How to build a self-sustaining community like Apple

The Apple Support Community is the #1 place to seek assistance, advice, and top product tips from millions of devoted consumers. But what is at the root of this flourishing community? Read on to find out! 

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word apple?

Is it a red fruit or the latest trending smartphone? If your answer is the latter, you’re not alone! 

With 500+ stores around the globe, 370,000+ employees, and around 118 million iPhone users only in the US (Statista, 2022), Apple is now the most valuable company in the world and the first to acquire a $3 trillion market value.

The numbers are jaw-dropping, yet they don't come as a total surprise when we consider the one-of-a-kind bond Apple has with its buyers around the globe.

From the cutting-edge iPhone 13 to a pair of trendy AirPods, Apple products have become a status symbol craved by a fearless fanbase that would stop at nothing to snatch the latest release before it sells out.

We all have seen pictures of stoic customers queuing the entire night in front of an Apple store, but the list of extreme actions Apple fans are renowned for goes on and on. How about a couple flying from the US to Australia to purchase the very first iPhone 6 or fans tattooing founder Steve Jobs' face over their body

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October 2020, customers line up to buy the new iPhone 12 in Shangai. Image source

In fact, research studies (like the one from the Bucharest University of Economic Studies) have revealed Apple users are much more than simple customers, they are resolute brand promoters.

And what happens when there are millions of consumers with a burning passion for a brand and the desire of sharing their experience with others?

Doesn't it sound like the perfect recipe for something?

"An ideal community is a safe space for people to connect over something they all care about," says Hannah Johnson, Community Manager at Rolling Stone Culture Council. 

"Those communities are already tied together with invisible threads - the shared connection - even if they don’t have a literal space to share it with each other.”

"An ideal community is a safe space for people to connect over something they all care about." - Hannah Johnson

The Apple Support Community is the place where all Apple fans can fulfill their desire to be associated with the brand in an exclusive virtual space. 

And whether you're the proud owner of an iPhone or not, there are some crucial learnings you can take from Apple's self-sustaining community and apply to your own today.

Let's take a look at them! 

How to build a self-sustaining community

Are you planning to start your branded community or looking for ways to foster self-sustaining engagement in your existing one? 

Then you should take a look at these 4 lessons we can learn from the Apple Support Community and take notes!

Here they are: 

  1. Make your community part of the customer journey
  2. Tap into the power of user-generated content
  3. Keep the space relevant and free from clutter
  4. Plan engaging events with a pinch of mystery

Let's break each of those down into actionable steps!

1. Make your community part of the customer journey

Does your brand community come into play only post-sales? If so, it shouldn't!

Besides your amazing products, your community is a treasure that should never be buried underground - quite the contrary, you should make your community part of the whole customer journey, from awareness all the way to post-sales. 

The Apple Support Community is easy to find, join, and open to everyone. Users and prospective buyers alike can ask all kinds of product-related questions, seek peer-to-peer assistance, and learn pro tips to make the most out of their purchase.

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Apple Support invites visitors to start discussion threads in the community.

And it's true, community members have zero qualms about sharing criticism and as a result, some product shortcomings can be there for the whole world to see.

It only takes a quick glance through the threads in the Apple Support Community to bump into all kinds of issues: "iPhone 11 rear camera not working", "bedtime alarm doesn't stop ringing on Apple Watch", "iPhone 13 won't charge".

Criticism and bad reviews are part of running a business, and something community managers should prepare for. That's why we sat down with a group of community leaders and dug deeper into the matter. 

David Dewald is a professional community manager equipped with a 25-year long experience in community management. David has told us that community managers shouldn't shy away from criticism, but embrace it and turn it into an opportunity to enhance the customer experience

"Your customers and members aren't always going to be nice when they tell you what they think about your product," David says.

"No matter what happens, you need to remember that it all comes down to how you respond to this feedback and criticism. If you aren't responding when your members have a problem, it makes your organization look inattentive. And that's an opportunity for your competitors to swoop in and take over."

"If you aren't responding when your members have a problem, it makes your organization look inattentive." - David DeWald

"Maybe the problem can’t be solved instantly, but at least you are proactive and saying that you are working on it," David adds.

And what about competitors?

"Since you already engaged and responded to your customer, now your competitors have nothing. You've shown your community that you know that you have a weakness and you're willing to solve it."

Looking for more pro tips on how to manage a thriving online community? Don't miss our Community Management 101 Guide and grab your free copy today! 

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2. Tap into the power of user-generated content

"Content is essential to keeping your community rolling," Sam Mackay, former Community Manager at Next Games states in our Community Management 101 Guide.

