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How product sampling strengthens relationships with online communities

Advocacy Marketing
Product Knowledge


Community-based sampling activates a group of influential consumers and boosts UGC collection.

Note: Access to Product Sampling Campaigns and Communities varies based on your Advocacy Platform subscription. 

Now more than ever, people crave safe places to learn new things, seek inspiration and build genuine connections. Online groups, hosted on social media platforms or through brand ambassador programs, offer a casual “family room” environment where like-minded individuals can discover the niche content that aligns with their beliefs, passions and interests.

Did you know that most people are members of at least 15 active groups on Facebook? I’m guilty of joining almost every online social group about local ski resorts, Subaru Foresters and solo female travel. All in the name of research, of course.

For brands, online groups are an exciting channel to reach active, hyper-targeted audiences of people and build meaningful relationships with them. However, brands face a significant challenge when lurking in or engaging with existing groups. There’s most likely a barrier to entry, such as a gated privacy setting, posting and moderation guidelines or other member hierarchy factors. Without establishing the group on their own time, brands lack audience insights, the ability to activate specific members and the control to share meaningful content on demand. Asking for one-off feedback can also feel awkward or confined.

On ExpertVoice, brands have the flexibility to create an unlimited number of communities where they can share posts and sample free products on demand. The goal of establishing communities is to foster and strengthen genuine relationships with the types of influential consumers (from sales associates to professional leaders) that sway the buying decisions of your target market.

What are communities?

Communities are digital groups that bring brands and experts together around shared passions and interests. Brands can create communities for different cohorts of audiences on ExpertVoice, such as top content creators or sales reps.

ExpertVoice members want to strengthen their relationships with brands. Inviting them to your brand-led community gives them an exclusive seat at your table. Like any good online moderator, think of yourself as the “host” or “hostess,” be warm and welcoming, have a few icebreakers and questions in your back pocket, listen to all represented voices and frequently nourish your community members with new content.

TIP: As the Community Manager for your brand, a consistent presence and strategic product sampling program will set you up for success and drive long-term advocacy.

This formula for success will keep your community members coming back for more. While building trust and momentum in your digital community may take some time, first impressions and consistency are essential.

What is product sampling?

Product sampling is the practice of giving free samples to consumers, typically in exchange for them leaving an authentic and honest review and posting social media content.

On ExpertVoice, brands can use self-serve Advocacy Platform tools to recruit participants, manage a custom product sampling campaign and collect authentic social proof such as reviews, photos and videos. One of the most significant benefits of digital product sampling is reaching customers straight from their homes and collecting online social proof. It’s a strategic way to attract new customers and drive loyalty with your existing customer base.

How communities and product sampling can work together

#1. Use product sampling to find your online community

If you already have a community active on ExpertVoice, recruit them to participate in your Product Sampling Campaign. If not, use a sampling campaign to discover your top creators and recruit them to become community members.

  1. Create a product sampling campaign: A target expert audience can apply to your campaign and try out a free product in exchange for their honest feedback and UGC.
  2. Monitor the user-generated content: After samplers have had enough time to experience your product, they’ll share authentic feedback online through product reviews and social media posts. Monitor which experts provide you with valuable insights. Engage with their content, export their information and make a list of your top content creators.
  3. Set up a community: After engaging samplers, they’ll want to continue their relationship with your brand. In some cases, having different communities for different segments makes sense. For example, you could invite your top content creators to one exclusive community and invite all other sampling participants to a broader brand community where they can stay in the know about your campaigns. Build out each community using this best practices guide.
  4. Invite samplers to a community: Email product sampling participants a link to your community. Ensure they understand your community vision and “what’s in it for them” in the short and long term. First impressions are crucial – from the email invitation to their first visit to your community page. Get them hooked, and make sure your branding is on point from the get-go.
  5. Keep members continuously engaged: Give members a regular cadence of bite-sized informational content, free sampling opportunities, polls or market research surveys. Your community members can act as your new online focus group. To keep your members coming back for more, sample additional free products and repeat the process.

Activate your community through sampling

If you already oversee a community on ExpertVoice, launch a product sampling campaign to keep your community active and create deeper connections with members.

Building a new community takes time; it won’t happen overnight. Outline a content calendar and be the champion of your brand and products.

Brand stories

Here are a few examples of brands engaging online communities and sampling their products.

  • Image Skincare, a clinical skincare brand, targeted 1,000 consumers as part of PopSugar’s Dabble online community. Before their sampling program, only 13% of consumers had heard of the brand. After their sampling initiative, 32% were inspired to leave feedback, generating 228 total five-star reviews for the brand.
  • General Motors’ Project Driveway was among one first automotive brands to use their private online community as a continuous feedback loop. They targeted community members for surveys, public relations initiatives and product testing.
  • REVOLVE, a global fashion retailer, launched FWRD, a community-driven affiliate marketing program and extension of their influencer marketing campaigns. Community members who meet specific criteria can unlock incentives such as clothing credits and product giveaways.

In summary

ExpertVoice is a platform that brings brands and industry insiders together around shared passions and interests. Communities provide the perfect place if you want a deeper connection with select members on the platform.

Two ways to get started:

  1. Use product sampling to discover potential community members.
  2. Activate your existing community through product sampling.

Trusting your community to trial free products in the field will establish your member-first culture, spark positive dialogue and help you build trust. To learn more about product sampling and communities, connect with us here.

Start engaging brand communities today.

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