As humans, we crave authentic and meaningful relationships. Whether talking to a close friend or bonding over a common interest in an online community, we find ways to be part of the world that surrounds us.
Over the past few years however, and especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have turned to social media in order to feel more connected to others and to bridge the gap that was clearly imposed on us. However, this change hasn't come without its side effects – in a recent report, for example, about two-thirds of Americans (64%) say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today.
To solve this challenge, online communities have stepped up to combat the negative effects of social media, leading many to adopt this new form of social interaction as their primary mode of communication and connection.
Therefore, how has this increase in demand affected businesses and users? What is the role that digital communities play in this new age? And most importantly, how have people adapted and interacted with others when faced with such a big shift as a worldwide pandemic?
To get the answers to these questions, we have looked extensively at data, researching some key statistics and facts to uncover the full impact of online communities on our increasingly digital world.
Chapter 1: Online communities have stolen the spotlight
An online community can be anything from a sports group to a financial literacy course. Whatever the scenario, these communities help people feel supported and tied to a greater cause, thus driving greater user engagement and retention.
They are also very effective ways for brands and businesses to showcase their products and services to like-minded customers who are more willing to invest in what they are passionate about.
1. 76% of internet users participate in an online community. One study found that people participate in online communities that include blogs, forums, and/or vlogs across all devices.
2. These communities can be seen in many platforms such as Reddit, which is home to more than 130,000 active communities (subreddits).
3. Facebook is another popular platform, as 1.8 billion people use its Groups every month, and more than half of all these people are members of five or more active groups.
4. Companies are also jumping on this trend – A Forrester report found that 60% of businesses own a branded online community.
5. Participants in a recent study indicated that over 30% of their organization’s revenue is influenced by their branded online community.
6. On average, larger companies are more likely to have online communities than smaller companies–only 40% of small companies have an online community.
7. Finally, making connections with other people who have similar interests (66%) is one of the primary drivers behind why users engage in online communities.
Chapter 2: Users are at the center of change
It is known that customer expectations are on the rise when it comes to online communities and people generally tend to look for advanced personalization. However, traditional social media platforms are not cutting it anymore–when interacting with these outlets, users find it challenging to be part of communities and groups that appeal to their specific needs and oftentimes experience potential drawbacks such as offensive language and low quality content.
That is why with the rise of online communities, more people have been persuaded to join groups that enable them to create a true sense of belonging and togetherness.
8. Because of the increase in demand for online communities and shift in customer expectation, 64% of online community site visitors say they’re visiting those sites more often now than they did a couple of years ago.
9. Even among internet users who haven’t visited community sites recently, 7 in 10 of them are at least somewhat familiar with these platforms, a figure which rises to 77% for Millennials and Gen Z.
10. And what else brought about this rise in demand? A general discontent with traditional social media platforms certainly has played a role: About two-thirds of Americans (64%) say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today.
11. According to a Statista survey conducted in August 2017, 71% of respondents had felt offended by posts, comments, or pictures they had seen on social media.
12. Most importantly, Gen Z in the U.S. trust community sites (48%) almost just as much as traditional news sources (51%), and notably more than social media sites (36%).
13. Finally, for the various reasons why people join online communities, e-commerce stands out as one of the primary ones: According to a study, 27.3% of customers use online communities in their internet buying decision making, while considering a product or service.
Chapter 3: Engagement is the name of the game
What makes for a successful online community? Among the many reasons why people join these communities, the main motivation is always to establish connection with others. Companies and organizations across different industries can leverage this opportunity to market their products and services and create a real sense of belonging, instead of advertising to the masses through a traditional social media model.
14. From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an 81% uptick in online community engagement.
15. But who were the people who engaged the most? The top audiences engaging in online communities over the past year include customers (43%) and developers (12%).
16. Brand experience is also a big reason why users choose to engage in online communities – 82% of community site visitors said they would be welcoming of brands who choose to participate in communities: people want to engage with the brand community and 4/5 are ready to immediately become a part of them.