"And if you can get your members to create their own content, then it makes your job so much easier."

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The whole Apple Support Community revolves around peer-to-peer assistance and user-generated content. Thanks to the help of its tireless fanbase, the community
operates as a 24/7 assistance machine and a product encyclopedia.

But how does Apple motivate community members to give each other guidance?

When examining the case of the Atlassian Community, we highlighted the importance of inspiring and rewarding your engaged members, and the Apple Support Community does exactly the same

Users who provide correct and helpful responses collect reputation points that will gradually increase their status level.

This is a way for community members to build their credibility and authority on all things Apple and of course, their level and amount of reputation points are publicly displayed. 

And there's more! The Apple Support Community showcases a list of Top Participants (based on their level and participation points), and that's something real Apple aficionados can aspire to! 

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The Apple Support Community showcases top community members in a public list.


3. Keep the space relevant and free from clutter

The Apple Support Community is a buzzing beehive that never sleeps, and with the amount of new support queries live every minute, it's easy for the space to get very messy.

"You should always be thinking WIIFM - What’s in it for me? As that’s what your community members are thinking," says Emmanuel Nyame, Community Manager at United Nations Foundation.

“When you can provide value to all your community members, they’ll definitely stay.”

So, how do you make sure your community stays organized and your content relevant?

This is where the Apple Support Community can teach us a couple of simple but effective tactics.

Whenever a community member starts a query, they are required to fill a question form in which they must select a specific product and a few topics from a list (these topics also double as hashtags to help users search for content).

The question form is a valuable tool to help you keep user-generated content relevant. 

"When you can provide value to your community members they'll definitely stay." - Emmanuel Nyame

And what if the same question has already been asked and answered? How can you avoid this type of repetitive content in your own community?

Before proceeding to the question form, Apple users must type their question in a search bar which, thanks to an autocomplete function, will show them all the related posts and help them verify whether the same question has already been asked.

If that's the case, all posts come with a button named "I have the same questionthat users can click to follow the discussions, and once a question has been sufficiently answered, a little green checkmark appears on the preview.

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The autofill function is an effective way of avoiding clutter and repeated queries. 

4. Plan engaging events with a pinch of mystery

How do events and communities relate to each other? 

“Because an event takes place on a particular date and time creates a sense of FOMO,” says RD Whitney, Founder of Community Leaders Institute. 

“In particular, the potential networking benefit and serendipity of an in-person event creates urgency - it’s going to take place with or without your members, and this helps break through the inertia that can be associated with asynchronous networking.”

And how could we write about Apple without mentioning their legendary product launch events?

Right now, you’re probably picturing a giant screen, dim cinematic lights, hundreds of thousands of spectators holding their breath for the big reveal.

However, we want you to focus on one key element you can integrate into your next event: mystery.  

"The potential networking benefits and serendipity of an in-person event creates urgency." - RD Whitney

With Apple, it all starts with a mysterious launch and well-timed hidden clues.

This suspense helps the upcoming event go viral as Apple users (and not) take to social media to speculate and count the minutes until the big day. And the anticipation can be cut with a knife, so much that in 2020 the hashtag #applevent went viral on Twitter with 35,000 tweets long before the official event was even announced.

And if events are not part of your community strategy, they should definitely be.

As we've already seen in the case of the Atlassian Community, events are what keep member engagement buzzing all year round. 

And yes, we get it, Apple is the most valuable company in the world, but you don't have to plan costly and Hollywood-worthy live events to keep your members at the edge of their seats.

Something as simple as regular meetups, roundtables, and networking sessions in virtual meeting rooms will do wonders for your member engagement and retention. 

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Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. Image source.


If you own (or are planning to launch) your own custom branded community, there are 4 crucial lessons we can learn from the Apple Support Community: 

  1. Make your community part of the customer journey: integrate your community into the whole customer journey and let your members connect with each other at every touchpoint from awareness to post-sales.
  2. Tap into the power of user-generated content: user-generated content is the key to building a self-sustaining community that buzzes around the clock. 
  3. Keep the space relevant and free from clutter: provide your members with a top-notch experience by keeping the content organized, relevant, and accessible. 
  4. Plan engaging events with a pinch of mystery: events are the best way to engage your members and build momentum like never before. Add a little bit of mystery and they'll be everything your members talk about. 

Now, you can copy these strategies and take one step towards a fully self-sustaining community. 

And if you want more, we got you covered!

You can find additional top tips on how to build and manage a thriving online community in our Community Management 101 Guide. This free resource was infused with precious advice from professional community managers to community managers. 

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