about what needs improvement.