17. What purpose are people trying to fulfill when interacting with an online community? – 77% and 66% of survey participants said they visit online communities to discover new things and to connect with people who have similar interests, respectively.
18. Finally, online communities are the people’s favorite – 36% of users prefer online communities because they believe that they can have more meaningful and engaging conversations over there.
Chapter 4: How do online communities benefit users?
There are countless benefits to being part of an online community. As humans who crave authentic connection, we can feel the benefits of being part of a group from the moment we join and get acquainted with the space.
19. 98% of people who belong to an online group say they feel a sense of belonging to that group.
20. 91% of respondents said they have given some form of support to others through a group or community during the pandemic. 86% have said they received some form of support from others.
21. 77% say the most important group they are part of now operates online.
22. 75% of respondents of branded communities agreed or strongly agreed that the community has helped improve customer experience.
But the positive effects don’t end there–brands and companies have also greatly benefitted from the rise in online community engagement!
23. 88% of community professionals admit to communities playing a critical role in achieving their company’s mission, and 64% admit that online communities have helped them improve business decision-making.
24. An online community can help organizations improve engagement by up to 21%.
25. 57% of those with a branded community said that the community has led to an increase in brand SEO.
26. 90% of communities say that suggestions from the community have been used to improve products or services.
Chapter 5: Post-pandemic, online communities grow stronger
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we must rely on communities for our share of belongingness and wellbeing. After this dramatic shift in everyday life, companies of all sizes started to create their own online communities to adapt to the rising levels of customer expectation.
27. Thanks in a large part to the visibility of online communities driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, 83% of executives have a positive perception of community potential.
28. 56% of professionals say their organization's leadership view community as more essential since the start of the pandemic.
29. 71% of communities saw their visibility increase over the last two years, 67% of them with an added increase in urgency: the COVID-19 pandemic, tipped branded online communities from a nice-to-have to a must-have.
30. As a result of the pandemic, 74% of community programs reported an increased recognition of their value – 62% of communities experienced an increase in engagement, with 17% of those seeing a significant increase.
31. In 2020, only 22% of community programs reported having an Advanced Strategy; in 2021 on the other hand, 37% of all communities reported having an Advanced Strategy.
32. Finally, 31% of online communities had a budget increase for 2020.
Chapter 6: A promising outlook for the next years
The importance, impact, and role of online communities has increased significantly over the past years and will continue to do so in 2022 and beyond.
33. New technologies are going to play a big role for online communities going forward–worldwide revenues for the artificial intelligence (AI) market, including software, hardware, and services, is forecast to grow 19.6% year over year in 2022 to $432.8 billion.
34. Online communities are growing, and fast! Revenues from the internet communities market was estimated to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.3%: revenue increases 1/4 times every year.
Companies and organizations are now more aware of customers’ needs and are working to provide the next generation of digital engagement. For these businesses, the future will present many opportunities when it comes to online communities.
35. 41% of communities have 2-5 full-time people on their teams working on developing and improving engagement, which is a signal that communities are growing in importance.
37. Another sign of maturity is that 88% of organizations have at least one dedicated community manager.
37. 65% of professionals say that the budget for communities over the next years will see an increase.
38. 77% of companies believe that online communities would help them improve their marketing for current and prospective customers.
39. Findings from Aberdeen’s Customer Experience study confirmed that 18% of companies plan to incorporate branded online communities within their activities and beyond.
40. In 2017, 28% of communities had existed for more than 5 years, and this number has since grown to 49% (2021).
The future is social and community-driven
What’s to be expected for the world of online communities in 2023 and beyond? Judging from the statistics and numbers stated above, we can predict that they will play a vital role in improving user experience and brand to customer relationships – At Amity, we are committed to making this happen by creating positive digital experiences, and we believe that the future is social and community–driven.