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Tips to Build An Awesome 'Harley Davidson Style' Online Community Online user communities can be a powerful force for businesses.

By Ketan Kapoor

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Every business must recognize both the importance of branding and of building a brand community. When you, as a business, have a well-developed brand community that captures the attention of your target audience, then you will be able to increase its engagement and drive towards a greater reach.

Online user communities can be a powerful force for businesses. The rewards of a flourishing online user community are so clear that many companies have started putting it at top of their marketing bucket list. However, if starting and nurturing one was really so easy then every business would have been a successful one, wouldn't it?

Motorcycle kingpin Harley-Davidson is one such example of a business that once built vibrant online communities to save itself from extinction in 1983. Moving forward from there, by 2008 the company was bragging of being a top-50 global brand, valued at $7.8 billion. Today, Harley Davidson is one of the most impressive brands in the world, all thanks to its well-thought unorthodox marketing strategy.

The results obtained by Harley Davidson has highly inspired marketers in industries ranging from packaged goods to industrial equipment to build communities around their own brands as well. This is especially easier today, when technology is enabled by Web 2.0.

Building a flourishing community takes great inspiration and creativity. But sometimes it's hard to find new ideas and new ways of thinking through a community's structure. We often just need an outsider's perspective to ensure we're on the right track.

What building online communities does for your business?

"66% of companies say they turn to brand communities for product development."

A community in simple terms can be defined as any grouping of people, either online or offline, which may be dependant on demographics, interests, behaviors, or any other points of differentiation.

Online communities are usually of two types namely,

- traditional social communities

- branded communities

Brands have been making use of social media platforms for over a decade now. Depending on a company's requirements, owned online communities exhibit numerous possibilities for an enhanced business value. Based on a company's objectives, businesses can create an experience, which can help them to achieve their objectives, whether that means reaching new customers or increasing internal competences.

You must understand that customers are searching for your products and services and the customer's purchasing pattern has practically changed over the past years. Online communities are a common starting point during the buying journey today, as people conduct research, read product reviews, and search for recommendations. It is essential that your business invest in building and maintaining online communities of customers and employees to stay relevant and sustain a competitive edge in your industry.

Why Build Online Communities?

"86% of Fortune 500 companies report communities provide insight into customer needs

The true sense of an online community takes social media to another level, opening up what is known as social business. Selection of the right type of online community for your organisation is important, however, the key to success is to start small and think about everything surrounding the situation. Your main aim should be to gain membership and engagement.

Having a commissioned space for open discussions helps to build a strong community within an organisation. A community is a great way to get tips on updates and smart features, and to read how others have solved problems, making work easier and smoother.

When communities eliminate the gap between brands and customers, a loyal target base and better overall reputation ensures the following results-

? Increased customer concern classification & feedback

? Customer-focused product development

? Lowered communication barriers

? A stable platform for word-of-mouth marketing

Benefits to Expect from Building Online Communities

Maintaining and growing a steadfast small business online community may require more effort and attention on your part, rather than a traditional social media platform. However, that does not mean that it needs to be time or resource intensive.

There are many business benefits that come along with an engaged online community. Even though creating and maintaining an online community requires resources and commitment, it is worth putting in all the effort.

Getting accustomed with customers

Social monitoring is a great way to understand your customers. Encouraging your customers to interact with each other helps you identify any problems as well as brand advocates. Understanding what makes your customers happy or unhappy about your product or service is invaluable information when it comes to business development and customer retention.

Product and brand Expansion

Research new product ideas, test out customer response, and the target market. Being able to understand your customers thoughts and opinions is powerful information, especially when it comes to product development. Querying your existing customers for ideas about new products has the added benefit of building trust about you in your customer. If your customers believe that you value their opinions then you can win their trust and increase their loyalty.

Harley Davidson has indeed set examples for brands that want to build smart and effective brand communities. However, Optimizely is yet another brand worth mentioning.The organization established a brand community by providing expert certifications to its members. So, now Optimizely has a strong community base of experts who trust the brand and when they vouch for Optimizely products, others gain confidence in the brand.

Building customer loyalty and trust

Reaching out to and communicating with your customers will help you increase engagement and trust in your brand. Trust builds loyalty. If your customers believe that you are listening them out and responding to them then it is most likely for your business to retain them and increase their positive feelings regarding your company.

Harley-Davidson came up with the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), a club allowing the brand to connect itself with both its customers and the mainstream population. The concept of the group was highly criticized by hard-core Harley bikers, but that did not deter the brand's marketing ambitions. Harley Davidson, with the help of this group started to sponsor biker rallies, organize charity drives, and offer special promotions to its diverse fan base also enabling new members to enjoy their first year free-of-charge.

Needless to say, H.O.G. had a booming marketing success. Today, the brand holds more than a million members from 25 different countries, of which half regularly attend the Harley-Davidson events.

The Big Takeaway

Online customer communities allow your organization to capitalize on interactions with the consumers. Using your community to take advantage of opportunities to create a discussion around your products or mission, you, as a business will begin to start a cycle of word-of-mouth marketing strategies and advocacy for your organization.

Online communities have moved on from being a simple tool of social strategy to a full business strategy as business leaders are starting to understand the high-level impact that a connected audience can have on their company's success.

Online communities serve brand big and small. For different brands they serve different purposes, whether that's to develop a relatable voice for the brand, garner some free advertising, prompt feedbacks, re-engaging members, or to offer professional development. Businesses stand to gain most advantage from building successful online communities as that is a direct channel between the organization and its members. The bottom line is that online communities help in developing a corporate culture that is forward-thinking in its approach.

Ketan Kapoor

Co-Founder and CEO, Mettl

Ketan Kapoor, one of the co-founders and CEO of Mettl, is part of a growing breed of highly qualified entrepreneurs. An IIT-IIM alumnus, he has the unusual distinction of having spent most of his career at startups. 

Ketan holds an Engineering degree from IIT- Roorkee (1997-2001) and an MBA from IIM Calcutta (2002-2004). Before co-founding Mettl, Ketan led the marketing division at Isango, helping turn the start-up into one of the world's premier sellers of tours, trips & activities. 

He was also instrumental in setting up the eco-system for India's first mobile payment & transaction platform in Indepay networks. As CEO, Ketan brings a wealth of focus, drive and energy to the Mettl team.

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