[ASK TBM] How Can Online Communities Help Your Business Grow?

Online communities have thrived since the pandemic, so we asked none other than Mayora from Home Buddies for her take on how these can be beneficial for businesses.

Online communities—like the ones on Facebook and even messaging apps like Viber—have grown in popularity over the last few years. They have also become a vital platform for businesses that want to market their products and services, given that 92% of marketing professionals believe that online communities have a significant impact on businesses.

Defined as a “group of people with a shared interest or purpose who use the internet to communicate with each other,” online communities have also an avenue for people to post photos, reviews, recommendations, and the like. This has made it a viable platform—not just for sharing and finding things, but also for businesses to showcase their offerings.

But how do these online communities help businesses? What kind of significant impact do they have? To answer all these and more, we asked Frances Lim Cabatuando—best known as Mayora—from the widely popular home interior-centric Facebook group Home Buddies, which currently houses over 3.1 million members to date.

What pain point or gap in the online space did you notice that ultimately pushed you to start Home Buddies? What makes Facebook, particularly Facebook Groups, the perfect platform for it?

There were a lot of amazing communities on Facebook specific to my interests—Let’s Eat Pare for food, Coffee Home Brewers for Coffee, and even during the pandemic, there [were] Quarantine Tribute Tips! But I really couldn’t find a group about home interiors—just pages like Real Living and BluPrint… [and] those were, for me then, super hard to achieve because most featured pages were built or designed by professionals. I was just a casual home enthusiast with [a] limited budget.

Home Buddies has become a platform where members have been able to discover many businesses. How do you think this has helped local businesses in particular?

I’m a huge supporter of local businesses and that’s why we’ve created a lot of programs for SMEs. For example, Monday Market is the only day when people can sell directly in the group. Unlike in e-commerce shops that charge [a] 7% commission or so, in Home Buddies, it’s free. All you need to focus on is the content– which basically means, just showcase your work and if it’s great, it will sell. This pushes businesses to up their game as well! Cos now there’s no budget barrier to promote your work.

We also have Laborangay, [which] helps laborers flex themselves. Unlike retail businesses, service marketplaces in the Philippines are not yet that known or used. And Home Buddies has been a great platform for individuals/builders to showcase their work—again, for free.

How do you think community-based marketing, as a whole, has helped businesses?

First, [online communities have] honest reviews by everyday people. Home Buddies members are not influencers or creatives. They’re just regular people [who are] passionate about home. So good products will really stand out—even if they don’t have the budget for great photography and huge celebrity endorsers.

Second, [is] the bandwagon effect. Because people feel a sense of belongingness in the community, they will want to try what their community is raving about.

Third, the community is already a targeted market. Unlike Facebook ads—where targeting can be broad—in Home Buddies, you already know that if they are there, they are most likely looking for something to improve their home. It’s a captured market that is just waiting to spend on the next nice thing.

If you’re a business with a limited budget, there’s less risk [in] advertising on this platform than [relying] on Facebook ad targeting.

Have you encountered bogus businesses or scams in Home Buddies? How did you deal with them?

Yeah, and it’s quite sad how people take advantage of something you work hard to protect. Personally, I can’t run after them because that’s already beyond my control. I just always remind people to be careful when dealing with strangers, especially online. 

I remind them to ask for business documents [and] professional licenses, to just be more vigilant, [and to pay attention to] red flags. On the approval end, we only approve posts that show real photos of products—not renders or graphics, or professionally photographed images. This is to ensure the quality of the products we indirectly endorse to the community.

What are the other downsides that come with managing an online group, especially when it comes to dealing with businesses and their owners?

There’s also the problem of people taking advantage of the group for selfish reasons: people posting ads disguised as personal reviews, affiliate marketers spamming links—regardless of if they bought the items or not, and incompetent or unprofessional contractors luring desperate home builders.

It’s hard because these things you won’t know at first glance. But sometimes, you discover them and it’s too late—people have already been scammed, wronged, or offended.

What opportunities do you think can come out of online communities like Home Buddies?

For myself, there were a lot of blessings! Because I have a community that trusts me, I’ve endorsed a lot of quality home products from big and small brands alike. I’ve also stretched my capabilities—entering gigs on hosting, events management, affiliate marketing, content creation, and more. I was also able to meet new people from all over the Philippines, who now have become my great friends!

In Home Buddies, you don’t just get home inspoyou also learn the pain points of others. So as a business, that’s when you can fill in the gaps! Find a problem that’s always asked in the community and try to create a fix for it. That’s where you can find success!

You can also capitalize on trends and further innovate on them. For example, when the Irish Spring challenge went viral, small scent businesses started selling Irish Spring diffuser scents!

What concrete tips and advice can you give businesses considering marketing their products and services to online communities as part of their strategy? 

There’s strength in numbers. Get your product into the hands of as many people as you can and incentivize them to talk about your business! More conversations created [lead to] more chances of sales.