Community engagement in marketing

Marketing written in colourful letters

(Photo: Geralt)

In an introduction to herself in a university course I teach on engaging communities (HLSC2241 at the University of Newcastle), one of my students said she was studying a Bachelor of Business majoring in marketing. In response to a question about why she had enrolled in the online elective, she suggested that it “obviously hasn’t got much to do with my degree but it’s something that I am interested in.”

This got me thinking about the relationship between community engagement and marketing. There is no doubt that marketing is relevant to community engagement. Recruitment plays a vital role in engaging families and communities 1-5 – there is no point organising community engagement events if nobody turns up! – and marketing can clearly help with recruitment.

At the same time, I do emphasise that while marketing and promotion are important to community engagement, they are not community engagement in their own right. So what is the role of community engagement in marketing?

Various other terms are used in marketing when discussing community engagement including customer engagement, consumer engagement, and brand community engagement. The focus is generally on building a loyal customer base who identify with the brand. Pavia 6 suggests that:

For a business, engaging your community is the primary way to build a bigger business and gain new customers. Keeping their attention, as well as being attractive to new potential customers, is the focus of most social media strategies. This methodology is known as a community engagement strategy.
The big question for many is how to keep a community member (or customer) engaged so that when they have a need for your services you are the first place they go.
The goal is to be engaging, attractive, fun and thought-provoking. (para. 1-3)

At times community engagement in marketing is largely aimed at individual consumers 7. For example, in the summer of 2011/12, Coca Cola launched a campaign where people’s names were placed on cans or bottles of coke.

The resulting campaign, known internally as “Project Connect” based on its ambition to both strengthen the brand’s bond with Australia’s young adults – and inspire shared moments of happiness in the real and virtual worlds – became known as “Share a Coke. (Jay Moye 8 para. 4)

The aim was to give consumers “an opportunity to express themselves through a bottle of Coke, and to share the experience with someone else” (para. 46). According to Lucie Austin, the then director of marketing for Coca-Cola South Pacific,

Our research showed that while teens and young adults loved that Coca-Cola was big and iconic, many felt we were not talking to them at eye level. Australians are extremely egalitarian. There’s a phrase called “tall poppy syndrome.” If anyone gets too big for their boots, they get cut down like a tall poppy. By putting first names on the packs, we were speaking to our fans at eye level. (Jay Moye 8 para. 9)

The word “community” in community engagement, however, implies that it involves more than just engaging individuals and that there is a focus on the collective rather than the individual 9.

Brand communities

Literature on community engagement in marketing often discuss brand communities 7, 10-12 that promote two-way engagement. Hong 13 suggests that:

For all consumer-facing businesses, a prevalent, engaged brand community is the ultimate asset. Research has shown that branded communities not only drive greater reach, but also add value at the other points of the user journey, such as encouraging conversions, or improving existing customer relationships. (para. 1)

There many examples of community forums (or brand communities) associated with brands where members of the public, and sometimes paid staff, provide free advice and assistance about the product, (e.g., WordPress, Microsoft), provide advice and assistance more broadly (e.g., HR BLock, Sephora) or interact more broadly by sharing content and ideas or discussing issues related to the brand (e.g., SAP, Lego).

Community wellbeing

Contributing to community wellbeing is an important component of community engagement, and so when marketing incorporates community engagement, the emphasis should be on more than just promoting the brand (even if building the brand is the motivation for creating a brand community).

People generally do not become involved in a brand community simply because they like a brand 7,10. According to Algesheimer, Dholakia and Herrmann 10, community engagement in brand communities involves more than identifying with the brand:

Community engagement suggests that members are interested in helping other members, participating in joint activities, and otherwise acting volitionally in ways that the community endorses and that enhance its value for themselves and others. (p. 21)

Fournier and Lee 12 argue the successful brand communities exist to serve the people in it rather than to serve business. This can require quite a shift in thinking but helps to address the question of, “Whose interests are being served?

