There’s been a growing misconception among businesses that the success of their brand community is directly correlated to its size.

Having a large community does not mean that it’s effective.

The problem is that only getting members to join your community is like a tall tree without deep roots - without getting those members to engage with and share your brand, your community might look impressive but isn’t far from tipping over.

To help show how this is true, let’s look at 3 ways that brands often misinterpret member quantity as success when it’s really nothing more than an illusion.

Member count is not an indicator of a successful community

Convincing customers to join your rewards program is the first step to grow an effective brand community, but think of how many programs you’ve personally joined. Better yet, how many have you joined and then completely forgotten about?

If you’re anything like the average person, you’re enrolled in around 14 reward programs but  have probably abandoned at least half of them. If you think about what prompted you to walk away from those programs, you’ll realize that members like yourself are being enticed to join but nothing else.

Brands have disregarded motivating members like you to do anything beyond the initial enrollment by either making it difficult to earn rewards or offering rewards that aren’t exciting enough to aspire towards. This causes members to lose interest, lose touch, and fall away completely after earning the initial value for joining.

An effective rewards program takes members through every stage of the community building cycle.

Even though disengaged members wouldn’t consider themselves part of the community, member counts will keep growing and create an illusion of effectiveness and success. This growing number then becomes a dangerous mask for lost revenue, since up to two thirds of your brand’s profits rely on members moving out of the join stage of the community cycle.

When you fail to get members engaged, you keep them from finding value in your rewards program and ultimately completing the actions  that matter most for your business.

A large social following isn’t a strong community

Perhaps you haven’t launched a rewards program yet and have been building your brand community on social media.  While it’s easy to see the fruits of your labor as your follower count grows, a high follower count doesn’t necessarily signal that the community is a success.

A social media follow only indicates that members are aware of your brand, not that they’re interested in engaging with it.

That’s because only a very small number of people actually engage with your posts. You can have a follower count in the tens of thousands, but considering a “good” engagement rate is only around than 3%, the number of engaged members you have is really only in the hundreds.

As a result, this “community building” you’ve been doing is actually just boosting brand awareness, and since your customers don’t want to be sold to this brand awareness is actually pretty useless.

At this point you still might not think this is a problem. You might even be thinking that engagement levels don’t really matter for your brand. After all, the followers you have do sometimes get engaged, and even click through to visit your website!

The majority of traffic from social media only views a single page of your website, which means they aren’t placing orders.

Unfortunately that’s another disappointment in disguise, since more than half of the web traffic from social media leaves your site after only visiting one page. If they’re only seeing one page of your website, it means they aren’t making a purchase or even seeing your products because they simply aren’t interested.

So what does this mean for your social media following and brand community? Without any motivation to do more than click “follow”, social community members might be aware of your brand but are not going to engage in ways that make them valuable to your brand. Motivating your members to leave product reviews, make referrals, or even sharing your brand on social media can be all the encouragement need to promote the community engagement you really need.

Widespread awareness will never outweigh the value of members that are highly motivated to engage.

Relying on the sheer quantity of social media followers is never going to be enough to drive sustainable sales and be a truly successful brand community. Communities, on social media or otherwise, need to offer value to both members and the brands themselves to be truly effective.

Subscribing to your newsletter doesn’t indicate a desire to engage

The last way you might think you’re building an effective brand community is with your newsletter. When subscribe rates keep climbing, it’s easy to think that means things are going well. After all, the number of visitors to your blog is going up and more people are getting your emails!   The problem with trying to build your community this way is that newsletters tend to to attract passive members instead of active ones.

Active members can’t wait to engage and generate value. Passive members are content to join and do nothing.

A contributing factor is choosing to call your community members “subscribers.” From the moment they join your community, the word “subscriber” conditions your members to consume your content like they would a magazine: by reading. Instead of looking for other ways to interact with it, they’re content to simply look at and discard it.

It also doesn’t help that we get so many emails every day. This high volume of content meansr your members will likely sign up for your newsletter knowing it will probably get deleted or go unopened along with everything else during their next email purge.

With that passive behavior in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a large portion of your newsletter recipients actually have no intention of making a purchase with your brand. In fact, only 30% of newsletter recipients place an order from the brands they get emails from and only 15% have made more than 1 purchase.

70-85% of your subscribers aren’t actually interested in buying from you.
- Emarketer

No matter how many blog subscribers you get, the vast majority are there only to consume the great content you create. This leaves members stuck receiving the benefit of joining (in this case, your content) without reciprocating the value of the community to the one providing it — your brand.

Whether you make subscribing a rewarding experience or incorporate other methods of value-add marketing, joining your community needs to be seen as an active experience in order to be successful.

Active community thrives, passive awareness dies

Since 40% of your revenue comes from your repeat customers, every brand’s success depends on turning merely aware and passive community members into engaged and active ones.

The fact of the matter is that communities that don’t motivate members to do more than joining are just spinning their wheels. Even though there might be lots of noise, nothing is going to move.

If you recognize your own brand in any of these illusions of success, it’s never too late to start making changes to turn things around. With the right motivation, your members will be delighted not just to join, but also to engage and share your amazing brand community with others.

These are the actions that will give you the long-reaching branches and roots you need to stand up in the wind and enjoy long term success.