Sampson 14, reinforces the importance of contributing to wellbeing by arguing that community engagement is:

A process where an organization (or coalition or organizations) acting for community benefit (such as saving energy in multiple buildings) works to build lasting relationships in order to apply a collective vision that benefits the community. Community engagement is a much more active method of implementing change than the more static method of standard marketing techniques. (para. 1)

Two-way community engagement

The two-way nature of community engagement means that community engagement in marketing needs to involve more than one-way communication with customers. Putting a name on a can of coke is not two-way interaction. There needs to be the potential for interaction, conversation or sharing. For some examples of brand communities which promote interaction see Six successful examples of online brand communities or 10 exceptional examples of brand communities.

Two-way engagement in brand communities can help promote horizontal community engagement by promoting meaningful connections between community members.

As you can see, community engagement does have many implications for business students studying marketing. For me, the most important message is that it implies that marketing can promote community wellbeing and not just focus on the interests of a brand.

An important word of caution. We are living in the world that promotes continual growth and ever increasing consumption. We need to live within in the environmental constraints of the planet, place a greater emphasis on the environmental impacts of overconsumption and focus much more on quality of life than standard of living. We desperately need marketers who have a social conscience and who think about whether or not their work contributes to the long-term wellbeing and health of communities.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Recruitment: an important step in engagement
  2. An introduction to community engagement
  3. Definitions of community engagement
  4. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  5. Online community engagement – from tools to strategy
  6. A continuum of engagement: A focus on the individual to a focus on the collective

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


  1. Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition. (2012). Identifying effective strategies to increase recruitment and retention in community-based health promotion programs. Melbourne: Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Deakin University. Available from
  2. McCann, J., Ridgers, N. D., Carver, A., Thornton, L. E., & Teychenne, M. (2013). Effective recruitment and retention strategies in community health programs. Health Promot J Austr, 24(2), 104-110. doi: 10.1071/he13042
  3. Liljas, A. E. M., Walters, K., Jovicic, A., Iliffe, S., Manthorpe, J., Goodman, C., & Kharicha, K. (2017). Strategies to improve engagement of ‘hard to reach’ older people in research on health promotion: A systematic review. BMC Public Health, 17(1), 349. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4241-8 Available from
  4. Diallo Roost, F., McColl Jones, N., Allan, M., & Dommers, E. (2014). Recruiting and retaining families in HIPPY: Final report. Fitzroy, Vic: Brotherhood of St Laurence.
  5. McGuinness, K., & Arney, F. (2012). Foster and kinship care recruitment campaign literature review. Darwin: Menzies School of Health Research, Centre for Child Development and Education. Available from
  6. Paveza, M. (2014). 8 tips for a foolproof community engagement strategy. Retrieved from Social Media Today website:
  7. Brodie, R. J., Ilic, A., Juric, B., & Hollebeek, L. (2013). Consumer engagement in a virtual brand community: An exploratory analysis. Journal of Business Research, 66(1), 105-114. doi:
  8. Moye, J. (2016). Share a Coke: How the groundbreaking campaign got its start ‘down under’. Retrieved from Coca-Cola Journey website:
  9. Department of Environment‚ Land‚ Water and Planning. (2015). Effective engagement: Building relationships with community and other stakeholders. Book 1: An introduction to engagement (4th ed.). Melbourne: State Government of Victoria. Available from
  10. Algesheimer, R., Dholakia, U. M., & Herrmann, A. (2005). The social influence of brand community: Evidence from European car clubs. Journal of Marketing, 69(3), 19-34.
  11. Dessart, L., Veloutsou, C., & Morgan-Thoma, A. (2015). Consumer engagement in online brand communities: A social media perspective. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 24(1), 28-42. doi: doi:10.1108/JPBM-06-2014-0635 Available from
  12. Fournier, S., & Lee, L. (2009). Getting brand communities right. Havard Business Review, 87(4), 105-111. Available from
  13. Hong, P. (2015). 10 exceptional examples of brand communities. Retrieved from Linkdex website:
  14. Samelson, L. (2016, 16 February). The difference between community engagement and marketing [Blog post]. Retrieved from

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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